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Towards Cyberjustice Retrospective Part 2: a Tale of Cyberjustice

As announced in our October 17th column, this is the second of a series of blogs highlighting the various papers, studies, and pilot projects conducted by the Cyberjustice Laboratory under the auspices of the “Towards Cyberjustice” Project. Funded by a Major Collaborative Research Grant from the Social Science and Humanities Research Council, this seven-year long project has finally drawn to a close and will be the subject of a detailed report to be released later this year. In anticipation of this upcoming report, its first chapter – entitled “A Tale of Cyberjustice” – will be highlighted in the present blog post.

The chapter begins by documenting the conception of the Cyberjustice Laboratory. As regular readers of our column are well aware, the Cyberjustice Laboratory is a creative think-tank whose aim is to improve access to justice problems that plague the judicial system. Created in 2010 by one of the undersigned and McGill University Professor Fabien Gélinas, the Laboratory has become one of the most important research facilities in the world on the topic of court technology.

The idea to create such an institution stemmed from the various Online Dispute Resolution (“ODR”) projects that Laboratory researchers had participated in over the preceding 20 years, including eResolution. eResolution was accredited by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and entrusted to apply its Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP) to resolve domain name disputes. eResolution has successfully resolved over 500 disputes throughout more than 50 countries. The success of this project led to the creation of the Electronic Consumer Dispute Resolution program, dubbed ECODIR, which provided European consumers with electronic means of resolving disputes.

The experiences amassed throughout these various projects mark the beginning of the Cyberjustice Laboratory’s conception – a journey that was initiated in 2004 and took six years to reach fruition. Since its launch, the Cyberjustice Laboratory has striven to increase access to justice by remodeling judicial processes and developing technological tools that are adapted to the realities of the justice system. The Cyberjustice Laboratory pursued this mission in a twofold fashion. First, it built a high-tech virtual hearing room located on the premises of the University of Montreal, in addition to a portable hearing room located at McGill University. These courtrooms consist of state of the art audio-visual technology, including multi-videoconferencing as well as 3-D evidence presentation capabilities, that enables fully electronic trials and simulations.

Second, the Cyberjustice Laboratory developed the “Towards Cyberjustice” project, which pursued its goals through a multidisciplinary approach assembling a team of researchers from all around the world that specialize in various disciplines within the social sciences. All the researchers involved were separated into three working groups, each of which explored a different aspect of the project. The first working group analyzed international examples regarding the incorporation of modern technologies into the justice system in order to identify the extent to which it has been successful in increasing access to justice. Several prominent studies were emitted by this working group, including one that examines both e-justice system design principles as well as design management principles in an effort to determine their effects on the success of the outcomes of e-justice solutions adopted in various jurisdictions.

The second working group, whose aim was to identify the factors contributing to the judicial system’s resistance to technological change, examined obstacle to the digitalization of judicial traditions, practices and rituals by pursuing both psychological and sociological studies of the behaviour, attitudes and perception of judicial stakeholders. One of the many interesting studies developed by this working group, entitled “Emotions in Ritual Theories” and written by Professor Meredith Rossner and Mythily Meher, examines how rituals impact human identities and values and ultimately how ritual theories can advance research agendas.

Finally, the third working group used the data gathered by the first two to develop new procedural models allowing for the integration of technology into the justice system in a manner that ensures the protection of fundamental rights. This working group’s efforts were essentially concentrated on better harmonizing e-justice with traditional justice procedures, ultimately recognizing stability as one of the crucial building blocks of the legal system and maintaining that this element must be taken into account in the modernization of justice.

The research contributed by these three working groups throughout the course of the “Towards Cyberjustice” project has led to the creation of some truly novel open software solutions that can be tailored to meet the needs of various judicial systems. One of the most prominent of these tools – which has been discussed on previous occasions in our column – is PARLe, an ODR platform that aids consumers in resolving low intensity disputes from the comfort of their own homes. Initially only offering dispute resolution capabilities that would require consumers to pursue their cases in court should they not successfully negotiate with the defendant, PARLe now offers an e-Court option as well, essentially allowing such disputes to be entirely resolved from beginning to end. In a similar effort to increase access to justice and simplify citizens’ lives, the Cyberjustice Laboratory also adapted PARLe to allow individuals to dispute tickets, upload evidence, reach settlement agreements and manage any resulting trials from the comfort of their homes through their electronic devices.

Of equal significance to the innovative solutions developed by the Cyberjustice Laboratory is the community of openness and sharing that resulted from its work. Its open software community, dubbed the “Cyberjustice Community,” assembles users, computer scientists and service providers worldwide whose aim is to develop open source software solutions geared towards increasing access to justice. It is driven by five goals, namely (1) to encourage research and scientific development; (2) to promote access to justice through adapted software; (3) to decrease judiciary costs; (4) to improve the quality of legal open source software; and (5) to advocate for the interoperability of the judiciary through the use of open source standards. Not only have the open source software solutions developed increased over the years and now serve several legal systems, but they have also resulted in the creation of an inclusive open source software community to which those within the legal community can contribute to ultimately further the goals at the heart of the Cyberjustice Laboratory’s mission. At present, its members include ministers of justice, public institutions, tribunals and research centers that integrate or use the Cyberjustice Community’s software.

For a more detailed account of the Cyberjustice Laboratory’s journey, make sure to take a look at our report when it is released later this year. Meanwhile, keep an eye out for Part 3 of this series of blogs that will highlight the second chapter of the report, which examines the pros and cons of the current legal system as well as the access to justice issues that plague it.

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