Ştefan Ioan Lucaciuc,
Judges at the Timişoara Court of Appeal
The computerisation and digitisation of the activity of courts has been a constant concern for the European states for several years, and the judicial system in Romania has also been intensely fixated on finding the most suitable solutions to contribute to the efficiency of the courts’ activity, communication procedures, court procedures, the electronic transfer of data or storage, the archival processing of the relevant data, and information related to the activity of dispute resolution.
From a historical perspective, the year 2005 was a moment of reference in the computerisation of the courts through a program developed with the support of the European Union that was able to equip all the Romanian courts with computer technology including servers, computers, monitors, printers, etc. This was the time when the old mechanical or electric typewriters, which used more paper and indigo, became obsolete.
The year 2005 to 2006 was marked by extensive activities in carrying out works for the interconnecting of the new working tools; works that required the creation of intranet networks, and also the creation of secure internet connections .
The next step was the creation of the ECRIS computer application, which was installed and used in all the courts in the country and was a software that was specially created to serve the computerised design of the entire activities of the court. One of the main functions of this program was the random distribution of all the new cases entered in court, a function that replaced the old task of the president of the court having to distribute the new files themselves among the judges or the courts.
However, the implementation of this program was not without difficulties, most notably the consequence of the fact that the application did not respond to all the needs of the court from the beginning, making it necessary to carry out several upgrades periodically.
The implementation and use of the ECRIS IT application at the level of each court in the country has allowed the creation of a webpage called “Court Portal”. This webpage provides centralised information from each court in the country, including information on the management and organisation of the court, the work program, and the files on the role or the resolved ones; the interested parties having access to the essential data such as the file number, litigant parties, subject matter, deadlines, judgment, the solution delivered in the file, etc.
Also, due to the implementation of the ECRIS Program, it is possible to make the data regarding files through some info-kiosks available to lawyers and litigants, i.e. devices equipped with a monitor and placed in the halls of each court, accessible to the litigants, through which they c=can obtain information similar to that already existing on the abovementioned webpage mentioned, but only from the court where the info-kiosk is located and from the other courts within the respective court of appeal.
The subsequent years following the ECRIS application implementation (between 2007 and 2012) were dedicated to its continuous improvement and with the information and feedback received from the courts, together with the IT team from the specialized department of the Ministry of Justice, various programs (patches), and software updates in relation to the suggestions and solutions identified were implemented. These changes were made with the goal of making the application more efficient for the activity of the courts and the interest of the litigants and lawyers.
Such large scale upgrades were required when the New Codes of the Civil and Criminal Procedure came into effect between 2012 and 2014, when it was necessary to create different, separate functions of the software for the pending litigations of judgments in the Old Codes and those registered after the New Codes took effect.
Another very important step in the process of computerisation and digitisation in the acquisition for the Romanian Courts (2010-2012) was implementing state-of-the-art scanners and multi-function devices that featured fast printing services on both sides, as well as ultra-fast faxing and/or scanning.
As a result of the Courts’ implementation of high-performance scanners, the internal order of the Romanian Courts was also modified to establish the attribution of the archive clerk to scan all the documents from the newly entered court files in the first phase only, followed by making an electronic copy of each file separately. The aim of this process is to ensure an easy restoration of the file in the case of loss or destruction, as well as the possibility of archiving the file electronically for the required term.
The lack of court personnel and their inability to operate the new equipment made undoubtedly caused impediments or limitations in achieving the desired goal.
However, over the years, the consistent scanning at the level of some of the documents in the files in their role led to the increased use of the electronic database and the creation of a “stock” of archived files that could be used in the litigants interest.
So, this was initially completed at the level of the Cluj Court of Appeal and subsequently the Timişoara Court of Appeal through the efforts of the IT specialists who created programs for the secure access to these electronically filed documents, including programs known as, “InfoDosar”.
The purpose was to allow the parties and their lawyers to study the documents in the files that were being accessed through the Internet, without having to go to the court archive to physically study the court file.
However, the implementation of such a program involved organising the scanning activity impeccably, so that there were no documents deposited in the physical files of the court without them appearing scanned and uploaded in the electronic records.
It was also necessary to find the appropriate technical solutions for protection against possible cyber-attacks, which meant the allocation of dedicated servers specially designed for the implementation of this new software, mainly aimed at ordinary litigants and lawyers.
Currently, the InfoDosar application works in several courts in the country and is similar to the computer applications created for the Cluj Court of Appeal or the Timişoara Court of Appeal, which has since been transmitted for use in other courts that wanted to support the justice process and lawyers.
The program works with the support of a webpage, which has a variant compatible with mobile phones, and through which the court can find the contents of the file using a search engine that runs by indicating the file number or the name of the party.
To ensure the confidentiality and security of the information in the file, the documents can only be viewed by entering a password. This password is received by the party either by the written summons communication or by SMS text message if the party provides their mobile phone number to the court.
By inserting the password, the party or his/her lawyer can view each document from the file (the main claim for the trial, the defense and the counterclaim, the witness statements, and other documents) since all documents are scanned and archived in PDF format, which allows for the listing/printing but does not allow editing.
The application has been a great success, especially for lawyers who can access their clients’ files at any time, including accessing the special application for the mobile phone and having knowledge on the number of the file and the password communicated to the party. At the same time, the indirect effect that occurred was a decongestion of the activity of the court archives and the personnel of the archives were relieved from the task of providing files for study; the only persons still calling on the archive for this were the justifiable natural persons unaware of the existence of the software or unfamiliar with the use of the Internet and computer programs.
In the past, starting in 2015 and at the Arad Tribunal level, the program was rounded up with the Timişoara Court of Appeal, yet the informative software, generic TDS (Secure Data Transmission) was designed. This is a program designed for communicating summons/citations and other procedural documents through the mail.
It should be noted that the transmission of documents to the courts by lawyers and litigants through the Internet and official e-mail address of each court was already a devoted method for several years in almost all courts in the country. What was not achieved, however, was the transmission by the courts to the litigants or lawyers of the procedural documents or subpoenas through the use of electronic mail.
Initially used only at the Arad Tribunal level, the program was implemented at the Timişoara Court of Appeal and in the courts of its constituency. At present, it has been taken over and is used by almost all the courts of appeal and all the courts in the country, with the consent of the Ministry of Justice, and is intended to be generalised at a national level.
The program was designed to facilitate the procedure for the summoning/citation and communication of the procedural documents, which was carried out even at the beginning of 2013 but in an outdated version, that is, the procedural documents placed in a sealed envelope were transmitted to the recipients (the litigants), either through the procedural agents of the court, the postal service, or specialized courier services.
The high costs of these services, as well as the difficulties encountered in practice, including those regarding the returning of the file of the evidence to perform the summoning/citation or communication procedures and the information technology available to the courts, were the main arguments that prompted the IT specialists from the Arad Tribunal level to create a computer program that ensures the transmission of procedural documents under optimum conditions by electronic mail.
However, the communication of the procedural documents to the litigants or lawyers by e-mail was not carried out ex officio. To the public authorities and institutions that appear as parties in the regular files, the procedural documents were sent by e-mail, based on bilateral protocols concluded with the courts. However, these were only sent to the natural persons or lawyers at their request while indicating the e-mail address at which the communication was made.
As designed, the program allows the document to be transmitted by e-mail (citation, expert report, request for court proceedings, welcome, call request, etc.) in the form of an attachment at the time of the transmission of each document communicated by attaching the electronic signature of the court so that the authenticity of the transmission is ensured.
The program was also designed in such a way that it allows the sender (the court) to observe when the transmitted e-mail is opened, and when the attached document is accessed by the recipient. At the moment, when the clerk observes that the transmitted documents have been viewed from the program, he/she has the option to print the proof in this respect, which is attached to the file and includes information on the transmitted documents, the e-mail address from which they were sent, and the accurate recording of the date and time (including the hour and minutes) at which the documents were viewed by the recipient.
It is, therefore, unnecessary for the recipient (the party or the lawyer) to send an e-mail confirming the receipt of the documents from the court. Simply viewing the documents is sufficient because the court’s program has been designed so that it identifies the time when the documents are accessed and can provide reliable proof of reaching the recipient of the transmitted documents.
This computer program was well-received by the lawyers; the means of sending documents by e-mail is cheaper, safer, and faster than by post, procedural agents, or courier services.
But what can be considered as a real success is the fact that the Ministry of Justice has positively viewed the efforts of the IT departments of the courts in the Timişoara Court of Appeal jurisdiction. Even though the Ministry has not yet taken over the application to generalise it at a national level, it has supported a legislative modification of the Civil Procedure Code that occurred at the end of 2018 to regulate such a procedure for communicating the procedural documents by electronic mail, with the help of a computer program that provides proof of receipt of the message and proof of the perusal of the transmitted documents.
In the coming years, a broader involvement of the Ministry of Justice is expected for the implementation and use of the two programs (InfoDosar and TDS) at the level of all the courts in the country, as well as for improving their functioning.