Serbia Justice Functional Review

Internal Performance Assessment > ICT Management

b. Effectiveness of Case Management Information Systems

i. Diversity of Systems

  1. The judiciary in Serbia uses a variety of unlinked ICT systems for case processing,891 case management,892 document management, and providing management information. As discussed in detail in the 2013 ICT Strategy Report, there are state-of-the-art case management systems in some institutions, and many of the newer case management systems have been or are being developed on the same platform.893 However, there remains fragmentation in these systems’ development with four separate ongoing implementations. Licensing and cost issues may also impede making these systems completely interoperable.
  2. In addition, there are a number of sub-systems used in a variety of justice institutions. These sub-systems include separate registers of cases, budget and human resource applications, and archiving systems. Each of these non-standard systems needs to be maintained, their software updated, and security installed at a cost to the judiciary.894
  3. The MOJ is considering how the judiciary could move to a single system, built on the platform for the newer systems (SAPS, SAPO and SAPA), but the 2013 ICT Strategy Report concludes that the cost of designing and installing a single system outweigh the probable benefits. A single system would enhance efficiency, ensure data consistency, and conform to international best practices.895 However, the estimated cost of transitioning to a single system, of the licenses associated with the newer systems, and the WAN connections is quite large.896 The judiciary also does not have the specialized staff needed to manage this transition and is likely to remain without this staff support for quite some time.
  4. Instead, the ICT Strategy Report recommends a number of intermediate steps to be taken to enhance efficiency, access, quality, and introduction of information exchange protocols. The Strategy recommends that the judiciary consider an incremental solution of installing an Enterprise Service Bus ESB)897 to exchange data between existing systems quickly and easily.898 Compared with creating a single software solution, the implementation of a so-called ‘middleware’ is less expensive and much quicker to implement, avoids requiring all applications to change immediately or simultaneously, and permits data exchange with systems outside of the courts (e.g., the National Bank, MOF), or any future systems. The first step of developing interoperability standards would cost between 20,000 and 100,000 EUR, and has been identified as a high priority in the Strategy.899

ii. Case Management Functionality

  1. The majority of courts use AVP whose case processing functionality is generally good (see Box 29). Since its introduction in 2010, AVP has increased court efficiency by streamlining the workload and reducing manual record keeping. Unfortunately however, courts are not utilizing AVP’s full functionality, and therefore they are not getting the maximum benefit out of the existing system. This is due in large part to the fact that there has been no training provided on the AVP system since its rollout in 2010.
  2. AVP lacks several critical features generally present in case management systems that would enhance both court and user efficiency, and enhance case management by individual courts. Significant examples of these missing functionalities include:
    1. user alerts of filing deadlines, identification of next steps, and notices on overdue events;
    2. producing calendars: currently, calendars are produced manually after courts send regular mail to attorneys about proposed dates, and attorneys return objections and alternative dates by regular mail. This creates a significant delay and unnecessary work for court staff;
    3. tracking the time between events and activities: while data to do so are in the system, reports tracking durations between events/activities are not among the system’s standardized reports;
    4. tracking reasons for continuances and other system delays;
    5. providing a central registry of attorneys appearing in court to allow the analysis of the distribution of cases to attorneys.

Box 30: What does AVP do?

The AVP system which operates in Basic and Higher Courts:
  • allows the entry of all basic case processing information that previously would have been in a manual registry (e.g., filing dates, parties, judges assigned, history of actions, and court fees), streamlining work;
  • incorporates all Basic Court functions from initial filings through to archiving;
  • reflects the courts’ actual business processes (does not require extensive workarounds for daily operations);
  • uses pull-down menus/validation routines whenever possible, enhancing data accuracy;
  • allows individuals at the lowest appropriate level to enter data (instead of relying on judges, for example);
  • can produce notices, forms, or standardized orders. However, courts do not uniformly use these functions. For example, interviewees indicate that standardized forms are not used due to significant variations in individual judge practice. Also, typists have not been trained in how to use the standardized forms. Instead, many forms are produced in Microsoft Word templates or on typewriters.
  1. In general, courts’ management needs are not fully met through timely reports on workload and results. The system does not automatically provide needed management reports to President Judges on existing assignments or time to disposition of judges or bailiffs for example. The system also does not easily allow for the generation of ad-hoc reports except by well-trained IT technicians. Despite this, some courts have invested significant resources in developing customized reports.900
  2. The AVP system has not yet changed the management approach in most courts, from reducing the use of paper to using online versions of documents. The AVP system lacks robust document management functions, particularly electronic document flow for open cases which is not in place for the general jurisdiction or the Commercial Courts. All documents are provided to those who need them in paper format, rather than electronically viewing and forwarding the documents to the next person in the queue. This may be more of an operational than an ICT issue, related to a discomfort among judges and other users to review documents online. However, even when this barrier is overcome, the functionality for automatically processing workflow would need to be built into the system.
  3. While rumors were expressed that significantly different versions of AVP are in use in various courts, interviews with IT professionals and court staff confirmed that this is generally not the case. Any programming changes must be approved by the AVP working group, and IT professionals believe that any differences that may exist can be easily reconciled. Also, this issue can be managed on an ongoing basis as the system continues to become virtualized (see below).
  4. Users indicate a general satisfaction with the speed of AVP. However, the system’s distributed architecture requires a large number of local servers901 and properly trained local staff to maintain and manage them. Also, when courts or units are added, more servers and their associated software must be acquired and maintained. 902
  5. Replacing many small servers by a larger server (also known as virtualization) would result in significant improvements in efficiency and flexibility. Fewer and larger servers would provide more flexibility in expanding or rearranging court operations, reduce the need for local IT staff for server maintenance, lower operational and maintenance costs, and reduce energy consumption by up to 90 percent.903 This change in the number and size of servers would also support the integration of different databases through middleware as the data will be coming from fewer places. The hardware costs of this solution are not excessive, estimated at between 20,000 and 100,000 EUR and requiring between 50 to 250 working days of effort. However, until applications are centralized, consolidating servers requires linking a number of disparate applications together.904
  6. SAPS is a complete case and document management system providing electronic workflow throughout the system. The system resides in a modern software platform and uses a centralized architecture. However, licensing for SAPS is significantly more expensive than for AVP905 , and the cost of moving to a single platform for all courts may be prohibitive, at least in the short run.
  7. Experienced AVP users report that the application is sufficiently user-friendly and responsive. Delays appear to be caused by hardware (e.g., slow servers) rather than application issues and do not generally rise to the level of interrupting operations.906 Less experienced users point to the need for more training.
  8. However, the consolidated servers for the Appellate Courts and for the piloted prosecutor system (SAPO) are very slow. Staff in Belgrade and Novi Sad Appellate Courts and in prosecutors’ office report having to work overtime to make registry entries. At its worst, the system is down altogether.
  9. None of the systems has an adequate helpdesk. A helpdesk is critical to ensure that common ICT queries can be answered and problems can be resolved promptly to ensure continuity in service delivery. Helpdesks also have an educational function as users can receive practical advice and guidance from professionals. In Croatia for example, the case management system and related software is supported by a full-time helpdesk based in the MOJ, and is staffed by a combination of IT specialists and technology-savvy judges on secondment from the courts. With hands-on experience as users, judges provide practical and relevant guidance, which are highly valued.