The Ministry of Justice has agreed to courts' request to partially postpone switching to paperless administration of justice. Courts find paper files could be replaced with digital ones once the information system becomes superior to paper.
The Ministry of Justice decided last year that courts will switch to digital files in civil and administrative proceedings starting from 2020. Secretary General Viljar Peep believes long-prepared changes would benefit both courts and parties to proceedings.
"Parties to proceedings could access files from the outside, add things. Secondly, there is the question of how files move in the courthouse. I'm sure all agencies and companies remember the time when documents moved in a great apparatus from the receptionist to the secretary in charge of sending out documents. It is important to ensure parties to proceedings have access to files. It will also lower printing and archiving expenses," Peep explained.
For example, Harju County Court spent over €40,000 on file folders and staples in the past three years. Courts reported the new system was not working properly as soon as the ministry had announced the change. The courts' management council that convened in September decided that such a sharp turn cannot be taken toward the beginning of the year. Chairman of the Estonian Judges' Society Indrek Parrest said that the first problems appear when people bring their documents to court.
"They are scanned, while the quality of scanned documents is often insufficient once they reach the judge. We also have all manner of hardware questions. Without paper files, we would at the very least need a big screen in the courthouse where we could look at them. Not all courthouses have one at this time."
Digital files are also prone to glitches or freezing. This means that the judge has to wrestle with their computer while they should be presiding over the session. Judges may be distracted from developments in the courthouse by having to address digital issues and miss debates or arguments in the process.
The ministry decided to change the rules and procedures after the September meeting.
"We are evaluating to what extent to switch to digital files from the new year. It will likely be in reduced volume and differ from courthouse to courthouse. Some are better prepared for it than others," Peep said.
No court will escape the digital system in the long run. The justice ministry wants to agree on a new deadline for a full switch and fix it in legislation.
"It seems sensible to us to add the requirement of digital administration of justice straight into civil, criminal and administrative codes."
Viljar Peep added that while the system will be improved, judges mostly need to get used to it and undergo training that will be made available. Indrek Parrest agreed but added that the system needs to be revisited before a new deadline is set.
"The right time would be when digital files become better tools than their paper alternatives. That would be the right time for judges," Parrest said.
Viljar Peep said that the digital turn cannot be carried out without deadlines.
"It is very difficult to organize things when one judge wants to see things on paper, while another says they prefer the digital version. It should be better organized than that."
Editor: Marcus Turovski