This piece was written by Pablo Hilaire Chaneton, Prosecretary, and Pablo Casas, Judge, Judicial Branch, City of Buenos Aires, Argentina. For more like this, see our digital government newsfeed.
In Argentina, the judiciary and the justice system are the institutions with the lowest public trust. Judges are often perceived by the public as non-transparent, inefficient and distant.
However, with our team from the No. 10 Criminal Court of the City of Buenos Aires we have set out to try to change this.
Enabled by the City of Buenos Aires Magistrates Council — the institution which administers the Judiciary — and the support of Mariano Heller, we have taken a vast leap forward by implementing a judicial open data initiative and digital technologies to improve our Court’s engagement with the community.
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With almost no budget, in 2016 our Court launched an open twitter account, convinced that free access to public information constitutes a fundamental right in a democratic society.
Through this account (@jpcyf10) we publish every judgement and ruling, and we interact with users in the twittersphere. One of the first challenges we were faced with was ensuring that we published as much as possible while safeguarding personal data contained in all judicial documents.
In order to solve this, we manually remove any sensitive data that could help identify the people involved in each case. Although this is an incredibly burdensome task, it allows us to ensure maximum access while also preserving parties’ and witnesses’ privacy.
We hope that, in the near future, these innovations will be common in any court of law
Always seeking to meet the requirements and criteria demanded by organisations that work with open data, we share the documents in an open format.
Another task was to make this information organised and easy to explore. So, we created an open data repository. In it, you are able to find different datasets, containing all the judgements organised by type of felony, type of punishment, a brief description and a link to the complete decision. There are datasets covering all hearings that have been held, including the type and duration of each hearing.
In addition to improving transparency, this system has enabled us to measure our performance in various ways. For instance, we can promptly view and classify the exact number of cases we have for each type of felony or misdemeanour, how much time it takes the Court to resolve different petitions, how much time the Judge devotes to hearings, and also generate dashboards with indicators of every decision made.
In the interest of openness, we publish all this information so it can be analysed and scrutinised by the public. In order to be as clear and accessible as possible, we display charts created with open source software like Tableau.
It is no news that when it comes to the judiciary there are many long-standing, ingrained practices and traditions that are difficult to confront. Resistance will arise whenever you want to open doors that have remained closed for a long time.
That is why this entire process is demanding very deep cultural change both from our team of public servants and our users too.
The impact and results of delivering these policies can be measured not only by interactions with our twitter account and public google drive, but also with the encouragement and interest we have received from different public servants and citizens across the world.
With this open justice initiative, we have improved our work environment and achieved better job satisfaction. Critically, we have inspired teams to deliver a more efficient public service.
Court open doors
In addition to the information related to judgements and rulings, we decided to broaden our spectrum of openness. We regularly announce the Tribunal agenda, so any citizen can witness the hearings being held.
Furthermore, we decided to publish the resume of each member of our team. Moreover, although it is not the norm in our justice system, we publish the Judge’s personal leaves and interim appointments in other Courts.
Along with the open data initiatives, we are working to make our decisions as comprehensible and clear as possible to every citizen, by implementing plain language policies. We are replacing difficult technical words and legalese for simpler, everyday terms.
At the Criminal Court No. 10 of the City of Buenos Aires, we are determined to provide a service based on trust by making ourselves more accessible to the community. We hope that, in the near future, these innovations will be common in any court of law. — Pablo Hilaire Chaneton & Pablo Casas
(Picture credit: Unsplash)