While firms have undergone a technological revolution in recent years, courts have been slow to keep pace. But have the winds of change finally arrived?
The judiciary has long recognised that broad scale court digitisation is capable of producing immense cost savings and improvements to the facilitation of justice. However, plans to adopt such a model have been slow moving through the pipeline… until now.
Prominent landmarks are starting to appear on the horizon for Australian courts, which are set to forge transformations across our entire judicial system, bridging the technological void between practitioners and judges.
Video link-up appearances, once reserved only for exceptional situations, are now being utilised more liberally and in a wider range of circumstances by state courts. Family and federal courts have recently installed technology, enabling litigants to attend a hearing via webcam from their local registry or their home.
The race for paperless
Magistrates courts across Western Australia are anticipated to be paper-free by late 2015, followed closely by the Supreme Court of Victoria by January 1, 2016. Meanwhile, the Federal Court will soon implement an entirely digital court file and is trialling ‘paperless court room’ pilots.
The growing availability of quality electronic court management software solutions is facilitating the push to paperless. Thomson Reuters’ C-Track, which is part of the Court Management Solutions program, has already been adopted by numerous courts across the United States and the United Kingdom from local to appellate level.
Online dispute resolution
The New South Wales Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT) is currently in the post-evaluation stage of a three-month online dispute resolution pilot launched last year for the quick and inexpensive resolution of small consumer claims.
What we can expect as courts evolve
As traditional court systems are overhauled with digital solutions, the way that lawyers deliver legal solutions will naturally be impacted.
Practitioners will theoretically only carry a device into hearings and trials, so law clerks can say goodbye to the days of carting trolleys of binders to and from the courthouse.
Lawyers and clients alike will benefit from time and cost savings as a result of enhanced cohesion and faster processing between firm and court, in part due to the elimination of duplication associated with conversion between physical and digital formats. The ability to search, bookmark, link and annotate digitally formatted evidence and court documents may even mean faster turnaround of written decisions.
Better access to justice
Court digitisation facilitates greater access to resources, documents and decisions, which can assist in the prevention and management of disputes. In addition, greater physical access to courts through electronic communications and conferencing enables a wider and more powerful delivery of legal services.
This will be discussed in detail at the AIJA conference, “Justice without barriers: Technology for greater access to justice”, held in Brisbane this month.
Increased availability of informal dispute resolution options
Figures suggest litigants prefer less formal dispute resolution options, such as ombudsmen and tribunals compared to formal court processes, which could prompt a move by more courts to consider online, responsive, low-cost ODR options, such as the one proposed in the UK.
Lawyers will no doubt need to adapt to a range of new court rules and protocols. The storage, availability and sharing of increasing volumes of digitally recorded information may give rise to practical challenges and the need for new rules dealing with discovery, evidence, privacy and courtroom etiquette.
The impending changes herald a new era in judicial administration in Australia and in coming years we’ll see a significant shift from traditional processes. Lawyers should monitor the roll out of digital initiatives in state and federal courts, stay abreast of changes which affect their practice areas and educate staff on new protocols. Doing this will support a smooth transition to a better and more efficient justice system, and benefit firms and clients alike.
For more on courts digitisation download our whitepaper ‘Lessons learned in courts digitisation’.