Technology and the Courts – CTC2013 in Baltimore – Day 1

Every two years the National Center for State Courts runs a Courts Technology Conference. These are enormous gatherings, bringing together people involved in all aspects of justice delivery both from the US and internationally.

This year the Conference is being held in Baltimore and the first day has been envigorating and exciting. The day got started with an exciting keynote by Alec Ross, formerly with Hilary Clinton when she was Secretary of State. Some interesting observations came out of this session. One example involved the use of social media whilst State Dept representatives were on a mission in Syria. One member of the delegation sent a flippant tweet involving a frappacino – nothing remarkable but the news media picked up on it and there was a lot of criticism which lasted for a news cycle but resulted in embarrassment for the delegation. The upshot? Ross used this as an example of treating mistakes as misdemeanours rather than felonies. Was this a career ending “offence”. Of course not. In fact Ross said that Hilary Clinton’s response was that if you don’t take fire you are bombing the wrong target. Worth thinking about when mistakes are made and there is a possibility for overreaction. I guess in these days of social media we may all have our “frappacino” moments.

There are a number of streams at CTC2013. My primary interest has been in the Judicial stream but not exclusively. In the first session I attended, Judge Martin Gonzales and Judge Dory Reiling talked about technology turn offs. Rather than this being a hate session about technology and the courts it was more off a cautionary  discussion. Judge Gonzales emphasised the importance of ensuring that litigants did not become aspects of data. The Court process is a human process where Judges must engage personally with litigants and Judge Gonzales gave some salutary examples. So yes, technology can be a tool, but it should not take over.

Judge Reiling described ways in which technology can be applied in the litigation process as a facilitatory tool towards achieving an outcome be it by way of settlement or judicial decision. Using a matrix she was able to demonstrate where technological interventions may take place. One interesting development that she noted was a system used by the English Court system where individuals may file claims for debt online – essentially a tool for self-represented litigants.

That segued nicely into the next session I went to which was about the ways in which technology may assist represented litigants file and progress their claims. The presenters identified SRL needs and then suggested ways in which technology may meet these needs. The basic model is for Courts to have an access portal for SRLs remembering that access must be effective in that those with disabilities need to be catered for, that legal language be avoided, that procedures are simply explained,that there’ve effective help facilities provided including on line advice. Given the increase in SRIs especially with the cuts that have been made to legal aid there must be ways in which SRIs can have meaningful access to the Court system.

At the moment I am listening to a discussion about social media. Moore of a general discussion about social media rather than specific applications within the justice system. It is an interesting day, but CTC days always are.

The IT Country Justice. 17 September 2013.

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