Law in the Internet Society

Open justice against closed minds

-- By JoseMariaDelajara - 05 Oct 2019

The problem

The judiciary can be an odd place. Legalese, strange practices, and corruption scandals predispose citizens into being cautious. Open justice could help regain that trust.

Open justice

Support for open government is growing. In the judiciary open data is considered as a a human right and a key element of citizens' access to justice right. Open justice resides on three principles: (1) transparency, (2) seeking citizen participation (3) and institutional collaboration. According to Elena, an open justice system should at least publish (1) court rulings, (2) statistics regarding the performance of courts and (3) budget allocation information. Also, that data should be both legally and technically open.

The key promise of open justice is to regain citizens' trust while closing the access to justice gap. As the data sets keep growing, government will be able to provide better [guidance to citizens without a lawyer, a parameter of the quality of legal claims and evidence that would level the playing field between big law and public attorneys, and a public scrutiny of judges’ decisions leading towards better decision-making.

Open justice leads to citizens' trust

Open justice sheds light on previously hidden aspects of judicial activities. According to Elena, an open justice system should at least publish (1) court rulings, (2) statistics regarding the performance of courts and (3) budget allocation information. Also, that data should be both legally and technically open. Citizens would need to be allowed to freely access, reuse and distribute the data, which should be made available in a machine-readable format and in bulk.

An open justice system leads to an increased exposure of judges’ behavior, whether good or bad. The disclosure of this information strengthens the ability of civil society to understand, supervise, and engage with the performance of the courts.

First, public access to court rulings, statistics, and budget information allow citizens to learn how the judiciary works. Suddenly, unknown and feared aspects of the law such as the process to get a divorce or the workload of judges are demystified. With a deeper knowledge of the daily activities of judges, citizens are able to see them as actual human beings instead of components of the legal bureaucratic apparatus. This humanization is key towards generating trust.

Second, transparency is thought to act as deterrent of corrupt practices. This enhances the trust of citizens, as they believe that the availability of more information will allow media to investigate and expose dishonesty. The inversed link between information and corruption has been empirically demonstrated by Brunneti & Weder with an investigation about freedom of press in 68 countries. Their results yielded a staggering prediction: if Nigeria had the same level of freedom of information as Norway, its level of corruption would match Belgium’s. As Justice Brandeis said, sunlight is the best of disinfectants.

In the other hand, Gibson & Caldeira, have shown that the mere availability of information, whether good or bad, could increase the perceived legitimacy of the judiciary. Specifically, the authors exposed how media exposure increased the perceived legitimacy of the Supreme Court. According to them, open justice helps in exposing legality symbols such as the courtroom or the gown, conveys the message that courts are impartial, and makes positive attitudes towards the judiciary salient. Moreover, open justice generates the impression of a transparent culture. This alone could reduce cheating. As shown by Köbis in an experimental setting, the participants in a “transparent environment” cheated dramatically less (230%) than the members in the “corrupt” and “neutral” scenarios.

Finally, an open justice system is expected to generate trust as it allows citizens to become active members in shaping the design of policy reform. Armed with a better understanding of the judiciary and concrete data, they are able to sharpen their demands.

The challenges of this decade

In the U.S., judicial opinions are mostly published, statistics on the behavior of courts are compiled, and detailed budget information is accessible. Even so, there is room for improvement.

To start with, not all the judicial opinions are published. For example, less than 19% of federal cases disposed on the merits were published in 2004. Also, parties are allowed to cite unreported decisions. Even if unreported decisions do not create a precedent, they provide insight on what lower courts did wrong or right.

Moreover, cases that are published do not possess the basic characteristics of open documents. Hence, attorneys are obliged to pay thousands of dollars to use services such as LexisNexis? to find cases and learn about doctrinal trends. Even cases in LexisNexis? are not easy to be downloaded in bulk. However, this entrapment of knowledge is currently being fought by the Harvard Law Library. Its project, Case Law, has digitalized more than 40 million pages of court decisions, created metadata for each volume, scanned every page, and used OCR to extract the text of every case. Moreover, it provides API and bulk data services, enabling its users to develop more applications (e.g. H20 enables law professors to create casebooks).

Finally, the comprehensibility of information could be boosted by processing the data and making it visual. Visual information, in contrast to paper or text on a website, has been shown to be more appealing and make information easier to understand, thus enhancing its accessibility and generating more engagement by the citizens.


Webs Webs

r15 - 19 Jan 2020 - 16:24:11 - JoseMariaDelajara
This site is powered by the TWiki collaboration platform.
All material on this collaboration platform is the property of the contributing authors.
All material marked as authored by Eben Moglen is available under the license terms CC-BY-SA version 4.
Syndicate this site RSSATOM