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Inquiry into Technology and the Law
- Media Release 2, Friday 28 May, 1999: From Dinosaurs to Cyborgs: Technology and Justice
The Victorian Law Reform Committee launched its report on Technology and the Law and tabled the report in the Victorian Parliament. The Inquiry is the first of its kind in the world and has examined world's best practice in a range of disciplines to formulate innovative solutions for the Victorian legal system. The report represents a bipartisan blueprint for the justice system in the next millennium.
The Report is available for download at [www.parliament.vic.gov.au/lawreform]
The Committee's vision for the use of technology is for the citizen to have seamless online access to legal information, advice and dispute resolution. The bipartisan report recommends widespread reform of the justice system including the amalgamation of the administration of courts and tribunals to facilitate increased efficiency and the centralised implementation of IT. While Victoria has led the world in its implementation of electronic service delivery, the justice system has lagged behind.
The Committee believes extensive change is required in the Department of Justice, Courts and Tribunals and the legal profession to harness new technologies for the benefit of the community as a whole.
Mr Victor Perton, MP, Chairman of the Law Reform Committee and its Inquiry into Technology and Law said today: "IT and globalism will revolutionise the legal system. The Committee has met with people who have adopted new technologies and practices to become genuine citizens of the world. We have seen other people who see these changes as threatening their existing power and tried to obstruct change that could not only benefit their own organisation or institution but provide a benefit to the whole of society."
"We have conducted a comprehensive international study of the ways in which technology can be used to improve the efficiency of, and increase access to, justice. Based on our extensive research and consultation, we believe that the Government needs to move to empower the citizen by providing access to the law and inexpensive means to resolve disputes with other citizens and government. To achieve this vision, there needs to be a transformation in the culture of law."
Mr Perton said, "A useful start in formulating solutions for the justice area is to ask: How would one organise and administer a justice system if one were to devise a legal system today, given the historical context and politics surrounding the existing justice system?"
Transforming the Hostility of Courts
The Committee has found that the public perception of courts is one of inaccessibility and hostility. The Committee has found best practice examples of transforming this perception by increasing the amount of electronic information available in court foyers and over the Internet. Courts rely on public confidence for their continuing authority, and technology offers new approaches to delivering the service needs of the public.
Mr Perton commented on the cultural impediments to effectively introducing new technologies into courts: "you're talking about taking the most rapidly changing area on one hand, and talking about how it plays in one of society's most conservative institutions on the other. There is no doubt that IT will form the foundation of the court system in the future and we have found that it is imperative that we ensure a uniform and sensible approach to IT implementation and planning in this early stage".
The legal system is renowned for its ties with tradition. These ties combine with a lack of understanding of IT to form strong resistance to the effective use of new technologies in the court system. The Committee has found that courts over-specify their IT requirements and consider themselves to be unique in implementing IT solutions. However, as Mr Perton said, "much of the courts' work could be automated with very simple supermarket and hotel booking software".
Technology and the Legal Profession
With globalisation and rapid developments in information technology, legal practice as we know it today will change beyond recognition in the next decade. Information technology ideally complements the clear trend towards the globalisation of law and legal practice. Lawyers will have to learn to use technology to their advantage and come to terms with their changing role if they wish to continue to survive in the information age. Lawyers will also have to develop new markets in the information economy to remain competitive.
The Committee has found however, that Australian lawyers have yet to fully take advantage of the information age. While a few of the major firms are recognising the need to modernise practices, a majority still operate within a nineteenth century paradigm. The Committee found that many law firms had strange practices in relation to the Internet, restricting access rather than using it as a business and research tool. The Committee was also very disappointed with the lack of support and information provided by professional bodies such as the Law Institute of Victoria to their members on new technologies and preparing for the information economy. As Mr Perton commented, 'without such support, smaller suburban and rural practices are very much under threat from the increasing availability of online do-it-yourself guides'.
Summary of Major Recommendations
- A centralised government entity should be formed to coordinate and implement a centralised approach to the introduction of technology across government;
- Amalgamation of the administration and registry functions of all Victorian courts and tribunals;
- The establishment of a law and technology clearinghouse that collaborates internationally to promote best practice uses of new technologies;
- Comprehensive training for judges and court administrators on the use of new technologies;
- The Victorian Government should investigate the possibility of establishing a fee for service secure electronic document registry and storage facility for use by private organisations worldwide;
- The Victorian Government should provide modest ongoing funding to AustLII as the primary national online legal resource to publish and enhance Victorian legal information;
- The Law Institute of Victoria and the Victorian Bar Council should provide greater support, information and training for members on new technologies;
- All courts and tribunals should provide electronic information in their foyers for clients;
- The Department of Justice should be mandated to provide the best possible IT systems for justice. This includes providing the best possible case management system for all courts and tribunals enabling electronic lodgement of documents and providing extensive electronic judicial support;
- The Victorian Government should prioritise initiatives providing traditionally disadvantaged groups including non English speaking background Australians, access to technology and adequate training;
- The Victorian Government should evaluate and implement emerging automatic language translation software;
- The Victorian Government should ensure greater integration of IT systems between the Department of Justice and other Departments;
- The Victorian Government should utilise integrated information databases to determine where resources are needed in an effort to reduce crime and deliver better criminal and civil justice systems; and
- That a 'legal channel' be connected to Maxi (the Victorian Government's electronic service delivery vehicle).
Having looked at the possibilities IT offers the future of law, the Committee believes its recommendations represent a pragmatic approach to the implementation of IT.
Mr Perton will be available for comment and briefings over the phone after 10.00 am and will be available for further questions at 2.30 pm at the Upstairs Dining Room, Parliament House.
The Victorian Law Reform Committee launched an Inquiry today on the use of new technologies to streamline the administration of courts and tribunals and to improve public access to courts and tribunals.
The Chairman of the Committee, Victor Perton, MP said that: "We are living in a revolutionary period with technology driving our lives and careers in unimagined ways. The economy and society will be forever transformed by the changes wrought by the global information industry. This Inquiry provides an exciting and challenging opportunity to consolidate and advance the position of Victoria as a world leader in the area of multimedia".
The Committee will examine the impact of current and ongoing projects and reform measures in Victoria as they affect courts and tribunals and take a wide view on the opportunities technology could present. The Committee will specifically look at:
- internet access to information about courts and tribunals;
- the use of videolinking and newer technologies; and
- technological improvements to the courts.
A copy of the terms of reference is available on the Web site.
The Committee invites written submissions, which can be sent or emailed to the Committee Secretariat, from any persons and organisations who wish to express views on any aspect of this reference by 27 February 1998.