The digital transformation of the Administration of Justice


This article is from the Tribuna section of the website El derecho, originally published on 23 June 2016. See original article.

1.- The Administration of Justice is one more organisation that society uses to achieve its goals and to attend to the demands made by citizens, companies and all types of entities, among themselves and among or against other administrations, generally making use of the services of professionals, who therefore become primary agents of judicial activity. In this sense, different fields should be regulated: the use of new technologies by the judicial bodies with full legal effects, the communication of citizens and professionals with the Administration of Justice, as well as the action of the different administrations that have the competence to provide the judicial bodies with material means, that is, the cooperative regulation, coordination and compatibility of technological projects.

The Administration of Justice is governed by the principle of legality that regulates its activity and operation. Consequently, the use of the tools provided by new technologies requires a regulatory framework that not only facilitates or, where appropriate, imposes their use, but also provides the appropriate guarantees that must be observed due to the legal effects generated by their activity, which may be imposed on third parties.

This legislative task, without considering other previous initiatives at the purely administrative level, began with article 230 of the Organic Law of the Judiciary. It was a brief and insufficient precept. Its virtuality is that of being the first time that the legislator, in a norm of this rank, contemplates a fact that means a great revolution for the society of this time.

Organic Law 16/1994, reforms this precept and gives it a more detailed and ambitious regulation. It recognizes the legal validity of the judicial activity carried out with the new technologies, it contemplates that people can relate to the Administration of Justice through the new technological means. It contemplates the orderly integration of the institutional framework, essentially the General Council of the Judiciary, which must establish the requirements that affect the establishment and management of automated files and approve the computer programs and applications that are used in the Administration of Justice in order to guarantee their compatibility.

This precept has again been reformed by Organic Law 7/2015, of 21 July, which introduces two new features: obligatory compliance with the instructions on the use of new technologies issued by the General Council of the Judiciary or the State Attorney General’s Office to Judges and Prosecutors and transfers to a cooperative body the power to establish the terms that guarantee the compatibility of the computer systems used in the Administration of Justice.

Finally, Law 18/2011, of 5 July, regulating the use of information and communication technologies in the Administration of Justice, whose main objectives are: first, to update the content of the fundamental right to a public trial without undue delay, thanks to the streamlining that allows the use of technology in communications; second, to generalize the use of new technologies for legal professionals; third, to define in a regulation with the rank of law the set of minimum requirements for interconnection, interoperability and security necessary in the development of the different applications used by the actors in the judicial world, in order to ensure security in the transmission of data and as many other requirements contained in the procedural laws.

After all this, it can be considered that the legal rules regulating the actions of the Administration of Justice already include the main requirements that guarantee the effective and valid use of new technologies.

2.- Together with the aforementioned normative regulation, the reality of the Administration of Justice using new information and communication technologies has helped in the management of judicial files for many years, but it is nowadays when one of the biggest changes is taking place: the introduction of the digital file.

The drive, which began on 1 January 2016, will make it easier for citizens and their representatives to exchange information with the Administration of Justice telematically, without leaving their offices, and will reduce processing times and costs.

The Administrations with competences in the field of Justice and the General Council of the Judiciary have made joint efforts to achieve these objectives, using the different developments on which they have worked in recent years, but above all, they have coordinated with each other and reached agreements through the creation of working groups within the State Technical Committee for Electronic Judicial Administration (CTEAJE).

The Ministry of Justice has chaired this committee and is leading many of the efforts to achieve the digital transformation of the Administration of Justice, making available to the Administrations tools such as Lexnet, which is a module that allows secure communication between the Judicial Bodies and the Attorneys and Lawyers for the remission of procedural or initial documents and for the communication of notifications. Administrations such as Catalonia, the Basque Country, Navarre and Cantabria have opted for their own solutions in the same sense.

In turn, the General Council of the Judiciary has made available to Courts and Tribunals, services that avoid the use of paper to carry out asset searches, location aids, notices and alerts, letters rogatory, seizures and secure communications. And above all, they save time and many hours of work.

The same applies to the ease of access to case law and legislation that the Council’s Judicial Documentation Centre offers to judges and magistrates, who can obtain indispensable information for their work through simple connections to secure web pages.

And no less important are the digital recording systems of hearings implemented in all the courtrooms of all the judicial bodies in Spain, which make the Administration of Justice one of the largest producers of recorded digital content with the exception of television companies and organisations.

In short, new developments such as Lexnet, procedural management systems and the Council’s services will minimise the use of paper as a support for procedural information and reduce costs, but they will also manage to modernise the Administration of Justice, making it more accessible, more agile and more transparent.

The process of implementing all these technologies has only just begun. There are many months, perhaps years, to go before stability in the systems is achieved throughout Spain, the elimination of paper as the main support for judicial information with digital files, electronic signatures, and integration and compatibility between all systems, but the process is unstoppable as some figures show: more than 100 million exchanges of information through Lexnet, more than 49 million annual communications through the services of the General Council of the Judiciary, more than four years signing digitally in Catalonia or more than one million digital signatures already carried out in Andalusia.