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Courts must go paperless or be left behind, senior judge says

Published 13/10/2016

Printed court documents can be blurred and difficult to transport, a review has found
Printed court documents can be blurred and difficult to transport, a review has found

Courts in Northern Ireland should embrace paperless business or risk being left behind in the digital age, a review led by a senior judge said.

Blurry photocopies and poorly-ordered documents have created nightmares for transportation or use during trials, Lord Justice Gillen's group added.

The reappraisal said a wasteful legal profession was the last one arguably operating in analogue.

"History will record our current subservience to mountains of paper as having the appearance of an absurd Luddite fantasy."

It said delving into files revealed a lack of pagination and chronological ordering, photocopies cut off with vertical lines running down the pages and documents with missing pages.

The review said: "All of which creates a nightmare for transportation or manipulation during the trial."

Only a small proportion of what is often literally thousands of pages of disclosed material bear some relevance to the case.

The review added: "We in the law must not get left behind.

"The advent of the photocopier, email, texting and our increasing propensity to communicate with each other in written form has fed a tendency to put everything but the kitchen sink into general disclosure in legal cases."

It warned courts must be able to efficiently store and process an increasingly large volume of data and information, frequently in complex civil proceedings.

"The collection, holding, editing and transfer of this information in the form of paper documents generates considerable expense, is time consuming and impedes flexibility and timeliness in the running of cases.

"It is widely accepted by the judiciary, practitioners and academics that there is a pressing need to deliver 'mess for less' by 'digitising' the current system."

It urged the judiciary to lead the way.

"It is time that we gripped the concept of the paperless court.

"The waste in terms of costs, time in preparation and presentation to court is simply unacceptable.

"This concept must be taken forward as representing a significant cultural shift and should be regarded as an IT-enabled business change rather than simply the provision of new technology."

Other recommendations in the report included:

:: A more active role for the courts in promoting alternative dispute resolution;

:: Greater support for personal litigants and improved access to justice for those with a disability;

:: The re-constitution of the Northern Ireland Courts & Tribunals Service as a non-ministerial department within this Assembly mandate.

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