Electronic Delivery of Court Documents
Austrian Federal Ministry of Justice

A. Problem Analysis

 1. What was the problem before the implementation of the initiative?
For all types of court proceedings the traditional postal delivery of paper court documents to the parties was a tedious process resulting in high workload for court officers for printing, addressing and enveloping of the documents and in addition often causing troubles especially with the confirmed postal delivery of court decisions to persons, who could not be reached at their domestic address at the time of delivery. So all types of claimants – citizens and small or large businesses – had to suffer from delays during court proceedings, which could even bring them into existential problems, e.g. a mother claiming to get child support from a father not willing to pay for his child. In order to speed up the duration of judicial proceedings and to increase the efficiency of the courts, the Austrian Federal Ministry of Justice took the initiative and established the secure and reliable electronic delivery of court documents as a new much faster channel for the service of documents to the parties or their representatives. Note: Goal of the IT usage of the Austrian judiciary is also to improve the working conditions for all employees working in courts and public prosecution offices. This helps to enhance the flexibility of the working-time and work-location and enables work at home – e.g. writing a court decision by a female judge at home. Therefore the Austrian judiciary developed to be an attractive employer for women in high level jobs: More of 50% of the total number auf Austrian judges and prosecutors are already women! Austria has several ethnic minorities – Croatians, Hungarians and Slovenians – in specific regions of the country, who have the requirement and the right to file applications to court and to receive court decisions in their own language, therefore the Austrian Justice had to improve the usage of multilingual judicial forms. For vulnerable groups like poor, illiterate, disabled, elderly, immigrants the Austrian courts system foresees special legal aid, e.g. the poor can apply to get access to courts without paying court fees and all other vulnerable groups can seek personal assistance at their local district court.

B. Strategic Approach

 2. What was the solution?
The Austrian Federal Ministry of Justice, which is responsible for all matters of court administration for all the 144 independent judicial courts on 4 levels and 21 prosecution offices on 3 levels in Austria, initiated the development of a system for "Electronic Legal Communication (ELC)" – in German language: "Elektronischer Rechtsverkehr (ERV)", which allows the electronic delivery of court documents to parties or their representatives, who are involved in a court case. Austria intended to create one common solution for all courts and public prosecution offices on all levels in Austria and to avoid island solutions for each court. The main objective was to significantly reduce the proceeding times for court procedures, in order that citizens and companies can execute their civil and fundamental rights not only in a fair trial, but also within reasonable time. The second goal was to increase the efficiency of the courts by offloading the courts from the work needed for printing, enveloping and sending of paper documents and by enabling structured input from professional users like lawyers, notaries, banks, insurance companies and public authorities allowing them to file court claims in electronic form and avoiding keying-time at the courts to enter the names and addresses of the parties and the details of the claim. Third goal was to decrease the financial costs for postal charges, which where more than 35 million EURO per year in the year 2003 over time by an amount 10 million EURO. The strategy was to develop a broad vision for an electronic delivery system for the courts from and to the parties and their representatives and to apply it in a step by step approach to all types of judicial procedures at all levels of courts. Since July 2012 this electronic delivery service is available as common re-usable service, which is used by the Austrian court case management system and re-used also by other applications like the Austrian Land Register and the Austrian Company Register. This delivery service checks automatically, if the addressee can be reached via a secure electronic channel, and then sends the documents in electronic form. If not, the documents are automatically printed and enveloped using the central facilities of the Austrian Federal Computing Centre for whole Austria in Vienna and sent via conventional postal delivery.

 3. How did the initiative solve the problem and improve people’s lives?
Unique factor of the Austrian Judiciary is the extensive penetration of the practical usage of the Electronic Legal Communication system for all court case types and at all levels of courts and – compared to other countries – the really high volumes of documents sent electronically. Legislation and regulations had to be adopted in an innovative way: When an incoming electronic document is added to the court case database it is considered legally as "filed to the court" with the timestamp the lawyer received from his clearing-house directly after submission. An electronic court document sent to the representative of a party or directly to a party is seen as legally received on the next working-day after the document was inserted into the secure mail-box of the addressee. Also the collection of court fees is done in a more efficient way, since you cannot put "stamps for paying of court fees" on an electronic document. The claimant or the representative of the claimant has to specify a bank account and the court will automatically calculate the court fee from the value and other parameters of the claim and do a direct debit transaction for the automatic collection of the court fee to be paid. The system is designed on the principles of a service oriented architecture and extensively uses open standards for all external interfaces – e.g. using Extensible Markup Language (XML) for structured documents to be processed automatically and using Web services (SOAP) as communication protocol to ease the interconnection for external partners.

C. Execution and Implementation

 4. In which ways is the initiative creative and innovative?
The roots "Electronic Legal Communication (ELC)" go back to the early 1990ies, when a first implementation of an electronic filing system using FTP file transfer allowed electronic filings of a special case type – small money claims – for professional users connected to a special private network. The modern implementation succeeded in the year 2007, when the electronic legal communication was transferred to a Web based technology using open standards as XML, Web services and SOAP. The electronic legal communication, which is secured by SSL and certificates, is accessible via clearing houses and opens amongst other things the possibility of appending attachments to submissions transmitted electronically. Since July 2012 this electronic delivery service is available as common re-usable service, which is re-used also by other applications like the Austrian Land Register and the Austrian Company Register. In 2013 a Web interface for normal citizens was added to submit claims and applications in electronic form directly to any Austrian court, using electronic signatures for authentication. The implementation started with high-volume civil procedures like money-claims and enforcement of civil titles and was gradually extended to all civil and criminal case types. This means that also police files their reports about criminal offences in electronic way to public prosecution and police can receive orders from prosecution for further investigations. The target audience were in the first step mainly professional user like lawyers and notaries - acting as representatives of the parties – and large professional users like banks, insurance companies, large businesses and public authorities, who together file the majority of civil, enforcement and family cases. In a further step Police was added, because Police is the source for almost all criminal cases, which are submitted to prosecution and later on to the criminal courts. In the next step planned for 2014 normal Austrian citizens can opt to register to a secure electronic delivery system for Austrian citizens and to use the interconnection of this service with the ELC system, which was already created in 2013. This interconnection will allow, that Austrian citizens can receive electronic documents not only from courts, but from any other local, regional or federal public authority.

 5. Who implemented the initiative and what is the size of the population affected by this initiative?
The electronic delivery system for court documents – Electronic Legal Communication (ELC) – was developed in close cooperation with all affected stakeholders: Lawyers and notaries, who work as representatives of citizens and companies in front of the court and care for the interests of their clients; Judges and court officers defining the requirements of the courts; Law makers from the Justice Ministry, who were needed for adopting laws and legal regulations to establish a legal base for the electronic delivery of court documents; Technical staff from the Austrian Federal Computing Centre, which did the technical implementation of this system. The ELC system is organized as federated public private partnership using several private companies as clearing-house, which provide the technical interconnection for the lawyers and the professional users of ELC system. To enable electronic delivery of court documents also to normal citizens, a secure electronic delivery system for Austrian citizens, which was developed by the Austrian Federal Computing Centre, is re-used and has been interconnected to the ELC system.
 6. How was the strategy implemented and what resources were mobilized?
Human resources used: Legal experts from the Austrian Federal Ministry of Justice; Judges and practitioners from the courts were consulted as experts; Representatives of the Austrian lawyers (from the Austrian bar association) and notaries; Companies developing software for the lawyers; Clearing houses doing the technical interconnection for lawyers and professional users of the ELC system; Legal experts, project managers, IT-architects and developers from the Austrian Federal Computing Centre. Technical resources used: The lawyers used their own software providers to connect the case management systems used by the lawyers with the ELC system to allow electronic submission of claims and to receive court decisions from the ELC system directly into the private case management systems of the lawyers. Several private companies act as "clearing houses" providing the network-interconnection for the lawyers and other private professional users. All central parts of the ELC system, the interconnection to the clearing houses and to large public institutions and police, the interface of the ELC system to the case management system of the Austrian courts and to other court applications like Land Register and Company Register were designed and developed and are run by the Austrian Federal Computing Centre. Also the secure electronic delivery system to connect normal Austrian citizens was developed by the Austrian Federal Computing Centre and interconnected with the ELC system for the courts and the professional users. Funding of the initiative was done by the organizations of the affected stakeholders: The Austrian Federal Ministry of Justice funded the development of all central parts of the ELC system and the interconnection to the Austrian Court Case Management system and other applications of the court like Land Register and Company Register. The Software providers of the lawyers funded the development of the interfaces of the case management systems of the lawyers to the ELC system. It was co-ordinated by the Austrian bar organization (German name: "Österreichischer Rechtsanwaltskammertag – ÖRAK") The private "clearing houses" connecting all private professional users act as intermediate providers in the transport chain for electronic documents. The operational costs of the ELC service are financed by transmission fees, payable to the clearing house by the sender of the transmission on a "per use" principle". Typical costs for professional users like lawyers, notaries, banks, insurance companies: Monthly fee for the connection: 17,50 EURO Sending one transmission to a court: 0,30 EURO Receiving a transmission from the courts: free of charge Costs for private users: Submissions via the Justice Web submission interface for Austrian citizens: no transmission costs, only the normal court fees for the case have to be paid. Users who opt to register for the secure electronic delivery service for Austrian citizens: Receiving of documents from courts or any other public authority: free of charge Costs for the courts: One transmission of documents to a party or representative: 0,07 EURO Receiving incoming claims/applications: free of charge

 7. Who were the stakeholders involved in the design of the initiative and in its implementation?
The electronic delivery service is now available as a re-usable service, which is re-used also for different applications like Land Register and Company Register for sending out decisions and for receiving applications. The electronic delivery system is extremely cost efficient for the courts, when compared to traditional postal services. The court as sender has to pay just 0,07 EURO for sending an electronic message containing electronic court documents, compared with traditional costs of 0,75 EURO for a simple post letter or 3 to 5 EURO, when using traditional postal services for confirmed delivery of paper documents to a specific person. In the year 2012 the savings on postage fees was already an amount of more than 10 million EURO per year. For each delivery the system saves at least one to two days duration compared to postal delivery and helps speeding up judicial proceedings. Lawyers and claimants connected to the ELC system can file claims and follow-on applications electronically to all judicial courts in Austria up to the last minute before a legal deadline and 24 hours per day and 7 days a week. Lawyers and professional parties get court decisions not only in man-readable PDF format, but also in structured machine-readable XML format, e.g. allowing to insert the date and time of a court hearing automatically into the calendar of the lawyer.

 8. What were the most successful outputs and why was the initiative effective?
Intensive monthly and yearly statistics have been implemented to monitor the number of electronic messages sent out by the courts and the number of conventional letters need to be still sent out, because the addressee is not reachable via a secure electronic channel. These statistics can be down to each different case-type and for each different court or court regions, to monitor if the electronic delivery is correctly applied or if some courts need extra education in using the electronic delivery. Also the input side can be monitored for professional users to see how many applications per user are sent electronically to the courts. This information can be used to "encourage" professional claimants with a high number of claims to properly use the electronic filing functions.

 9. What were the main obstacles encountered and how were they overcome?
Judges and lawyers tended to be sceptical to any changes in the very early beginnings of the initiative, therefore the Electronic Legal Communication system had a slow start. Therefore it was important to explain and demonstrate the benefits for efficiency and speed of judicial proceedings and the financial advantages. The situation turned quickly after the advantages of the Electronic Legal Communication became visible to a larger audience. Even law-makers started to adopt laws and regulations in a very creative way, that electronic communication could be applied to more court case-types and also for Land Register and Company Register. Especially for lawyers and notaries acting as the representatives of the parties it was a significant investment in IT-infrastructure and to build automatic interfaces into their own internal case management systems. Therefore the benefits and cost-advantages of the Electronic Legal Communication had to be shared in a fair way between all participants. The lawyers and claimants got a regulation containing advantages over paper filing by the legal definition when an electronic submission is considered as "filed to the court", which allows them to file electronic applications up to the last minute before a legal deadline. On the opposite side, the lawyers and claimants have to accept electronic delivery of documents from the courts, which avoids all paper handling for outgoing and incoming documents on both sides. For normal citizens a different interface is required than for professional users, who need a system to system interface. Therefore the strategy to include citizens was to offer them a Web interface – secured by electronic certificates – where they can fill and submit claims electronically to the court. In addition the strategy includes re-using a secure electronic delivery system, which was specially designed for normal citizens. This system is aimed for electronic delivery of documents from any public authority to normal citizens, and it was interconnected to the electronic delivery system for the professional users. These measures together helped to increase the volumes of the Electronic Legal Communication to really high figures and the ELC system is today one of the most successful Austrian e-Government systems with high international visibility.

D. Impact and Sustainability

 10. What were the key benefits resulting from this initiative?
The impact of the initiative are more efficient courts and reduced proceeding times for judicial proceedings in all case types at all levels of courts. The electronic filings contain the parties of the case and the details of the claim in structured machine-readable XML format to avoid data entry effort at the court, because the case data can be automatically inserted into the court case management system. Keying errors are avoided and the data quality is high, because of strict validation of the input data. The court can concentrate on deciding these cases. This saves a man-power of estimated 133 full-time equivalents, which is now available for more productive work. For lawyers and claimants the Electronic Legal Communication for filing and receiving documents is open around the clock 365 days per year, giving claimants flexibility in their working time and work location and avoids also paper handling on the side of the participating parties. Applicants get a legally binding confirmation for all messages, they have sent to the court. In addition applicants are informed automatically about the case number, which the court assigns to a new case filed, at the earliest possible time. On the output-side the court can produce all court decisions with help of IT-support, e.g. including the names and addresses of the parties as variables in all decision documents, which are automatically filled from the actual case data. These court decisions are sent electronically to the parties with just a few clicks on the keyboard or mouse, without any effort for paper handling, addressing and enveloping at the court. This again avoids effort for the court and allows fast and secure electronic transmissions of court decisions to the parties at much lower costs (less time, no postal fees, no paper and no printing or copying). The impact is measured by statistics. In the year 2012 the Austrian Electronic Legal Communication system moved the following volumes: 4.331.000 Electronic filings to courts. Note: More than 90% of civil applications and around 70% of enforcement applications were filed electronically in the year 2012! In addition all police departments in whole Austria submit their about criminal offences to prosecution offices in electronic form. 9.480.000 Electronic messages from courts to parties or their representatives (This number includes 2.694.000 automatic information messages, e.g. court case number assigned for new filings) 13.811.000 Total electronic transactions in the year 2012! This is an impressive figure for a small country like Austria with just 8,5 million inhabitants.

 11. Did the initiative improve integrity and/or accountability in public service? (If applicable)
The initiative has now a solid legal base in the Austrian law and its supporting regulations, e.g.: §§ 89a ff Gerichtsorganisationsgesetz (GOG) – organization law of the Austrian courts, § 34a Staatsanwaltsgesetz (StAG) – organization law of Austrian public prosecution offices. Note: Austrian laws can be found on the Website www.ris.bka.gv.at in authentic form and free of costs. Professional users in Austria like lawyers, banks and insurance companies are now obliged to file cases electronically and use paper filings only as exceptions. With January 2014 also the national insurance will be obliged to use the ELC system. The neighbour country Germany will follow the Austrian example and has just changed laws to foresee the brought use of electronic legal communication and to implement it till 2020. On the level of the European Union several initiatives are underway to make cross-border electronic filing and electronic cross-border sending of court decisions reality. The EU e-CODEX project (e-Justice Communication via Online Data EXchange) with the participants Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Ireland, Jersey, Lithuania, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, United Kingdom, CCBE and CNUE will implement working pilots for different cross-border proceeding types. Planned project duration is currently 50 months (December 2010 to February 2015) at total estimated costs of 24 million EURO. The EU contribution is 12 million EUR, which is 50% EU funding, the rest is to be funded by the participating EU Member and Non-Member States and organisations. E-CODEX is funded through the ICT Policy Support Programme under the Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme (CIP) of the European Union. (More details about the e-CODEX project see under: http://www.e-codex.eu ) The second major European initiative is the European e-Justice Portal, which will be connected to e-CODEX in Summer 2014 to enable European citizens and companies to fill a cross-border claim via the dynamic forms feature of the European e-Justice Portal (see: https://e-justice.europa.eu/home.do?action=home&plang=en under the chapter "Dynamic Forms") and to submit it electronically it via e-CODEX to the competent court in a foreign country and to receive electronic court decisions from this foreign court via a secure mailbox provided by the European e-Justice Portal.

 12. Were special measures put in place to ensure that the initiative benefits women and girls and improves the situation of the poorest and most vulnerable? (If applicable)
The initiative needs to have a clear business benefit for all affected users like judges, court officers, professional users like lawyers and notaries, large claimants like banks, insurance companies and large public institutions and also for the normal citizens and small businesses, before it will be widely accepted. Different user-groups have different requirements regarding the interface for an electronic delivery system. Large users might submit several thousand cases per quarter and will require a system to system interface, whereas a normal citizen, who might submit a court case only once in her/his life-time require a user-friendly but secure Web-site, where she/he can input her/his claim manually and a secure mailbox to receive court decisions. To ease the connection for all users you should use well accepted open standards like Internet technology, XML and Web services, because external users have their own and very diverse IT infrastructure.

Contact Information

Institution Name:   Austrian Federal Ministry of Justice
Institution Type:   Government Department  
Contact Person:   Martin Schneider
Title:   Dr.  
Telephone/ Fax:   +43 52152 2176
Institution's / Project's Website:  
E-mail:   thomas.gottwald@bmj.gv.at  
Address:   Museumstrasse 7
Postal Code:   1070
City:   Vienna
State/Province:   Vienna

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