With the appearance of Covid-19 in 2020, the bodies of the Peruvian justice system issued provisions to allow the filing of pleadings electronically, to carry out virtual hearings with judges and lawyers from their homes and to dispense with notifications by physical letters -always with the acceptance of the parties- for those cases where the law determined that it was mandatory or the massive digitalization of physical files.
Many of these provisions of the Judiciary implied a legal challenge to see how they could be in accordance with Peruvian law. Historically, the legal culture in Peru has been governed by seeking any action based, always, on a norm, unlike what may happen in other jurisdictions where regulations are more general and there is more room for a state entity, other than the parliamentary body, to establish specific regulations in exceptional contexts.
As a result, the Judiciary reacted by quickly implementing various measures, thinking that they would only apply during the health emergency. However, the passage of time showed that many of them were not only useful in that context, but also beyond that stage. Thus, once the health crisis was over, judges and lawyers saw the need and usefulness of continuing with virtual hearings in those cases where presence is not a relevant element to analyze evidence or hear a case directly.
Virtual hearings quickly became part of our legal culture, bringing great benefits to lawyers, such as being able to participate on the same day in hearings in courts in different cities, generating greater productivity in the practice of law. They also guaranteed the continuity of a trial even in scenarios that would naturally prevent judges and the Judiciary personnel to work from public offices. This can be particularly common in a country such as Peru, where there are social protests or strikes by Judicial Branch workers’ unions.
Before Covid-19, protests that could jeopardize the safety and integrity of judicial personnel had the effect of suspending work in person, which meant the rescheduling of hearings or other proceedings that judges were in charge of. A similar situation occurred with the Judicial Branch labour unions. Today, these situations have no effect on the continuity of litigation.
Virtual hearings illustrate the benefits of leveraging technology in dispute resolution. But this implementation of technologies must be integrated and not isolated. Otherwise, we will only be seeing technological resources as an additional work tool and not as a way to achieve a digital transformation in the dispute resolution and litigation sector.
This can be seen in Peru if we take as a reference the Electronic Judicial File (“EJE”, for its acronym in Spanish) initiative, started in 2017 and expanded as a result of the health emergency. This integrated tool allows the filing of lawsuits and electronic files 24 hours a day, in addition to all parties being able to know a new procedural act when the same is filed or when the Judge publishes a resolution.
The latter, which seems a small step in Peru, constitutes a great leap in litigation, since in the processes where the EJE has been implemented, a procedure that previously involved a succession of human acts- from the filing of a brief to its material incorporation in the physical file- has been automated.
As can be seen, the use of technological resources showed that initiatives such as virtual hearings, the possibility of filing briefs electronically or the digitization of case files would continue to be beneficial after the pandemic was over. However, the issue of what the future holds for the justice system in terms of digitization should not be limited to analyzing which technological tools have been incorporated, but rather to seeking a comprehensive digital transformation.
The difference between the mere incorporation of a technological tool and achieving a digital transformation lies in the fact that the latter seeks, among other things, to integrate existing tools in a synergic manner for the following:
- Optimize the efficiency of judicial processes by automating certain tasks.
- Improve the experience and management of processes so that judges can know the pending acts of each process they are in charge of.
- Make decisions based on data, considering the existing criteria for similar cases in the same judicial office and being able to better identify which cases require more urgent judicial protection.
These three elements are some of the pillars of a digital transformation in state justice bodies that goes beyond the addition of technological resources in a judicial office. Achieving it will ensure greater efficiency in the work of the judge, greater productivity of the lawyer in advising on the resolution of the dispute, as well as greater satisfaction of the parties involved in the litigation, since they will obtain a faster result, also meaning a saving of economic resources.
Achieving this digital transformation would also help to be prepared for new technologies in the future. By this we mean, for example, Artificial Intelligence.
We cannot avoid the fact that important tools have emerged with this technology, ranging from text processing and creation to image and video processing. Although the subject has been attracting attention in Regulatory Law, Artificial Intelligence will be a tool that cannot be ignored in the future.
It is important to pay attention to how in the future it can be useful for judges and lawyers in the solving of controversies, especially because of the great automation that it can create in some activities that are still human and contribute to a better management of cases in the judicial offices.
Author: Adán López Blanco