The coronavirus pandemic has led to inconvenience, unprecedented case backlogs and issues that the nation’s state courts haven’t faced since the influenza pandemic of 1918-19. It has also led to opportunity.
The Conference of Chief Justices (CCJ) and Conference of State Court Administrators (COSCA) urge state court officials to view the pandemic with a glass-half-full perspective, and they recommend that state courts consider six principles related to their use of technology going forward.
“The COVID-19 pandemic is not the disruption courts wanted, but it is the disruption that courts needed to re-imagine and embrace new ways of operating and to transform courts into a more accessible, transparent, efficient, and user-friendly branch of government,” CCJ and COSCA’s RRT Technology workgroup wrote in a recently released resource paper.
Here are the six principles, and some steps court officials can take to implement them:
- Ensure principles of due process, procedural fairness, transparency, and equal access are satisfied when adopting new technologies. Make sure litigants receive proper notice of hearings. Use plain language to present legal information. Design systems that connect litigants with legal help. Review online dispute resolution agreements prior to hearings.
- Focus on the user experience. Make it easier for people to use court services by expanding online opportunities and communication channels with users, including under-served communities and people who are less than proficient in English.
- Prioritize court-user driven technology. Identify problems in order to select the best technological solutions and get input from all stakeholders, including lawyers and litigants.
- Embrace flexibility and willingness to adapt. Test and adapt, try and fail, and move on from technology that isn’t solving problems. Start with a viable product that doesn’t impact fundamental due process. Examine and re-examine the product. Be open to public-private partnerships to refine it.
- Adopt remote-first (or at least remote-friendly) planning, where practicable, to move court processes forward. Move as many court processes as possible online. Allow for remote attendance at hearings using telephone or video. Ensure that staffers and users have the training and resources they need to participate. Figure out how to involve users with no or limited access to the internet.
- Take an open, data-driven, and transparent approach to implementing and maintaining court processes and supporting technologies. Collect data at frequent intervals and ensure it helps court leaders accurately assess the technology’s impact. Protect personal identifying information.
Technology has played a critical role in the courts’ response to the pandemic. As courts begin to resume some in-person proceedings and to consider a post-pandemic world, courts must not leave the technological advances behind, but instead use these guiding principles to build upon the success of the past months to better serve court users and provide greater equal access to justice for all.