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Bill on full digitization of civil legal case files goes to Riigikogu

The justice ministry is located in the 'super-ministry' building in central Tallinn.
The justice ministry is located in the 'super-ministry' building in central Tallinn. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

A bill which will provide for the transition to digital-only files in civil and administrative legal cases has been sent to the Riigikogu, the Ministry of Justice says. The change will bring efficiency gains, improve crisis resilience, save money and act as an example to other states, the ministry says.

While full digitization of criminal cases is also going ahead separately, the goal is for all court hearings to be fully digitized by 2026.

Whereas until the present, court files have been stored both on paper and digitally in parallel, in the future, only the digital version will carry legal weight, while in any case paper files will no longer be drafted. 

Minister of Justice Lea Danilson-Järg (Isamaa) said the transition to a digital file will speed up the court process and make it more convenient for all participants in the proceedings.

The minister said: "The digitization of court proceedings and the transition to digital files in civil and administrative cases is an important step in the development of the Estonian e-state, and was preceded by a long and comprehensive preparatory work."

"The courts have been preparing for the transition to a paperless procedure since 2017 - the relevant software has been developed and new work processes have been practiced," she went on.

"However, the possibility to communicate with a court on paper will remain in place. When paper documents arrive, which is happening less and less frequently, they will be digitized and added to the court information system's files."

The move will also make things clearer, more simplified – given there are sometimes differences between county courts and district courts in terms of the paper versus digital difference – and will save money, the minister added, noting that all the parties to the proceedings and the courts can consult a file simultaneously, in the case of digital files.

Digitization in general ha made the Estonian judicial system highly resistant to crises, as evidenced during the Covid pandemic, when court proceedings continued at their former rate, while in many countries courts' work was disrupted, often severely.

The procedure will also act as an example to other countries, and plugs into Estonia's general status as a trail-blazing e-state.

The transition to digital-only files in criminal cases will also follow.

"There is already a draft amendment to the Penal Code under Riigikogu process which creates a legal basis for the digital procedure in criminal cases," the minister added.

Estonia was named a pioneer in the field of digitalization of courts In a study conducted by the Nordic Council of Ministers this year a newly published comparative study by the Council of Europe, the digitization index of the Estonian judicial system is 9.79 on a ten-point scale, i.e. close to the maximum.

About 27 percent of civil and administrative cases were processed without a paper file in 2019, while about 38 percent of all procedures registered in the court information system in 2020. Last year, the proportion of digital files had risen to 53 percent in civil cases and 63 percent in administrative cases.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

Source: Ministry of Justice

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