A National Center for State Courts study in 2011 listed a number of changing social and political contexts to this question. Those include:
- Changing and aging demographics of court users,
- Increasing demand for transparency and accountability, and
- Greater expectations on the ability to access information and transact with the court remotely.
Future of the Courts
A new Thomson Reuters white paper dives deeper into these factors, their impact on our court systems, and how our courtrooms might change as a result. Some of our predictions include:
Virtualized and paperless courts
Virtualized proceedings will be deployed to overcome distance, logistics, and the associated scheduling inefficiencies, delays and costs that currently bedevil court systems the world over. In addition they will facilitate cross-jurisdiction access by mitigating issues of time zones and working hours.
Furthermore, an increasing volume of court communications will move into cyberspace. The use of online services or email rather than postal services will reduce costs and also speed up communications. Increased online communication also will go hand-in-hand with increasing use of electronic verification of documents, as electronic signatures tend to replace written ones. Proper standardized systems of authentication – increasingly interoperable between jurisdictions – will be required.
Greater use of video evidence
In the area of hearings management, the courts world will see greater use of video evidence, videoconferencing or telepresence technologies. This is already increasingly used in criminal proceedings to facilitate the testimony of vulnerable witnesses, or to mitigate significant logistical costs (for example, allowing a prisoner to attend a bail hearing via video link from his or her facility).
This technology will continue to develop in respect of absent defendants, witnesses and expert witnesses to streamline the court process, saving time that would otherwise be lost because of scheduling issues.
Technology as a tool for self-represented parties
Jurisdictions across the globe are seeing an increase in volume of self-represented parties, especially in the context of reductions in central funding of legal aid. The increased use of technology may provide a solution for unrepresented parties.
As more and more aspects of the courts move online, we can expect virtualized courts to play a part in overcoming difficulties for unrepresented parties. As services are designed for the online environment and tomorrow’s community needs, it is in the courts’ interests to ensure those services are coupled with strong guided support for self-represented litigants, to provide a quicker, less costly and more accessible route to justice for the citizen and reduce burdens on court staff, the judiciary and opposing parties.
A data revolution
Court leaders will find themselves increasingly occupied with decisions on the management, security and publication not only of case documents but also of the huge amounts of data that are generated as a product of the increasing digitization of court processes themselves – data including records of listings, data on case progress, video files of proceedings and a host of other information.
A byproduct of increasing digitization – and the concomitant development of technology infrastructure – is the growing susceptibility of various elements of the court process to full or partial automation. For example, efficiencies will be increasingly sought in the area of e-discovery and machine-reading of documents, using the growth in computing power to assist with review of material.
Standardization and globalization
As knowledge and best practice surrounding court management become more available in a connected, online world, we may expect a further “normalization” of procedure and practice, supported also by common standards in technology and information – for instance open data – and a supply chain of technology and software vendors that is increasingly globalised.
For example, the procedure for service of legal proceedings varies from country to country and is currently very complicated; can we imagine that in the future this may be simplified at an international level?
Preparing the court leaders of the future
Both the challenges and the opportunities facing today’s court systems are gradually becoming understood with greater clarity. Online dispute resolution systems still enjoy a greater presence in the private sector, but courts in the UK, the US and elsewhere are increasingly looking to such technologies to solve their triple challenge of smaller budgets, bigger caseloads, and more litigants without representation.
Partnering with Thomson Reuters, and in particular C-Track Court Management Software, means courts have access to technologies that are designed for today, but built on agile technologies so courts are prepared for what the future holds.
Courts leaders need to display adaptability and foresight. They need to develop a keen understanding of the benefits of technology, both the technology available today and the new technology that will emerge tomorrow. And they need the courage not only to defend the essential elements of their role in the community, but also to imagine a clear vision of how that role will evolve in the future. The challenge is to marry the best of IT-enabled services with institutions of justice that maintain and improves their reputation for transparency, timeliness and ease of access.
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