The time has come for the Cyprus Justice System and Courts to utilize technology
It is worldwide known that the Covid-19 pandemic has brought substantial impacts to all kind of businesses. The Cyprus government, in cooperation with the Supreme Court, has ordered the closure of many public and private businesses, including Courts. As the president of the Cyprus Bar Association - Mr. Doros Ioannides said: “It’s an industry that has been hit very hard”. Most of the ongoing cases have been postponed until further notice to safeguard the health of legal actors and the public alike. This virus can spread with an unprecedented scale, hence the operation of the Courts is heavily affected.
As a result of the above closures, many firms will have a deep decrease in the volume of work they normally handle and consequently, some of their employees may lose their jobs. The Government has decided to grant a monetary benefit to affected persons, however this will not be the case for the legal sector. A fact that also contributes to the systole of the system is that court procedures in Cyprus, whether this relates to court hearings or just filing of documentation, must be conducted in person. Unlike other countries, courts in Cyrpus are not familiar with legal technology, the most important legal development. Had an e-justice system been in place at the moment, all cases would carry on as usual, during these difficult times, with no interruptions and prolonged timescales. The solicitors would have been able to file all the necessary documentation without attending Court, the Judge would have been able to provide simple and initial directions through an e-system, communications with court officers could have been conducted via email and attendance at Court would have been required only for final trials. Furthermore, documentation could be managed (download and/or upload) online and Court fees could be paid by online bank transfer.
In addition, court files, at the moment, can be found only in hard copy. There is no electronic backup. An almost complete dependence on paper‐based files is bound in the past – based on an archaic administration system, thus lacking any flexibility. In the unfortunate event of a flood or fire, all files will be destroyed, and will cause major problems and delays. Could the files be saved on an e-database, not only they would be safer, but a search in the database would be completed in a matter of minutes or less. Courts in Cyprus still make use the traditional way of researching court files, which results in difficulties with file retrieval and inability to provide timely information to the relevant parties. For instance, when a solicitor wants to search through the documents in a court file, s/he must do it manually. If the file was accessible to the concerned solicitors online, not only would it save the solicitor’s time, but it would also save administrator’s time who would have to search through hundreds of files to find the relevant file. Once most of the procedures go paperless, there would be a significant decrease in printing, which will be much more cost efficient and environmentally friendly.
Moreover, public should be able to have electronic access to the court’s Register and other relevant information, in order to achieve a lower attendance rate for unnecessary purposes, therefore it would reduce the time spent by the court officers to help citizens.
Another example of what could be considered as quite helpful for court procedures, both in general and especially during the covid-19 lockdown, is the use of telephone and video hearings, which can facilitate remote proceedings. In such scenario, images could be projected on a Video Display and Annotation monitors would allow witnesses to mark an exhibit with notations.
EU reports conducted over the past few years, identified serious deficiencies in the Cyprus legal system and its operation. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, delays will increase to its highest peak – the backlog will be extended; thus, each case will take more than 5-6 years to finalise. The current hardship could become the opportunity for the Cyprus justice system to adopt legal technology techniques. As Mr. Chris Crawford, the president of Justice Served - a court management and information technology consulting firm offering a wide variety of services to courts, justice agencies and related organizations, said: “Technology is a powerful enabler that can empower courts to meet core purposes and responsibilities, even while severe economic pressures reduce court staff, reduce hours of operation, and even close court locations. To harness technology for this purpose, serious efforts are needed to examine process-reengineering opportunities, and courts must plan to (a) migrate from document to content management and (b) initiate customer relations management to improve the quality of justice, access to justice, and public trust and confidence in courts as an institution."
Although the Cyprus government is reluctant to proceed with the necessary changes due to excessive costs, it is widely believed that the productivity and benefits that the new system could bring, would easily outweigh the financial burden and prove to be cost efficient in the long run. The new legal e-system will fill-in the gaps of the current administration practices. A major transition is totally needed – turning the current inadequate and time-consuming manual system into a moderate and proficient e-system.
 C. Crawford “Emerging Technology Trends that Will Transform Courts”, 2011 (https://www.ncsc.org/~/media/Microsites/Files/Future%20Trends/Author%20PDFs/Crawford.ashx)