Toward a Modernised and More Accessible Justice: Technological Courtroom Management

Author: Alexandre Thibeault Guest Blogger

The Cyberjustice Laboratory of the Université de Montréal has been developing a courtroom management software application for one year now. Initially, the project, called ISA – a french acronym for « Interface de salle d’audience » (courtroom interface) – had the sole purpose of developing a streamlined interface facilitating the management of the Laboratory’s state-of-the-art technological courtroom software infrastructure.

However, due to the great potential of this software and to the enthusiasm of its first users, a web-based version of ISA was quickly designed. Our main objective behind its development is to extract the management functions from the courtroom’s physical infrastructure and to streamline and concentrate them in a web application, in such a way that we could easily manage the courtroom from a mobile platform. Once its development is completed, ISA will allow digital networking of all the actors in a trial, especially the judge, the lawyers and the parties. In practical terms, each actor will be able to access, through a digital tablet or an intelligent phone connected to Internet, to a personalised interface allowing himself or herself, at the appropriate moment, to control the relevant courtroom functions.

ISA-Interface

For example, a lawyer will be able, during the questioning of a witness, to directly display any digital documentation onto the courtroom screens and underline the most relevant elements through real-time annotations. In turn, the witness will be able to access the digital documentation on its tablet and to review it at its pace, in addition to being able to annotate it. Access to the mobile interface will be granted and removed by the clerk of the court at the appropriate moment, as directed by the judge.

ISA’s development is part of the innovative work undertaken by the Cyberjustice Laboratory. Founded in 2010, the Laboratory works on the digitalisation of judicial and extrajudicial processes. Moreover, it studies, through a multidisciplinary approach, the impacts of digitalisation on the judicial process and on all actors participating in a trial.

This being said, the Laboratory is fully aware of the numerous implications that would present the implementation of a software such as ISA in Quebec’s judicial system, as well as their importance, notably concerning the way in which each actor in a trial fulfills his or her role. More significantly, a simplification of the trial, a diminution of its costs and an increase in accessibility following the implementation and use of ISA on a large scale would force us to reconsider our conception of the judicial process. Simpler, more efficient and shorter trials would undeniably favour the people and be more in line with the pre-eminence of technological tools in our daily lives and the central place they give to users. Furthermore, all of our software applications – including ISA – are designed and developed in a perspective of simplicity, sharing and flexibility, which is consistent with our overarching objective of improving access to justice through technology.

We must however recognize, in an operational angle, that ISA’s large-scale implementation would require the existence of three conditions. First of all, an equipment allowing information sharing between technological tools should be available in the relevant courtrooms (at minimum a computer, a screen and a « Wifi » network connection). Subsequently, clerk of the courts in the said courtrooms should receive an accelerated training regarding ISA’s operation, use and management. Finally, an information package should be made available to judges, lawyers and parties who may use the ISA-equipped courtrooms.

Cyberjustice- School

This implementation would be facilitated by ISA’s great flexibility and the fact all its technological components are web-based and developed in open-source. ISA could thus very easily be adapted to a full spectrum of courtroom’s technological configurations, from the simplest (a computer, a screen and a network connection) to the most complex. Moreover, in the event videoconferencing and streaming capacities where to grow considerably, ISA could be used as an interface allowing a party to intervene remotely during a trial.

We firmly believe it is possible to go forward with the implementation of ISA, once its development is finalised. At the present moment, the application is functional and has been live-tested on June 13 in front of more than thirty people, as part of the Cyberjustice Laboratory Summer School 2014. As development continues, we are convinced ISA’s integration in the judicial system would constitute an effective and affordable step toward judicial modernisation and an improved access to justice!

A French version of this blog post has been published on July 21st and is available here.

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Alexandre Thibeault is a member of Quebec Bar and a graduate student at the Université de Montréal-Faculty of Law. He works as a research assistant with Professor Karim Benyekhlef at the Cyberjustice Laboratory.

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