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Justice minister calls for court system to go fully digital

Justice minister Raivo Aeg (Isamaa).
Justice minister Raivo Aeg (Isamaa). Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

Minister of Justice Raivo Aeg (Isamaa) says digitizing the entire legal process in Estonia is a priority for his ministry.

Speaking at the annual meeting of Estonia's bench of judges, Aeg said the move was needed to ensure that everyone's work is made easier and proceedings quicker, BNS reports.

"In order to achieve the goal of making proceedings more efficient, the whole procedure must be digitized, starting from the report of the assessment of the scene through to the formalization of the court ruling. All parties, including the courts, have a role to play here," Aeg said. 

As it stands, all case materials are already available digitally, Aeg noted.

"The parties to the proceedings have much better access to the case materials, and the county court does not have to wait to retrieve a file sent to a district court because of an appeal procedure, but can continue with the proceedings. All this has a positive impact on the quality of the procedure," Aeg said.

Paper still in use

However, the judicial system as a whole is still dominated by paper, Aeg said, though many judges are replacing this with digital methods. For a broader transition, it is necessary to amend the Code of Conduct to support a paperless procedure throughout, something the ministry is also planning in conjunction with the courts, Aeg noted.

"The bill for revising criminal proceedings is the first attempt to get rid of paper. At this point, I urge the judiciary to actively engage and contribute to the establishment of provisions to support the operation of digital files in civil and administrative court proceedings," he went on.

Court workloads should be shared across the country

Cutting workloads and equalizing the burden between busier courts such as Harju County Court, and others nationwide, is also a priority, Aeg said.

A draft providing the judicial system with primary mechanisms to balance courts' workloads, for example by granting heads of district courts decision-making powers in balancing the burdens between county and administrative courts, along with the organization of judges' work upon resignation being made more flexible, according to BNS.

"This year, the Ministry of Justice is aiming to find more permanent solutions to the burden on the courts through nationwide distribution of cases. In addition, in the coming months, the role of the various officials in the judiciary system will be further explored in order to find ways in which they could be of greater help in justice and further their own development as well," Aeg said.

Civil cases rising, criminal cases getting more complex

The number of civil cases rose by 3,422 last year, Aeg noted.

"The order for payment urgent procedure system, which received 5,106 applications more than the year before, is also under great pressure."

Changes were also happening in the nature of criminal and administrative cases as well, he said.

"While the burden in criminal and administrative court proceedings has not increased in numbers, what is having an impact is that cases are becoming more complex in content, and their processing is becoming more time-consuming," he said.

Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Villu Kõve also spoke at the meeting, adding his voice to the calls for rationalizing and balancing out court processes.

Kõve also called for a relaxing of restrictions on court reporting, an issue which has caused controversy and confusion in recent months.

Aeg had said in December that there were no plans to address this via changes to the Criminal Code of Conduct.

Estonia's legal system is organized into three main tiers, with the Supreme Court obviously at the top, followed by the circuit courts and the county courts.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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