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Electronic filing system

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Information Systems
Wordcount: 2255 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Literature Review

What is an Electronic Filing System?

The Electronic Filing System is often confused with that of a Case Management or Document Management system. One can agree that there is great similarity between the two but there are some distinguishing factors. From research conducted on this topic area thus far, it can be stated that they both aid in transitioning the court’s environment from that of a paper based environment to that of an electronic document environment.

There are many views as to the function of a case management system within the judicial system. One general idea as to the function of a case management system is that,

‘…it electronically routes documents and images to the proper work areas….Content is accessible for simultaneous viewing and processing on networked PC workstations throughout the clerk’s office and district courts. Judges can access their calendars, view all case files, dispose of cases and immediately access case histories….’ [1]

An electronic filing system can be considered to be an extension of the Case Management System, since it does encompass all the functions. What distinguishes the EFS from a CMS is its ability to facilitate the electronic submission of legal documents via a process referred to as E-Filing. This process involves the electronic transmission of legal documents and case information to the courts via a reliable and secure medium, usually the internet.

‘A fully developed electronic filing system includes not only transmission of pleadings to the Clerk’s Office in an electronic format, but also the routine use of electronic documents and the electronic record for case processing, for service on other parties, and for access and use by everyone involved in, or interested in the case.’ [2]

What are the benefits of an Electronic Filing System?

The benefits of implementing Electronic Filing Systems within the judicial system have long been realized. The paper-based court culture has been plagued with issues such as the inability to view documents or case files concurrently, misplacement of files and the lack of physical storage space for these files. Not to mention the high costs associated with the printing, copying and transportation of these files to all parties involved. As a result, most courts and law firms today have embarked on strategic projects to introduce electronic record management practices often achieved through the use of CMS’s, DMS’s and of course electronic filing. The Supreme Court of Trinidad and Tobago boasts of “Justice On Time”, and these issues associated with a paper-based court culture can severely hamper this initiative.

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An overall outlook on the significance of the EFS, would reveal that it allows for faster filing and retrieval of case information, large cost savings, reduced instances of misplaced files, remote accessibility to case information as well as concurrent access to case information. There exist a lot more benefits from the implementation of an Electronic Filing System than the mere few mentioned. The following paragraphs illustrate additional benefits as it applies to law firms, judges, members of the public and court clerks (judiciary).

Attorneys and Law firms are presented with the facility to file and service documents without ever leaving their offices. This saves significant time and costs associated with the preparation of a physical document before being manually delivered to the court registries. Since the e-filed document is already in an electronic format, it is available for processing almost immediately in contrast to traditional methods of delivery which were often delayed. Additionally, this facility allows law firms and attorneys to be able to file, retrieve and service case files 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Flexibility and convenience are the benefits gained as a result. [3]

“Justice delayed is Justice denied”, this is considered a legal cliché and is often voiced by Judges. It emphasizes the importance of the timely resolution of cases. Court hearings being postponed due to unavailability of case files or required documents is extremely frequent. With the use of an EFS, judges can handle cases in a timely manner since electronic case files are immediately and readily available via the CMS and there is no need to wait for a clerk to file or even retrieve the same. They also benefit as it practically eliminates the instances of court hearings being adjourned due to documents or files being misfiled or misplaced. Convenience and comfort is also derived as a result of the use of an EFS. Considering that files are submitted and available in an electronic format, there is less clutter of stacks of documents within the judge’s chambers.

Court clerks profit tremendously from the implementation of an EFS. The time spent performing tasks such as reviewing, filing, retrieving, copying and re-shelving of files is drastically reduced. The clerk no longer has to manage large volumes of paper neither would they need to peruse large volumes of files in an effort to locate a document or entire case file. This will be facilitated by the CMS or DMS. Considering that the clerks will no longer need to physically extract documents from within the case files, the integrity and the physical condition of these case file and its documents are preserved. Usually clerks perform data entry of case information from files and documents submitted manually. However the EFS eliminates this process since it uses a technology called XML tagging, which transfers the data directly into the CMS. The topic of XML tagging will be further discussed later in this report. [4]

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The paper-based system of operations created a problem where case files may be in use by a judge or another department. It is quite an inconvenience for a member of public to come to the registry to request a document only to be informed that the file is not available. This is one main issue resolved through electronic filing systems. With the electronic filing system, members of public obtain these documents remotely 24 hours a day, 7days a week via an access portal. In addition to which several persons can view case files or documents at the same time and there is no need to worry about the file not being available as a result of misfiling or outright sabotage. [4]

What are some issues associated with E-Filing in courts?

Of course with the introduction of a new process or information system there are teething issues or ramifications. Thus implementing an EFS within the judicial systems globally has unearthed several new problems. Michael Arkfield commented that “the court will be faced with significant challenges to get electronic filing ready”[5]. The issue of privacy and security of information seems to be one of the main issues faced with the use of this e-filing technology in courts. The question of who has what access to the court information causes some complexity. “Remote access to the court record is the key policy issue for many technological systems introduced into the justice system.”[6] This has lead to concerns about identity theft and unauthorized access to sensitive information. Jason Krause, who is a legal affairs writer, does mention privacy and accessibility to court information as a main issue but in his opinion, “the most difficult issue facing e-filing in courts is how to deal with Pro Se litigants?”[8] These are persons who choose to represent themselves; more specifically they have no attorneys. E-filing systems are usually tailored towards users such as law firms and attorneys. The self represented litigant filing small cases like “traffic violations, claims, family law matters, and landlord tenant cases” need to be acknowledged as “filers with special needs in an electronic filing system.”[7] Some suggestions have since been made to handle this problem. For instance, it has been suggested that e-filing applications be very user friendly and that the service be provided free of charge to Pro Se Litigants. Section 4.1.1 mentioned that it is beneficial to the judicial system since the e-filing service would be accessible 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. However, according to another author James McMillan, this facility does create some issues. He states, “there are numerous policy, operational, and financial issues associated with maintaining a 24 x 7 operation”.[10] He even outlined some examples such as the need for staff support to be able to respond to business and technical questions outside the normal business hours. Other operational issues affecting E-Filing would involve the fact that the systems in use today are still not capable of filing legal documents with seals. Krause reports that for this reason attorneys need to be often make some sort of special arrangement with the court registries. There exist other issues which can be linked to organizational inertia. For instance attorneys, judges and litigants alike have all been accustomed to dealing with original documents. Thus, this transition to the use of printed or electronic copies of legal documents has been known to cause some discomfort. [8]

What are some of the major components of an Electronic Filing

System and how are they applied?

Electronic Filing Systems are generally adapted to best meet the requirements of the court in which it will eventually be implemented. Although the technology, rules and requirements may vary from court to court, some similarities do exist with regards to the major components. For any EFS to be functional, the following components must exist: an Electronic Filing Front End Application, an Electronic Filing Manager, a Document Management System and a Case Management System. These components all allow for court documents to be exchanged electronically but the actual arrangement of each is determined by the adapted model. There exists several models but only the more common approaches will be discussed within this report.

The first model is more in-house and has been referred to as Court-Based E-Filing Package according to Carlson 2004. In this model, “the E-Filing system is operated internally by the court,” [10] More specifically all components are located within the court’s facility and are run by the state. When a filer is attempting to file a document, they interface directly with the court’s e-filing front end and the document is submitted to the court’s CMS and DMS. The payment for the e-filing transaction is received by the court hosting this service. This ‘front end’ usually accessed remotely via a website or internally via a web interface at an in-house terminal. This front end is usually integrated with the court’s CMS and DMS and this often eliminates or reduces the amount of data entry performed. The main benefit of adopting this model is the considerable amount of revenue gained from filers and anyone accessing the system for electronic court documents. However, there are some downsides to this approach. For instance, the court becomes responsible for supporting and training all users of this system. In this model each court develops or customizes the software their system uses. Carlson 2004 comments that this approach complicates things for attorneys since, “attorneys must learn multiple systems and coordinate training, internal technical support and fee payment practices with each court.”[4] Whilst the courts do gain revenue from operating the E-Filing system internally, they do incur substantial costs such as ongoing maintenance costs. Bursch 2007 highlights a situation where courts were decommissioned because the revenues gained were less than the maintenance costs offsets.

“A state or local jurisdiction may choose to use a single e-filing service provider (EFSP) or they may choose to offer more than one choice of provider.”[11] This has been referred to as the Third Party E-File Vendor approach. [4] When attempting to file a document in this model, the filer interfaces directly with EFSP’s website or ‘front end’ application. The filer pays a transaction charge to the EFSP for each document submitted for filing or servicing. The major components such as the filer’s interface, the CMS and the DMS are hosted and operated by the third party vendor. “With this approach, the responsibility, in particular the fiscal responsibility, for developing and maintaining the system and for supporting all customers is shifted to the EFSP.”[4] In this regard the court’s operations are less impacted by implementing new applications, equipment and procedures. They however risk losing control over the court’s documents and also relinquish the opportunity to gain revenue through this service. According to Bursch 2007, “many states have adopted e-filing programs where filing parties can choose from a variety of vendors, thus eliminating any one vendor’s control over the court record.”[10]

What are some of the standards as it pertains to document sizes, formats, communication protocol, security, document authenticity and fidelity, etc?


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