While digitisation in public institutions was progressing slowly over the past two decades, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic many authorities, institutions and organisations put taking processes into the digital realm on top of their priority list. Digitisation is making a big difference in the functioning of nearly any industry and is certainly becoming a necessity to stance the future challenges.
Digitalising court documents is said to have a particularly positive impact on the operation and organisation of courts. In general, the digitalisation of justice is widely seen to improve the efficiency of justice and facilitate access to justice for court users. Digital tools can increase the amount of information or level of services available to court users or lower the barriers to accessing existing services.
Having electronic document management in place first and foremost increases staff efficiency by making specific documents accessible from remote locations and available 24 hours a day. Searches can be conducted more efficiently in a matter of seconds saving valuable time while documents can also be accessed by multiple individuals simultaneously. Public access to information would also be improved and for instance, in cases of applications, digitalised solutions enable the court to reduce paper, save resources making it more sustainable. Court staff would also have more time to fulfil their essential duties increasing efficiency.
Modernising the justice administration with encryption technologies ensures business continuity and file integrity by protecting the documents from thefts, damage, disasters, manipulation, and alteration while also saving a lot of space in comparison to storing paper documents. Another perk is timeliness and real-time, accurate information crucial for probation officers, prison staff or attorneys.
But with computerisation also come pitfalls such as practical limitations, awareness, and knowledge obstacles, along with privacy challenges that are to be overcome. It is, therefore, crucial to implement effective strategies, educate users, train staff, and comply with best practice policies. But how daunting the task may sound, in the long run, the benefits of electronic document management for courts will by far outweigh the drawbacks.
In Malta, constant efforts are being made to incorporate and initiate new information technology (IT) strategies to modernise the services and improve the efficiency of its government, institutions, authorities, and courts. In an 18-month co-operation project from May 2020 till November 2021 called “Establishing a digital strategy for the Maltese justice sector” the Ministry for Justice, Equality and Governance of Malta developed a digital justice strategy action plan with the support of the European Commission for the Efficiency of Justice (CEPEJ) and with funding by the European Union. The main objectives of the action plan are digitalization of records and processes while ensuring interoperability at European level, access to justice by user-centred online service, analytical capabilities for judicial statistical data analytics and building digital skills and competencies as well as training. The strategy will be implemented in the period of 2022-2027 to the benefit of judges, civil servants, court managers, judicial trainers, court staff, court users and the entire population of Malta at large as they will benefit directly and indirectly from the modernization and improved efficiency and quality of the Maltese judicial system.
Digitalising court records is only part of the puzzle, a fraction of what is possible with advanced technology in the future. It can be seen as the empowering step for other downstream digitalszation efforts such as digital court reporting, remote courts, or even computerized sentencing. With its action plan, Malta certainly paved the way for taking full advantage of digitalised court records, driving change towards cyber-justice, and overcoming the challenges that come with digitisation.
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