The changes in climate, which each of us may notice from the uncharacteristic weather phenomenon, linked with the reports on climate change on the news, puts ecology and going green on the daily agenda of every mindful individual. In the European Union this is also backed up by the Green Deal – a point on political agenda as an answer to the ongoing climate crisis and an initiative to achieve a climate neutral and sustainable European Union by 2050, which encompasses many steps towards a greener and more sustainable surroundings/environment.
With the abovementioned backdrop in mind, it may be natural to think that green initiatives have no link between judges, judiciary, and courts. After all, what does the delivery of justice have to do with the ecology? Turns out – there is more than a bit of common ground for this topic.
First, delivery of justice and handling down the judgements tend to associate with stacks and stacks of paper, comprised of documents provided by the litigants, evidence and documents of the courts. All neatly tied up in binders, bundled together with rubber bands and stacked on the desks of judges and court clerks alike. One can almost feel the smell of old paper roaming the halls of the court and hear the sound of the wheels of case-delivery trolley used wheel binders from the clerk’s office to the courtroom. While this image may still be true to a certain extent in individual instances, in the last decade the general trend of accessing the courts, submitting the documents and handling the cases has changed significantly in Europe.
The possibility to address courts through electronic means has started more than a decade ago and has really spurred in the times of and right after Covid-19. Recent datashows that while there still are significant differences in this regard, the general trend is to allow more and more accessibility to courts in digital form. The primary reason behind the digitalization of courts, however, is linked to ensuring a realization of the fundamental right to a fair trail (Art. 6 of the European Convention of Human Rights, Art. 47 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU) of which – access to justice is an essential part. Without access to justice any further meaningful implementation of the right to a fair trial could not be envisaged. Accessibility is a major concern, as citizens cannot avail of even an excellent court if access to that court is not assured. Access to courts thus encompassesthe possibility to commence cases digitally, to conduct all the communications digitally until the court hearing, to conduct hearings remotely and for litigants to inform themselves on the progress of cases. Some jurisdictions go as far as signing the judgements electronically and delivering them to litigants through electronic means. All of this is already true in some jurisdictions, while others are on their way to get there.
The primary aim of the digitalization within the judiciary is not spurred by economizing on paper and human resources necessary to take care of the paper files, but it certainly has a positive effect on the ecology. Embracing electronic case filing and court hearings has proved to be a success. While there is a variety of challenges embedded in this activity and it always has to be weighed against whether a particular group may access the court via electronic means, the exercise seems to be worthwhile as it brings positive economization effect towards the society.
Second, the results of the project “Portrait of a Judge” show that one of the main problems in various jurisdictions are the lack of good candidates willing to became judges. The project manager prof. dr. Salvija Mulevičiene believes the insufficient digitalization to be one of the reasons behind the perceived unattractiveness of the judicial carrier. “The young “digital” generation is unwilling to work in an outdated, slow paper-based system and wishes for clear possibilities to use their digital skills to make the work of the judge more efficient and at the same time to be more eco-friendly”.
Therefore, a link between the modern judiciary and going green is not only established, but it vibrant and with the room for expansion.
See for example ENCJ report on Independence, Accountability and Quality of the Judiciary 2022-2023