Move civil court procedures online with an eye on safety, convenience

As digital technology advances, civil trials are about to undergo drastic changes. It is vital to enhance the convenience of judicial procedures by establishing a system that people can use with a sense of reassurance.

To bring about the introduction of information technology into civil trials, the Justice Ministry’s Legislative Council has submitted to the justice minister a draft outline of revisions to the civil procedure law. These changes would make it possible to complete the entire span of procedures online, from filing a lawsuit to receiving a ruling, according to the draft.

The current law requires that a complaint be filed on paper and that lawyers and others appear in court for oral arguments. Under the new system, lawyers and others will be able to file a lawsuit using electronic data and also participate in trials online from their offices.

The government intends to submit a bill to revise the law to the current Diet session. If IT becomes more widespread in this regard so that parties do not have to visit courts in person, it will be easier to schedule meetings and secure dates for hearings. Under such circumstances, trials may be able to proceed quickly and the financial burden on plaintiffs and defendants may be reduced.

There has been strong criticism that Japanese trials take too much time and effort and are hard to utilize. The computerization of trials has already begun taking place overseas, including in Europe and the United States. The current reform effort may be necessitated by the times.

A new system will also be introduced in which, if plaintiffs and defendants agree, a trial will be completed within six months. However, even though it is important to improve the efficiency of trials, it is necessary to devise ways to ensure the adequacy of trial proceedings.

Currently, nearly half of civil trials are conducted in circumstances in which either plaintiffs or defendants do not have lawyers. In such cases, filing lawsuits on paper and submitting physical documents is expected to continue to be allowed, but it is necessary to take care to ensure that people’s right to a trial will not be hindered.

Court materials contain a lot of personal information and confidential corporate information. If such information were to be exposed, the credibility of the judiciary would inevitably be damaged. In the United States, cyber-attacks have disrupted court systems in some cases.

It is essential for courts to improve the security of their systems and ensure thorough information management. Lawyers also should take immediate measures to make certain that their clients’ private information is not compromised via their computers.

There are many lawyers who are not familiar with IT equipment and are concerned about the safety management of their offices. Lawyers associations in various regions should hold training sessions and offer other careful support for these lawyers.

It is expected to take several years to complete the computerization of civil trials. In the current civil trial system, judges examine witnesses and hold other hearings in court in person to form their impression of the facts of each case. How to avoid losing the benefits of face-to-face interaction in courtrooms is another challenge.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Feb. 16, 2022.