While not easily defined, access to justice refers broadly to the access that citizens have to dispute resolution tools of justice including but not limited to courts. Effective access to justice does not only refer to reductions in costs, access to lawyers and access to courts; but rather, it is a broad term that refers more generally to the efficaciousness of a justice system in meeting the dispute resolution needs of its citizens.
LIBRe Foundation’s Team explores the use of technology and its ability to establish a wider access to justice and to enhance expediancy, affordability and transparency in the judicial process. We believe our interdisciplinary expertise can help design various technology projects, applied in the judiciary, which will incorporate accessibility, usability and increasing transparency of information in the justice system for all beneficiaries, with special reggard to users who are or may be marginalised or underserved as well as those experiencing any barriers when trying to access justice services.
With the integration of information and communication technologies, the e-Justice concept will enhance productivity and effectiveness in the overall Judicial Process in a multi-dimensional way: (a) by providing precise data analysis ICT will create conditions for a balanced workload distribution among magistrates on a horizontal and vertical court level, and will enable equal working conditions for magistrates and other members of the judiciary and will suggest approaches on dealing with “slow” justice; (b) e-Justice will cut costs and expenses intrinsic to every judicial proceeding and the internal workflow of judicial institutions; and (c) e-Justice tools will ensure transparency in the judicial system and will optimise the overall work process of the Justice system.
Technologies could also lead to a flexible and dynamic litigation process in which some legal documents are sent to parties digitally and certain forms of participation in the judicial procedure can be exercised remotely (testimonials, expertises, legal representation, etc.). Furthermore, practitioners and citizens will be able to monitor the course of judicial actions and enforce some of their procedural rights through a one-stop online platform, which will make formal procedures unnecessary and will accelerate the judicial process.
LIBRe Foundation strongly supports the use of technology in handling various administrative procedures before, during and after the administration of justice, and providing of a host of possibilities throughout the legal process, from lobbying through to the provision of remote authoritative legal information and certificates; thus reducing the cost of legal procedures and simplifying judicial transactions.
Thanks to technological advances in information gathering, law enforcement agencies are able nowadays to obtain evidence, when carrying out investigations, in very effective ways that were impossible a few years ago. However, legislation on civil and criminal procedures in many European countries were enacted before these technologies appeared, thus taking no account of them. As a result of this, three very important problems appear: (1) the admission in Court of evidence obtained with electronic means is frequently uncertain, giving judges no clear criteria on its admission and assessment, and therefore causing uneven application of the law; (2) these new technologies can lose their efficiency quickly, as soon as criminal organisations and individuals become aware of their existence, obtain technical details about them and adopt countermeasures; and (3) globalisation of criminality requires the tight collaboration of the law enforcement and judiciary systems of different countries: evidence obtained in one country has to be shared and accepted in other states, while simultaneously observing fundamental rights and substantial or procedural safeguards - the lack of legislation and standards at the national and international level obviously makes this particularly difficult.
LIBRe Foundation is actively working for better regulation of electronic evidence; development of standards and formalisms to represent digital forensic information incl. representing data and metadata in evidence exchange, processing and investigating high volumes of seized digital data and developing a proper ontology to represent any digital events; and implementation of best practices and lessons learn and training on electronic evidence and related issues to enhance the daily work of magistrates and forensic experts.
Enabling information interoperability, fostering legal knowledge usability and reuse, enhancing legal information search, in short, formalizing the complexity of legal knowledge to enhance legal knowledge management are challenging tasks, for which different solutions and lines of research are to be proposed.
During the last decade, research and applications based on the use of legal ontologies as a technique to represent legal knowledge has raised a very interesting debate about their capacity and limitations to represent conceptual structures in the legal domain. Making conceptual legal knowledge explicit would support the development of a web of legal knowledge, improve communication, create trust and enable and support open data, e-government and e-democracy activities. Moreover, this explicit knowledge is also relevant to the formalization of software agents and the shaping of virtual institutions and multi-agent systems or environments.
Information overload, however important, is not the only concern for the future of legal knowledge management; other and growing demands are increasing the complexity of the requirements that legal information management systems and, in consequence, legal knowledge representation must face in the future. Multilingual search and retrieval of legal information to enable integrated search between the legislation of several European countries; enhanced laypersons’ understanding of and access to e-government and e-administration sites or online dispute resolution capabilities; the regulatory basis and capabilities of electronic institutions or normative and multi-agent systems; and multimedia, privacy or digital rights management systems, are just some examples of these demands.
LIBRe Foundation’s Team explores the use of ontologies in the representation of legal knowledge for semantically-enhanced systems or web-based applications. Legal ontologies are paramount for the representation, processing and retrieval of legal information. They acquire an increasingly significant role in the emerging framework of the Semantic Web and this necessitates a comprehensive approach. Our research focuses on the development of contextual, interoperable systems that allow the automatic execution of legal rules and also on the role of ontologies in the framework of knowledge representation for intelligent legal information management.