Technology Offers Savings, Fair and Timely Justice

Article by Mike Heavican, Chief Justice, Nebraska Supreme Court and 2012 CSG Toll Fellow

Story appears in the 2013 March/April issue of Capitol Ideas

The core mission of all courts is the delivery of justice in a fair and timely manner. Justice may be as mundane as paying a traffic fine or as significant as protecting the constitutional rights of an accused in a capital case. Increasingly, “fair and timely,” both in paying those traffic fines and in protecting the rights of the accused, depends on technology.

Twenty-first century citizens have an expectation that government services will be available online. Courts have no exemption from this expectation and must adapt to provide more direct services through the use of technology. Electronic filing of court cases, the ability to review court documents online 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and the ability to pay fines or court judgments online fit the expectations of today’s court consumer. At the same time technology, used creatively, allows court staff and judges to perform administrative functions from remote locations and speeds the processing of routine matters.

In Nebraska and many other states, electronic filing of cases is available in all trial courts, which means the courts are effectively available outside the traditional hours of 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Filings can be made from any location and documents are available to view, thus eliminating the need for travel, postage and phone calls. Also, judges are becoming adept in the use of videoconferencing for many types of hearings, which saves court time as well as the time of law enforcement personnel, litigants and lawyers. 

And one of the biggest challenges most state courts are facing in the 21st century is how to provide language access to those seeking justice who do not speak or understand English. How does a court in rural America provide interpreter services in Dinka, Somali, Farsi and K’iche?

The answer is likely to involve sophisticated technology. Interpreters can provide remote translation using computers, cell phones, videoconferencing and other electronic services, unavailable even a decade ago. In such circumstances, technology is a win/win situation. Litigants, witnesses, judges and lawyers are better served by having increased access to certified, professional interpreters and the courts’ budgets are not depleted in paying for costly travel or waiting time. 

Courts have just begun to exploit the potential for improving service and access with technology. Justice in a fair and timely manner will be enhanced as we use that technology wisely and imaginatively.