In the course of the Fundamental Rights Conference, an annual event organised by the European Union (EU) Fundamental Rights Agency, experts in the field of justice gathered to discuss the impact which the use of information technology has on the access to justice.
In times of austerity, in the context of the often severely restrained budgets of national governments in the EU, investments in new e-technologies have been reduced as well. However, the governmental representatives found out that use of information technology has both positive and negative impact on the access to justice.
In addition, they concluded that the raising of legal awareness among citizens through the use of information technology could improve the access to justice.
Sabina Klanecek from the Ministry of Justice and Public Administration in Slovenia explained how in her country technology was used to deal with vulnerable groups, in particular children, during court proceedings. In her opinion, the introduced video conferencing ensured avoidance of second or even third victimization of children.
Klanecek also informed that 85%of the projects carried out in Slovenia in this field were financed by the European Social Fund and said that case law from all courts was available online for free and the citizens were able to access it directly.
On the other hand, Nartin Oovel from the Ministry of Justice of Estonia explained how the implementation of the e-justice tools was making the court procedures quicker. He presented the E-file, a central information system gathering together all data of criminal, civil and administrative procedures. In Estonia, taxes are filed only online, while governmental programs were taking case of increasing the digital literacy of people.
For Martin Schneider, Deputy Director General at the Ministry of Justice in Austria, e-Justice means support for business targets of justice. In his opinion, the electronic tools used reduced the overall cost and guaranteed better service. He also said that investments in information technology in times of austerity made justice actually cheaper and more accessible for EU citizens.
Apart from the positive impact which the use of technology has on access to justice, the panel outlined that there were also limits to the reach of e-tools, especially since not all segments of society were sufficiently proficient in or willing to make use of e-technology. The lack of access to the Internet also negatively affected some individuals, in particularly the most vulnerable groups.