Digital Court File
The Digital Court File is an everyday tool for judges, court staff, lawyers and parties to a proceeding that will replace the paper-based court file entirely. It links hundreds of pages of court files into a single view, and all participants in the proceedings can access the documents electronically. The Digital File can also be used as a tool to make cross-references, add notes and comments, search by keyword, filter documents and export them to your computer.
The Digital File is part of the fully paper-free court proceeding project started at the end of 2017. The Digital File is meant to be an everyday tool for judges and court staff that replaces the paper-based court file entirely. The tool is an application connected to the central case management system the e-File enabling to work with the court file based data that is saved in the e-File, including both documents and metadata.
The e-File is a web-based information system through which everyone can participate electronically in civil and administrative court proceedings, criminal and misdemeanour proceedings, and follow the course of proceedings relating to themselves. Documents in the E-file can be submitted to the court, the police and the Prosecutor's Office, and applications to the bailiff to initiate enforcement proceedings. At the same time, the e-File allows you to find out about the procedures initiated and to see the documents sent.
The Digital Court File can be used in the e-File to access and process procedural documents. It links hundreds of pages of court files into a single view, and all participants in the proceedings can access the documents electronically.
In addition to accessing documents, the Digital File can also be used as a tool to make cross-references, add notes and comments, search by keyword, filter documents, and export them to your computer if necessary. Due to the Digital File it is no longer necessary to print out the procedural documents.
The Digital File gives all the participants in the court proceedings - the court, the participants in the proceedings and the representatives - an overview of the data in the court file at any given time. It binds hundreds of pages of files uniformly into one place. As a result, there is no longer any real need to go somewhere to see the civil and administrative court files. Documents can be accessed anytime online, regardless of your physical location.
In addition to accessing documents, the digital court file can also be used as a tool. By working through these documents, you can make cross-references, add your own observations and comments to the session and, if necessary, display them directly from your computer to the courtroom screen. If there are many documents related to the procedure, the electronic solution also makes it easy to find the necessary keyword, procedure or document and move between hundreds of pages. In this case, the speed of the system will surely be most useful in finding a particular word or note during the session, because the paper files would require a paper-by-paper search.
In addition to navigating one case between different procedures and documents, the case file can also be viewed one by one, as a single document or by filtering only the most important one. If necessary, the document can also be exported to your computer to work without an internet connection. Thus, it is no longer necessary to print out court documents, because the digital file offers the same convenience of making notes as on paper, but in a more modern way - electronic.
What Makes Your Project Innovative?
The Digital File gives all the participants in the court proceedings - the court, the participants in the proceedings and the representatives - an overview of the data in the court file at any given time. It binds hundreds of pages of files uniformly into one place making them easily searchable and to work with. As a result, there is no longer any real need to go somewhere to see the civil and administrative court files. Documents can be accessed anytime online, regardless of your physical location.
The digital court file can also be used as a tool. By working through these documents, you can make cross-references, add your own observations and comments to the session and, if necessary, display them directly from your computer to the courtroom screen. If there are many documents related to the procedure, the electronic solution also makes it easy to find the necessary keyword, procedure or document and move between hundreds of pages in an instant.
What is the current status of your innovation?
Since the beginning of 2019 1/3 of all initiated court cases are digitalized. This is the goal that we have been aiming for and have achieved. This is a big and important progress for us and we believe it will continue successfully. By implementing a paperless procedure, it is possible to save funds and the working time of court officials in preparing, managing and transporting a paper file.
The most cost-effective savings on paper-free court proceedings in all civil and administrative matters is from labor costs. For example when the need for transport of paper files between courthouses disappears, the workload for law enforcement officers and drivers decreases by 15%, the available resource can be used to improve the delivery of court documents.
In addition the need for access to the case file on the spot and the making copies of the file documents will be eliminated, the workload of the clerks will be reduced. Also the need for court archives space is decreasing.
Collaborations & Partnerships
Judges and lawyers were involved in the development of the system. The courts were free to choose the cases in which they would agree to test paperless court proceedings. The system will continue to be developed and it will be possible to propose improvements to the system during the pilot project. The coding/programming part of the system development was carried out by the private developing company CGI.
Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries
We started a Pilot project in Tallinn Administrative and Harju County Court in September 2017. We found judges of IT interest who gave us the feedback on what needed to be upgraded. The judges also included their Advocates-General. The goal of this project was to test workflows and system and the pilot was a success.
During 2018 we had second administrative court joining the project and more administrative cases were added. Goal for 2020 is for all civil procedures ato be fully digital.
Results, Outcomes & Impacts
By implementing a paperless procedure, it has been possible to save funds and the working time of court officials in preparing, managing and transporting a paper file. More than 80% of documents are submitted to the court in civil and administrative matters electronically. All documents are printed and added to the paper file (that still exists having legal validity for criminal cases). The Court prepares all documents electronically and more than 80% of these documents are transmitted electronically to the participants in the proceedings by e-mail.
In civil and administrative cases, more than 300,000 documents were filed in 2016 and more than 400,000 documents were produced by the court, making the saving substanial if printing and paper is no longer needed.
The project has also added to our goal of Open and Better access to Justice fo all. All the parties to the proceeding also get an overview of the case and the documents without having to go to court.
Challenges and Failures
Estonian judges said that for paper-free proceedings they need more than case management system offers. Working with large documents requires navigating through different case files, making notes, finding necessary keywords or procedures and going through hundreds of pages etc. So using the digital file you can do all of those things quickly and easily. It’s important that paper free court proceedings enable to reduce printing and archiving costs. Printing paper files, preparing and maintaining them, archiving, and uninterrupted transport between agencies – these are the costs that we were facing before implementing the Digital File. And also these were the costs that we wanted to reduce or lose altogether.
Previously, only the documents that were printed out and bound between covers were considered legal. Our goal was to obtain the same force to the documents in the databases.
In addition to hardware and software changes, it also required changing people's habits and training.
Conditions for Success
First and foremost , to take include all the relevant stakeholders from the beginning. This will greatly help with chaning the patterns and habits later on and one will face with less obstacles of accpeting a new system. The stakeholder involvement also enables to have the different views right from the beginning and take them into account when developing the system.
Naturally sufficient funds and a sound infrastructure is needed for such a project and high level will to make it happen. It is good to have both working level workgroups and high level steering committee (including also stakeholders) that meets regularly to take the strategic level decisions for the project to move fast.
The Digital File system can in essence also be implemented in other countries. This also hold for our central case management system the e-File that can be the backbone of digital law enforcement in Estonia. However, the Digital Court File cannot function without a supportive system such as e-File or any other court or case managemet informat system that collects data.
The main lessons learned greatly coincide with the conditions for success:
- include all relevant stakeholders from the beginning
- have the high level will/decision to make the project happen
- convey the steering committee (including also stakeholders) on a regular basis to make sure strategical level decisions are taken and accepted by all stakeholders
- start with a pilot/proof of concept
As next steps, we see:
When pre-trial activities such as criminal and misdemeanor proceedings become digital, we will have a complete digital court file. We want to have fully digitalized court files and completely eliminate paper files.
Since we are providing better equipment for courtrooms, we have also the opportunity to start recording the hearings and to better assess the evidence in the digital file. It reduces the working time of the people attending the session, and at the same time all the possibilities for a comprehensive evaluation of the evidence are guaranteed.
Replacing the minuting of the sessions with the recording of the sessions would enable to reduce the working time of session secretaries and the judges, the secretary of the session would be able to contribute to the quality of the contents of the audio file, and savings would also be made on paper and postage.
It would be possible for the Advocates General to reduce the input of metadata into information systems.