The use of technology in the courts

AuthorLord Justice Brooke
PositionJudge of the Court of Appeal for England and Wales
Ilast came to Dublin to talk about technology in the Courts in
1998. By that time not very much had happened in my jurisdiction.
Back-office systems called CREST and CASEMAN had been
installed in all the Crown Courts and in all the county courts to help
court staff handle court business more efficiently. There was also a
computerised bulk process centre at Northampton which handled
the claims of a few verylarge creditor companies by helping them to
issue, process and obtain default judgments electronically. The gas
companies would use it, for example, when people did not pay their
gas bill. So far as the judges were concerned, a judicial technology
project called JUDITH provided about 400 full-time judges with
laptop computers and software, including communications software,
to go with them. Apart from a few freestanding back office systems
in specialist courts, and a communications system for civil servants,
that was about all.
Towards the end of 1998 sanction was obtained for the provision
of 1,000 modernlaptop computers to judges. The specification was
superior to that of the old JUDITH laptops, and on this occasion the
arrangements included the provision of three days’ initial training
for every judge, unless it was obvious that this was not needed.
Windows NT and Word 97 were the main features of the new
specification, together with an upgraded version of the
communications and conferencing software we had used since 1993
and a CD-ROM drive. Sadly, no provision was made for follow-up
training for novices, and about a thirdof our judges have still not
advanced very far in IT skills. A big IT training programme is being
planned for next year.
These 1,000 PCs were delivered between January 1999 and July
2000. By this time the approach of the Human Rights Act led to
arrangements by which we were provided with Internet access by
way of a specially designed portal. By this means judges, wherever
2004] The Use of Technology in the Courts 169
*Judge of the Court of Appeal for England and Wales. This article is based on a paper I
delivered to the Judicial Studies National Conference in Dublin, November 2002.
they were sitting, could access the database of judgments of the
European Court of Human Rights, and also a very large volume of
case-law and statutory material. This development excited the
interest of many judges who had not previously chosen to join the
scheme, and approval was given for the provision of a further 200
JT laptops. Since then, arrangements have been made for the
surrender of laptops by judges when they retire, and for the
provision of JT laptops, together with initial training, to new judges
soon after they are appointed to the bench.
At one time the Court Service thought they could deliver IT case
management systems at the same time as Lord Woolf’s civil justice
reforms. The then Head of Civil Justice, Sir Richard Scott, believed
strongly that the reforms should not be implemented until IT systems
were in place to give the procedural judges the support they needed
if they were to maintain effective judicial control from the centre.
This wish was never susceptible to fulfilment. For one thing, the new
rules and practice directions were forever being changed, and IT
systems designers need a period of stability in which to do their
work. For another,therewas insufficient know-how available on
how to design an intricate set of new systems without the risk of a
very expensive failure.
Iam bound to say that those of us who knew a little about IT
were becoming increasingly anxious about what might happen. The
systems that were being designed could not possibly have supported
the more sophisticated modern systems that were bound to be
needed in future. We feared that designers might be planning another
one-storey building, like CREST and CASEMAN, with shallow
foundations on which nothing could be built on top. Our vision was
of a 12-storey building, in which an electronic court file, serving the
needs of the trial judge, would in due course take pride of place.
Eventually the Government decided to implement the reforms on
26 April 1999 without waiting for the IT systems to be put in place.
Minor enhancements weremade to the existing (wholly inadequate)
systems, and for a short time additional court staff were allocated to
help with the increasing load of paper. In the Central Office at the
Royal Courts of Justice, for instance, case files had to be created for
the first time since those courts wereopened in 1882. The paper
170 [4:1Judicial Studies Institute Journal

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