Transparency in the Justice System- an obligation and an opportunity
Our Court launched a twitter account, seeking to rebuild trust. In Argentina, the justice system is the institution with the lowest public trust. Through this account we publish every judgement, hearings, the staff resumes and the Judge's personal leaves. This is not the norm in our country and constitutes a pioneering innovation that demands deep cultural change from public servants and our users too. We improved engagement with the public and inspire other teams to deliver a more efficient service.
In Argentina, the justice system is the institution with the lowest public trust, and Judges are often perceived by the public as non-transparent, inefficient and distant. The No. 10 Criminal Court of the City of Buenos Aires, Judge Pablo Cruz Casas and his team set out to change this.
We took a step forward by implementing a judicial open data initiative and the use of Information & Communication Technologies (ICT) as a way to improve our Court’s engagement with the community.
We launched an open twitter account, convinced that free access to public information constitutes a fundamental right in a democratic society.
Through this account we publish every judgment and ruling and we interact directly with users. We face the challenge of ensuring that we publish as much as possible while safeguarding personal data in all judicial documents.
Actually, we are manually removing any sensitive data that can help identify the people involved in each case. Although this is an incredibly burdensome task, it allows to ensure maximum access while also preserving privacy.
We share the documents in an open format. We seek to meet the requirements and criteria issued by organizations that work with open data.
That is why we provide this information in an organized manner, creating an open data repository where users are able to find different types of data sets, containing all the judgments organized by type of felony, type of punishment, a brief description and a link to the complete decision. Moreover, data sets cover all the hearings that were held, as well as the sort and duration of each hearing.
In addition to improving transparency, this system has enabled us to measure our performance in various ways. For instance, we can promptly view and classify the exact amount of cases we have for each type of felony or misdemeanour, how much time it takes the Court to resolve petitions, how much time the Judge devotes to hearings and also generate dashboards with indicators of every decision made.
We publish all this information so it can be analysed and scrutinized by the public. In order to be as clear and accessible as possible, we display charts created with open source software like Tableau.
This entire process is demanding very deep cultural change both from our team of public servants and our users too. In the judiciary there are many long-standing, ingrained practices and traditions that are difficult to confront.
The impact and results of delivering these policies can be measured not only by interactions with our twitter account and public google drive, but also with the encouragement and interest we have received from different public servants and citizens across the world.
With this open justice initiative, we have improved our work environment and achieved better job satisfaction. Critically, we have inspired other teams to deliver a more efficient public service.
In addition to the information related to judgments and rulings, we decided to broaden our spectrum of openness. We regularly announce the Tribunal agenda, so any citizen can witness the hearings being held.
Furthermore, we decided to publish the resume of each member of our team. Moreover, although it is not the norm in our justice system, we publish the Judge’s personal leaves and interim appointments in other Courts.
Among other innovations and inspired by plain language initiatives, we are working to make our decisions as comprehensible and clear as possible to every citizen. We are replacing difficult technical words and legalese for simpler, everyday terms.
We are determined to provide a service based on trust by making ourselves more accessible to the community. We hope that, in the near future, these innovations will be common in any court of law.
This project was enabled by the City of Buenos Aires Magistrates Council -the institution which administers the Judiciary- and the support of Mariano Heller, as Head of the Planning Secretary.
Recently, within this program, was launched a Justice and Innovation Lab (#JusLab) which forms an OGP commitment.
What Makes Your Project Innovative?
Our Open Justice Initiative is innovative because no other court in the region had open a public twitter account to share their work.
We choose twitter because you do not need to have an account in order to view our public profile.
This encourages transparency and accountability. Reaching out to the general public by the judiciary is not at all common in Argentina.
What is the current status of your innovation?
This open court initiative started three years ago. We are constantly learning and evaluating how we can improve our engagement and openness.
We regularly hold team meetings to analyse the data we are collecting regarding criminal cases. We ask ourselves which other information and statistics can be gathered, measured and how can we make it more accessible to the community. These meetings, apart from bringing the work group closer together, allow us to set our work process and objectives.
We were recently invited to share our innovative experience at the seminar "The Journey Towards Open Government -The UK Ministry Of Justice & Metropolitan Police Experience" held by Austral University, organized in collaboration with the UK Ministry of Justice and the Institute of Global City Policing.
Collaborations & Partnerships
The City of Buenos Aires Magistrates Council -the institution which administers the Judiciary- collaborated and supported this project through its Planning Secretary, lead by Mariano Heller. This backing allowed us to optimize communications skills and promote networking opportunities with other justice sector stakeholders.
Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries
With this open justice initiative, we have improved our work environment and achieved better job satisfaction. In addition, we have motivated and encourage other court teams to deliver a more efficient public service.
We have been gathering evaluations by citizens in order to measure their satisfaction with the way they were engaged and their overall experience in the court.
Results, Outcomes & Impacts
This innovation allows us to measure our performance in various ways.
The impact in our social media speaks for itself, bearing in mind that we are a criminal court. We observed the access and interaction with our account. We have seventeen hundred followers, a bit more than twenty five thousand visits to our page, were we have the link to our drive, and over a million and a half prints.
We managed to structure and present data using open source tools like Tableau, so it is available to be analyzed, measured and reuse by citizenship.
Academic institutions, media and different stakeholders have shown interest in our innovations.
In the future, we expect more institutions to join this path towards open justice.
Challenges and Failures
Another challenge was to encourage and motivate public servants that have being working differently for a long time. Our starting point was to be insightful and think which practices we could modify to elevate the levels of trust in the justice system.
We have always focused on the citizens and our goal to provide them a more efficient public service. That was the key to inspire others who were dispirited in their usual tasks and chores.
However, we have to work on the pressure to constantly display all our work in public.
Conditions for Success
In order to achieve success in this project, changing the mind set of Judiciaries is essential.
As in every ground-breaking project, strong leadership skills are needed.
It is vital to build a team with character, conscience and solid work ethics to embrace open government policies and its ideals with conviction.
Support from local and federal government is helpful for sustaining the progress.
This project can be replicated by any other court, although it takes a lot of “extra” effort and resources. We have implemented it with almost no extra budget than the one granted to other courts.
It has been replicated by another criminal court in our judicial branch of the City of Buenos Aires. We had several guidance meetings to encourage and share our knowledge. They were able to successfully launch their open justice project and also added new ideas.
This project is based upon a profound belief in the value of transparency when administering justice, the relevance of accountability, and the need to develop real improvements to help regenerate trust as a way of improving the democratic legitimacy of the justice administration, which ultimately is where states decide in particular cases about the constitutional rights and protections granted to the members of the community.
From this experience we are convinced in the value of transparency and open data in the justice system. We strongly believe this as a key component to gain and rebuild trust in our community.