Transparent, user-friendly and efficient rule of law boosts the economy, attracts foreign investments, improves the work-flows of the entire judicial system, and as if that wasn’t enough – it remains one of the cornerstones of democracies around the world. Today, the Estonian court system is considered one of the most efficient in Europe, with its automated court procedures and electronic communication tools.
During the current emergency situation, the advantages of our online court system are particularly clear. It has been widely discussed whether technology is going to replace all the tasks of judges and lawyers in the future. Based on the Estonian experience thus far, however, technology is here to support the legal system so that those that work in the field can focus on more pressing matters that genuinely require human interaction.
Digitalisation of courts
The process of digitalising the courts began already at the end of the third industrial revolution. Now, the revolution of information technology provides an excellent opportunity to transform the judicial system into a mesmerisingly quick, efficient, and high-quality array of services available to all citizens and residents, as our forefathers intended.
The development of the e-File system was started by the Government of Estonia in 2005. Since then, e-justice and our expectations towards it have evolved quite noticeably. As soon as a citizen has securely authenticated themselves and accessed the e-justice platform, they can submit any kind of cases online. The data will be shared between institutions that are linked to the case and courts can start proceeding related documents. These interactions are based on the once-only policy which means that duplicates of information are not allowed in state databasees.
The e-file platform also allows courts to send citizens different documents, while notifications ensure judges that all files have been successfully delivered. Every document is timestamped and contains a secure electronic signature. Furthermore, classified information can be encrypted by the courts to make sure that no third party would be able to access the data. This helped the Estonian e-justice model gain the reputation of a reliable and trustworthy array of services.
Tackling complexities with AI
Today, the number of judges in Estonia remains the same as 20 years ago. However, the number of court cases have doubled over that time span. Given the complexities of the legal system from the local to the European Union level, the pressure on the court system seems unlikely to decrease – indeed, the opposite seems much more probable. What does this mean? Well, it means that this is the perfect time for IT companies to develop systems that help judges and lawyers spend less time on repetitive and menial tasks. Some of our companies have already started working with lawyers and courts to tackle the most time-consuming tasks and find solutions to replace these with automated systems. Chief among the solutions will be applications for artificial intelligence which can predict results of processes and discover new patterns. AI is capable of making autonomous decisions within more common court procedures/tasks that would otherwise occupy judges and lawyers alike for hours.
Striving for efficiency on all fronts
At this point you might ask: “Speeding up the court procedures is all nice and well, but surely these solutions cost a lot of money?” That’s a fair question! But actually, the Estonian court system is running on one of the lowest per capita budgets across the entire European Union. So there you have it: the e-justice system shows how entire countries can benefit from electronic solutions.
If the cooperation between different sectors is strong and healthy, technological solutions could minimise the amount of paperwork, provide a more reliable and comprehensive overview of all relevant pieces of information across state registries, and of course reduce the red tape between courts and citizens. These solutions save time and money – both for the citizenry and public officials.
speaker at e-estonia briefing centre