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Featured Post – Better Legal Technology for Better Access to Justice

Editor’s Note:  Our senior colleague Miodrag (Mike) Perisic has provided expert technical leadership on legal technology projects in Serbia, Myanmar, Bosnia, Indochina, Serbia and Montenegro. He is currently Senior ICT Expert at the European Union Delegation, Northern Macedonia. In this Featured Post, he offers some initial observation on bringing ICT to justice in developing, transitioning and post-conflict countries.  In future posts, we’ll be sharing Mike’s insights on a range of ICT for justice issues.

Legal Technology:  Some Do’s and Don’ts

Legal technology for justice is everywhere now – sometimes successfully advancing key justice sector values, including transparency, efficiency and accountability.  The justice sector can be document heavy and ICT can only help. But my long experience suggests that you think about a few important issues before going too far down the ICT justice path:

  1. First things first: qualified ICT staff, willing and motivated for change. The essential requirement for improvements to justice technology is ICT people in sufficient number to staff the initial work and to stay on to allow the new systems to become regular, widely accepted tools.
  2. Do start with strong assessments. This means a thorough investigation in the current use of technology, finding out what works and what does not. I have seen applications done in latest technology which are inefficient, unstable or even completely useless. The key criterion is: does it really help end users*, whoever they are (justice system employees or ordinary citizens), achieve better efficiency and transparency of the rule of law? The assessment should serve as a sort of “baseline”, to diagnose problems and gaps to be filled.
  3. Do build a comprehensive National Justice ICT Strategy (3-5 years) to avoid dead ends and disparate systems. Make sure that it addresses key issues and their costs and that your client organization commits to regular updating. Here is an example:  “Court Digital Transformation strategy 2019-2023”, in British Columbia, Canada.
  4. Don’t overpromise. Sure, technology can be transformative, but think about all the other things that need to be addressed to make justice faster, better and cheaper – better laws, honest judges and improved access to justice don’t all just spring into existence because of better ICT.
  5. Don’t pave the goat path. When systems engineers say this, they’re thinking that automating an outdated system is usually a poor choice.  Do your business process reengineering first, so that you bring ICT to the best modern processes that you can.
  6. Don’t get ahead of the national ‘backbone’ and the end users. Overall internet capacity, availability across the country and user familiarity all need to figure into assessments of what will work.
  7. Do take advantage of the fact that in many countries justice technology use is low and the transition to the new, modern ICT systems and applications does not present too many challenges, neither in terms of technical migration to the new systems nor psychological ones (ease of use).  Starting from scratch can be a big plus.
  8. Do factor in from the beginning the time, cost and effort it will take to build buy-in for ICT solutions where familiarity is very low among decision-makers and key stakeholders.
  9. Do keep in mind that modern, large ICT systems do not come cheap, even in the relatively small countries.  You will likely find a role in persuading external partners to assist in financing the initial efforts to build new ICT systems, but what about ongoing maintenance and support in years to come?

Legal Technology:  A Few More Tips

  • Start by building a solid bridge between legal and technical people working on project design. You need both.
  • Its good to have the views of tech savvy young people, but don’t leave the justice leadership behind.
  • Justice ICT needs substantial funding, not just to buy “stuff”, but to deploy, support and maintain.
  • Before any new ICT systems are deployed, massive training is necessary.
  • For a comprehensive, cross-sectoral justice ICT system, a single, integrated management and control system is usually necessary.
  • ICT needs expert professionals; they can be hard to find and to pay competitively.
  • If disparate ICT systems already exist, unification is necessary, either by establishing compatible links (interoperability), or straight replacement. There will be resistance!
  • Pay special attention to the effective use of mobile devices for information exchange. Today, they are the dominant, omni-present tool in human communication, so they deserve to be used in the justice system too. 

* Editor’s Note: Focusing on benefits to end users is also a touchstone for ‘legal design’. We want legal design to be an important focus of our work at Justice Through Law.

Legal Technology: Additional Sources

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