Courts are Careful Adopters of New Technology

Courts routinely use technology that supports their core function of administering justice fairly and equally. For example, a key part of administering justice is collecting and recording accurate information. Judges cannot remember every detail of every case so the court record is crucial to helping judges make decisions.

Early Court Technology

As long as laws and judges have existed, so has some method of documenting what happened in court. The history of court records shows how judges and courts have adapted to new processes and innovations.

In Roman courts, people called scribes used a small tool, a stylus, to write on a wax tablet. The stylus had one sharp end for writing and a small wedge on the other end that worked like an eraser. Until the late 1800s, court records were handwritten using writing materials like wax tablets, prepared animal skins, and finally paper.

The first shorthand or stenographic machines were developed in the 1870s and were used in courts almost immediately. Many versions of court stenography machines followed, eventually evolving into early computer-aided devices. Real-time court recording became possible with computers and in turn developed into closed captioning and closed-circuit television systems (CCTV). Now courts use digital recording systems to capture audio files, secure storage of the digital court record, and allow instant access and on-demand transcripts.

“Judges and administrators are early adopters of technology when it suits the court’s needs.”

Using high-tech digital recording systems shows judges and administrators are early adopters of technology when it suits the court’s needs. Why, then, do courts have a reputation for being slow to try new processes and anti-technology?

Reasons for Court Technology Conservatism

The main reason judges and administrators are cautious concerns the court’s power. A judge can set fines, impose jail time or make people pay court costs. Courts also have access to sensitive or confidential information. Courts must consider changes carefully so a new way of doing things does not interfere with a citizen’s right to justice.

Banks face similar concerns protecting sensitive financial information yet people no longer need to go to a teller to withdraw money or check their bank account. Most money transactions are done online, as are loan and mortgage processing. Bank customers log on to pay bills, deposit checks by phone, or find their credit limit on demand. Online banking is convenient for customers and profitable for banks since it shrinks expensive labor and office costs.

The same technology that lets banks gather and protect customer information allows a citizen to go to court online not only to pay outstanding balances but to resolve cases. Online dispute resolution means no need to take time from work or school to travel to court and it saves court and law enforcement time too.

Courts, like most taxpayer-funded services, are under pressure to do more with less. Online dispute resolution is another tool helping courts stretch tax dollars and expand access to justice, while conserving court staff and time costs. Since this system operates in courts, fairness, equality under the law, truth, and efficient processes are essential parts of online dispute resolution. Courts are finding online dispute resolution attractive given the data showing how citizen access to justice increases and court costs decrease.

“Online dispute resolution is another tool helping courts stretch tax dollars and expand access to justice.”

Judges and courts use technology that helps them serve the public and better administer justice. In various courts judges are using content management systems, electronic filing, video conferencing, and Skyping. Online dispute resolution is becoming an essential partner in justice administration just like digital court recording systems.

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