At a two-day conference organised for Justice Ministers in Strasbourg under the title ‘Justice in Europe facing the challenges of digital technology’, representatives of the 47 Member States of the Council of Europe exchanged views on the new opportunities that have opened up in the digital era in access to law and justice, and the impacts of digital technology on criminal justice.

On the first day of the conference, attendees outlined in detail the experiences they have gained in the area of the application of digital technologies in their respective Member States as well as their future plans, in addition to talking about the possibilities and challenges of providing more effective access to justice in Europe. On the second day of the conference, representatives of Member States spoke about the impacts of digital technology on criminal justice and the new challenges emerging in this field.

In his speech, Minister of State János Bóka introduced the significant results achieved in the area of the digitisation of justice in Hungary. He said expectations regarding the efficiency and quality of justice are rising with the spread of digitisation which affects our daily lives. Citizens now used to electronic administration want to have the opportunity to submit their petitions online, to be able to view the files of their procedures without appearing in offices in person, and to be given the possibility to make their witness statements via remote hearings. Hungary has heard these needs, and was among the first to digitise the processes of justice, thanks to which in 2018, some 51 per cent of civil and commercial cases, and 80 per cent of bankruptcy and liquidation proceedings were instituted electronically.

The Minister of State reported that as part of the project ‘Digital Court’ of the National Office for the Judiciary, the full and comprehensive digitisation of court proceedings is now in progress, including e-files, the possibility of submitting and delivering documents electronically, the electronic viewing of lawsuit documents, online duty payment, and tools for electronic signature and signature authentication. Parties to proceedings can now choose whether they wish to receive notices relating to procedural deadlines, new submissions, minutes and decisions by e-mail or in sms text messages, and can calculate the expected duration of the proceedings with the aid of a lawsuit duration calculator.

The National Office for the Judiciary is also implementing the project ’Via Video’, as part of which hearing rooms are being equipped with digital video and sound recording and transmission systems, and these are being connected to a voice recognition system tested at present as a pilot project.

Mr Bóka stressed that not a single country can cope with the challenges of digitisation on its own. The usability of e-files is limited if, due to problems of compatibility or security, they cannot be forwarded to foreign partner authorities and courts. The digital forwarding of video and sound recordings, too, is only half an achievement if, due to the technical incompatibility of the other Member State’s system, they cannot be used for cross-border remote hearings.

In the interest of eliminating technical compatibility problems, the Minister of State initiated the establishment of an informal roundtable, under the auspices of the Council of Europe, with the participation of experts responsible for the development and operation of justice IT systems (including technical experts dealing with IT systems used for notarial and execution purposes) who are the first to face the daily challenges of international justice cooperation. Thanks to the favourable reception, consultations regarding the proposed closer cooperation will continue.