Serbia Justice Functional Review

Internal Performance Assessment > ICT Management

d. Effectiveness of Electronic Exchange of Information

i. Electronic Exchange between Departments within an Individual Court

  1. Staff are routinely required to manually re-enter basic data. For service of process for example, a party’s address may be manually transposed and re-entered several times by different court departments. This is time-consuming and introduces human error, reducing the efficiency of administrative processes and impacting service delivery. The Basic Court in Subotica introduced an innovative and inexpensive way to improve their business process in service of process (see Box 20).

ii. Electronic Exchanges in Individual Courts and between Courts

  1. There is a much room to modernize business processes by streamlining and automating aspects of an individual court’s workflow.
    Staff are routinely required to manually re-enter basic data. For service of process for example, a party’s address may be manually transposed and re-entered several times by different court departments. This is time-consuming and introduces human error, reducing the efficiency of administrative processes and impacting service delivery. The Basic Court in Subotica introduced an innovative and inexpensive way to improve their business process in service of process (see Box 20).
  2. There is no electronic linkage between the general first instance courts’ AVP system and the Appellate Courts’ SAPS system. The judiciary reports it is not working to integrate these systems while deciding on the feasibility of implementing a single case management system. In the interim however, the judiciary could create document exchange protocols and consider implementing middleware to run parallel to the existing systems.
  3. There are standards about which documents should be scanned, but only an estimated 10-20 percent of the total documents are scanned.
    Manual record-sharing between general first instance courts and the Appellate Courts is accompanied by some scanned court pleadings913 . However, since documents of a given type are not consistently scanned, paper files are still provided to the Appellate Courts. 914 Some courts are more successful than others – in the Basic and Higher Courts in Novi Sad, around 60-70 percent of documents are scanned. Scanning is generally a task for administrative clerks, trainees, and interns.915
  4. A number of factors inhibit the optimal use of scanning technology. Some courts indicate that scanning clogs system servers.916 Optical Character Recognition (OCR), allowing the indexing of scanned documents, is seriously hampered by insufficient server capacity. Lower quality scanners also limit the number of pages that can be scanned at a time.917 Serbian law requires that electronic records that are made available to the public must be made anonymous by removing names, addresses, and any other personal information, requiring significant staff resources.918
  5. The electronic data exchange between the Basic and Higher Courts for small appellate cases is also not taking place, although both Courts use AVP. Instead, records are provided manually when cases are appealed to the Higher Courts.

iii. Electronic Exchanges between Courts and Prosecutors

  1. The systems in place in courts and PPOs are not interoperable. Most information is mailed or hand-delivered by prosecutors to the courts. This process causes delays in case processing and significant duplicate data entry by court staff.
  2. Exchange between Basic Courts and Basic PPOs is where the bulk of exchange needs to occur. Early tests to create an interface between AVP and SAPO have so far proven unsuccessful. Meanwhile, exchange may be possible in the future between Appellate Courts (which use SAPS) and Appellate Prosecutors (which use SAPO) because the two systems share a common underlying architecture, but the link is yet to be generated.
  3. The systems in place in PPOs are interoperable, and exchange between them may occur in the medium term. Information is currently exchanged in writing, which causes delays. Some PPOs already operate on SAPO, but others do not. Those which do operate on SAPO do not exchange with each other. When the rollout of SAPO is complete, all PPOs will operate on the same system and exchange should be available. This should result in great efficiency in internal dealings between PPOs.

iv. Electronic Exchanges with Other Institutions

  1. The Misdemeanor Courts are well-positioned to exchange information with law enforcement and local government authorities through their registries of sanctions and unpaid fines. The registries are housed in the MOJ Data Center to which all Misdemeanor Courts are connected and where they can upload data. The JRGA and the MCCMS software vendor implemented the module for the registries in time for the March 1st, 2014 implementation of the new Law on Misdemeanors. Data exchange protocols between the Misdemeanor Courts and the traffic police, the Business Registers’ Agency and the Department of Payments within the Treasury are particularly important if the registries are to have the desired effect on the effectiveness and efficiency of misdemeanor procedures.919
  2. In the future, much could be learned from the Misdemeanor Courts. It will be important to monitor and evaluate these new reforms. For a discussion of the potential for the Misdemeanor Courts’ fine registry to apply to unpaid utility bill enforcement, see the Efficiency Chapter.
  3. Communications between courts and financial institutions is almost entirely manual, resulting in significant inefficiencies and delay in receiving funds owed to the court or other parties. Reports concerning the payment of court fees to the Treasury are provided manually to courts, whose staff must read through the manual records and re-enter relevant data into case management systems.920 Similarly, when courts receive default judgments against them for non-payment of expenses, these are processed in a laborious manner, with much room for error. The Commercial Courts also face the particular problem of lack of electronic linkage to the National Bank of Serbia.921 Much efficiency could be gained by linking these systems in the manner being pursued by the Misdemeanor Courts.922 .
  4. Electronic communication between prosecutors and law enforcement is also rare. These groups collect and maintain data differently and there is no electronic linkage in their common data. For example, the information from the National Criminal Sanction database maintained by the MOI is only available to prosecutors upon written request, slowing the work of prosecutors. Stakeholders report that this causes delay at the investigation stage, both during initial interviews and when considering deferred prosecution.923
  5. The EU E-CODEX project seeks to develop common technical standards to improve interoperability between legal authorities within the EU and cross-border access of citizens and businesses throughout Europe. The Serbian judiciary needs to document its technical standards and compare them with those under development by the EU so the newly-developed Serbian standards will comply with E-CODEX requirements.

v. Electronic Exchanges between Courts and Legal Professionals and Allied Professionals

  1. The flow of documents between the courts and legal professionals is almost entirely manual, resulting in significant inefficiencies. Electronic submission of filings to the court would allow a significant reduction in data entry by court staff, a reduction in the number of services needed, enhance the access for lawyers to court documents with 24-7 availability of e-filing, and the elimination of postal costs for attorneys and printing costs for the courts.
  2. E-filing is at the pilot stage in three courts924 and endorsed by the MOJ, the SCC, and the regulatory structure to allow e-filing for all case types. USAID created the protocol, the user’s manual and workflow diagrams, created secure signature protections in excess of legal requirements, and purchased a limited amount of equipment needed by the courts for e-filing.925 The selected courts and a few private lawyers have agreed to file and receive documents electronically, using a special court e-mail address and electronic signature cards from the post office.
  3. Potential impediments to expanding e-filing include:
    1. lack of comfort by courts even though hardcopy PDFs of documents will continue to be provided to courts by attorneys;
    2. limits on size of attachments sent electronically due to printing limitations in the courts;
    3. lack of ICT literacy among attorneys. However, familiarity and comfort with the system is likely to increase once the benefits are understood and internet penetration continues to rise.
  4. GIZ is considering providing software that allows large creditors to upload data to AVP in enforcement cases. The data exchange would assign cases to judges automatically on upload.

vi. Availability of Audiovisual Recordings

  1. The audiovisual recording (A/V) feature has the potential to save significant amounts of time for judges, prosecutors, and staff allowing more hearings to be held each day and therefore reducing backlogs. A/V systems also aid judges and prosecutors in recalling the facts of the case at the next hearing and improve transparency, efficiency, and quality of the courts while ensuring a more complete and accurate record for appeals courts to review. The new CPC allows the use of audiovisual technology.926 However, those benefits should be balanced against the cost and the operational changes that would need to be made for an effective use of the technology.
  2. Implementing the A/V recording feature would also facilitate mutual legal assistance across Europe by way of video-conferencing. The CCJE further recommends that member States develop A/V capability to facilitate holding secured hearings and remote appearances of witnesses or experts.
  3. A/V equipment would be particularly useful in criminal cases. In cases where the defendant is a flight risk, the costs and security concerns of prison transfers are already high and investment in equipment may therefore be warranted.927 In sensitive cases, including those involving children or vulnerable groups, security concerns may also be mitigated by the use of audiovisual equipment. The judicious allocation of A/V equipment to large courts and large prisons, such as Sremska Mitrovica and Zabela, might therefore be cost-effective while helping improve quality and access.
  4. Costs for a mid-range system span from 10,000 to 20,000 EUR per courtroom, a cost likely to be reduced if several systems are purchased simultaneously. These costs represent the initial investment in A/V recording equipment and the proprietary operating software only.928