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Editorial: Make use of IT for civil court cases, promoting efficiency and security

  • February 7, 2020
  • , The Japan News , 7:24 p.m.
  • English Press

It is important to promote reforms to enhance the user-friendliness of the judiciary by making good use of information technology.


For the purpose of adopting IT in civil trials, eight district courts, including those in Tokyo and Osaka, plus the Intellectual Property High Court, have introduced a “web conference” system over the internet. From now on, the system will be adopted by courts nationwide gradually.


In the system, a court and lawyers’ offices are connected to each other via the internet. A judge and lawyers for the plaintiff and defendant confer by videoconference, using personal computers with cameras. It will be used in the process of clarifying the issues to be contended at trial, which takes place out of public view.


Lawyers and litigants no longer have to go to court for such procedures, making it easier to coordinate schedules. Online data management makes it possible to create onscreen documents such as a list of legal issues or a settlement offer.


It could be expected to speed up trials and make the legal system more user-friendly.


In civil trials in Japan, the average trial period at a court of first instance is nine months, while it takes 21 months in cases that involve examination of witnesses. In principle, the documents must be prepared on paper, and it takes time and effort to bring a complaint to the court or to receive related documents from the court by mail.


The government sees the web conference as the first phase toward full IT adoption. In the second phase, oral arguments or examination of witnesses will be made possible online. Finally, they aim at exchanging all documents, including complaints and briefs, over the internet.


It is reasonable to say that the introduction of digital technology into judicial procedures meets the demands of the times.


The use of IT in legal procedures is increasing in the United States, Singapore, South Korea and other countries. In the World Bank’s “ease of doing business” ranking released last year, Japan ranked 50th in the field of justice. The business community’s demands for increased adoption of IT at trials are understandable.


However, there are many challenges to be tackled in order to fully utilize IT.


In about half of civil suits, plaintiffs or defendants have no lawyers. It is essential to give consideration to those who are unfamiliar with IT equipment and the internet. They should not be excluded from judicial proceedings.


Information security measures are also important. Case records include personal information and business secrets. If information is exposed due to a cyber-attack, not only will the litigants concerned suffer, but trust in the judiciary will also be damaged.


Until now, judges have faced witnesses in court to examine what they say in light of factors including their facial expressions. While taking into account such merits of conventional trials, it is hoped that ways to make trials efficient by using IT will be considered.

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