February 2007

Digitization of Legal Documents

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Security of the court documents is a critical issue. Use of information technology in the courts has become inevitable to improve the working conditions of record rooms and to facilitate in dispensation of justice. As such, without the adoption of modern technologies it would become extremely diffi cult for the existing system to manage judicial record

STORAGE/REPOSITORY AND RETRIEVAL of judicial fi les (cases) have been alarming issue over the years. Preservation and maintenance of judicial record requires immediate attention. This is due to several reasons. These include limitation of space, decaying process of paper, natural calamity, security and reconstruction of record.

Limitation of Space

Shortage of space is one of the major issues being faced by the courts and other organisations. For example, more than 18,000 square feet area of Lahore High Court is being utilised for storage of millions of judicial fi les. Every year, about 60,000 fi les are being consigned to the record cell. The growth rate is approximately 15% per annum. This would mean that Lahore High Court would need approximately 600 square feet area per year to maintain the judicial record at the present rate of growth.

Decaying Process of Paper

As per the current storage system the condition of paper is continuously decaying. Information/record is becoming partially/completely non-retrievable due to poor and deteriorating condition. The practical diffi culty being faced is that retrieval of information/ record out of millions stacked fi les is almost next to impossible.

Natural Calamity

The probabilities of natural calamities like fi re, fl oods, torrential rains, collapsing of dilapidated record rooms and even deliberate attempt for record tampering can no be ruled out.

Security

The security of legal/judicial record includes three main aspects– secrecy, integrity, and accessibility. Ensuring integrity of document means preventing/detecting/deterring the improper modifi cations. For example, the concerned staff/ employees should not be able to modify or improperly alter the record. Courts’ secrecy and integrity are often needed in combination. Wrong information/document can entail heavy damage ranging from fi nancial loss to human loss.

Reconstruction of Record

Most diffi cult task is to reconstruct any judicial record, which may have been lost due to fi re or any other natural calamity. Whenever some old fi le is destroyed and requires to be reconstructed one has to face great diffi culty due to non-availability of authentic/certifi ed copies of the proceedings. In the past several incidents where record was lost due to fi re, heavy rains and fl oods etc., great diffi – culty has been experienced in reconstructing the record. In such an eventuality the agony of the parties who may have vested rights attached to or by the said judicial record is beyond conception.

SOLUTION

The rapid development of information technology in the recent past has led to the widespread  use of computer systems in various public and private organisations, especially in courts and other Government organisations.

Preservation of judicial record on electronic devices and to provide authenticated information  to the courts and litigant public are the necessity of time The effort to digitise/computerise the  record would not only reduce reliance on space but also manpower. The cost savings will  be an effect by default. And most importantly will lead to paperless environment. Delay and  inconvenience faced by the litigant public as well as counsel for having attested copy of  orders/judgments will be reduced. All the information/record will be integrated and chances  of tampering will be eliminated. The methodology will help in better document management,  reducing workload and expeditious retrieval of desired record.

The system will bring a revolutionary change in the judiciary in respect of preserving the  judicial record by adopting the modern techniques. By doing so the orthodox and conservative system of maintaining the record would be rejuvenated. The three most important features  that make it highly effective are cost effectiveness, secure and reduced possibilities of it being tampered, and convenient backup in case of disaster.

The increasing use of information technology has proved the necessity to support courts’  functions on the one hand, whereas on the other it has also posed serious problems of documents/data security. In fact, damage in such environment does not only affect a single  user or application but rather the whole information system thus the consequences becoming  unpredictable. Advances in information processing techniques (tools and languages) aimed at  a simplifi cation of human machine interfaces have served to make data/ documents  available to different types of users more serious security problems arise, therefore, in IT based judicial system security is essential both to assure continuity of systems, reliability and the  need to protect documents/data and programs from destructions, modifi cations, theft and  unauthorised disclosures.

“Storage/Repository and retrieval of judicial fi les (cases) have been alarming issue  over the years. Preservation and maintenance of judicial record requires    immediate attention. This is due to several reasons. These include limitation of space, decaying process of paper, natural calamity, security and reconstruction of record”

Distributed processing has also contributed to advances in the development and automation of  judicial systems. Today, the processing units of any superior court and its remote of- fi ces  and/or subordinate courts can exchange information rapidly with each other via  computer/communication networks and workstations; thus allowing a rapid  transfer/exchange of a large amount of data and information.

SCOPE

This system can cover two tasks: (i) Fresh Institution and (ii) Current Decided Cases. In the  Fresh Institution system, the public would be able to fi le their cases electronically. However,  some amendments in procedures and rules are involved. Similarly, by incorporating some  modifi cation in the present system, fresh institution can be entertained by mode of Internet.  Insofar as Current Decided Cases is concerned, it must be noted that currently decided cases  are the most important and highly referred document of any offi ce. The retrieval ratio  remains high owing to continuous access of information. It requires an online, fast access that  measures the productivity. The judicial record needs to be regularly scanned, orders should be  entered into the computer on day-to-day basis and fi nally on Document Management  System Server. Lastly, the data should be secured on CDs/DVDs as a backup for easy/speedy  access and durability for many years to come.

The court record consists of backlog (decided cases) and pending cases. The volume of backlog  is estimated in millions of fi les with millions of pages. Most of records are dumped and  frequency of its retrieval reveals from the latest to the oldest. For decided cases, keeping in  view, the volume of data and paper condition, scanning seems to be the best solution. It can be  preserved on CDs or the Hard Disk on which we can process data for so many years, having effi cient retrieval as well.

Document will be scanned in gray-scale at 200dpi and in case where OCR (Optical Character Recognition) is necessary at 300dpi. At least three persons per scanner may be deputed one for  document preparation – one for operating scanner and one for de-preparation. The most  important part in scanning is document preparation and de-preparation i.e. removing staples, unfold, striating etc. and putting them together after scanning. It speeds up the  scanning process considerably.

After scanning it will be converted into PDF or any noneditable format so that no tampering/alteration can be made. First page of each case fi le would be preferably OCR as  well, to help in search the fi le through text. Simultaneously embossing will be made for  document originality. Same pattern will be followed, where scanning of any document is carried out.

EXPERIMENT

As a test case preservation system was installed at District & Sessions Court Attock. In the fi  rst phase, it is intended to scan and preserve the judicial record for 6 years i.e. from the year  2000 to 2005 (about 20,000 fi les). It is expected that this huge exercise would be completed  within 6-8 months. After successful completion and evaluation of this task, the remaining judicial record would also be preserved. The above-mentioned 20,000 fi les can be preserved  in only 20 CDs, which would cost a small amount (PKR.500/- approximately).

It is interesting to note that about 1000 judicial fi les having average volume of 25 pages can  be preserved in only one CD that costs PKR20-25. The cost of the hardware and software is a  one-time expenditure or rather a fi xed cost. No special staff is required for this project. Some  offi cials from amongst the existing staff can be trained and engaged in this exercise. The  experiment shows that about 100 fi les can be scanned and preserved daily but this depends  on the devotion and dedication of the staff on this assignment. The passion and fi rm  commitment are the basic requirements for accomplishment of this gigantic task.

As an alternate arrangement save and preserve the judicial record on the Hard Disk as well.  In 80 GB Hard Disk, which is in common use these days costing about PKR4500/-. We can  preserve about 100,000 fi les. As the Hard Disk does not cost much, therefore, it is proposed  that the record scanned and saved on Hard Disk may not be deleted and by doing so we can  preserve the Hard Disk as well, besides persevering the Data on CDs. By doing so, the same  record shall be presented and available at three different locations, i.e. the original record and its two backups.

STORAGE MEDIA

Each CD is allocated a serial number or code and it will contain the index showing the fi les preserved therein. This system would be fully protected from interpolation because the CDs we are using are not rewriteable. So once the CD “Burning” (Writing) is completed and the  DATA is transferred to CD from the Hard Disk it stands locked and cannot be tampered, overwritten or deleted by anyone. In case, loss of any judicial fi le, hard copies thereof can be  prepared from the CD conveniently by using the printer. With the passage of time we will  gain more experience and improve the performance.

“The Courts are opening up to a global environment like Electronic Case Filing, Electronic  noticing, Electronic Mail. Some security breaches may be accidental or committed innocently  enough such as sharing a password with an unauthorised person, allowing easy  access to PCs with sensitive information. Consequently, in such environments secrecy would  be ensured only for a portion of data that is defi ned as critical”

This is the fi rst and unique project of its kind. It is expected to bring a positive change in the  country in respect of maintaining the judicial record.

RECOMMENDATIONS

Digitisation of the record of the courts and public sector organisations is a very  serious/sensitive issue and require correspondingattention and very strong commitment for  the top management; therefore, a digitisation section must be established separately in the organisations. The sole responsibility should be scanning and digitisation of record. They must be given adequate staff and equipment to meet the digitisation targets.

Keeping in view the technology/media there are two options, which seems to be most feasible on case-to-case basis. Option 1 is through CD-Document Recorder and Option 2 is through  Scanner. Regarding Option 1, CD-Document Recorder is latest equipment, which scans and  stores pages directly on CD without involvement of any system. It has its own indexing  system. CD prepared on it can be retrieved on any window-based environment. It is  completely tamper proof as scanned images are directly saved on CD in a noneditable format.  Recently available such like CD-Document Recorder, CD-4070 manufactured by Cannon  work well in distributed environment as well. Insofar as Option 2 is concerned, the scanning  technology would be in the fi tness of things to opt for old record/currently decided cases. Flat  Bed Scanner, Sheet Fed/Rotary Scanner and Planetary Scanner are used for document larger  than A3, bound originals (book etc) as well as very old record, which has become fragile and  even fl atbed cannot handle, but it is slow.

The size of the scanned document is automatically detected, and areas around the document are cropped. This reduces the size of the document and saves storage space. Presently, the latest in document storage and archival technology is compact disk. Backup copies will be made on CDs or DVD. On line storage will be made on 350GB SCSI Hard disk for quick access.

Documents are stored on CDs and used as backup. These CDs are loaded on Hard Disk Drive for  quick online retrieval or virtual Juke Boxes can be used for quick access on network and  original CDs are stored in a safe place. These virtual Juke Boxes can store from 100–1000 CDs  of 650 MB at a time and 60–800 CDs with RAID protected caching. These virtual Juke Boxes  are used as online mass storage devices with a capacity up to 1000 GB for quick retrieval on  single PC or network. These CDs are loaded on Hard disk drive for quick online retrieval. Since  change in storage technology is inevitable and generally it is expected to change in 20 years  or less. Therefore it is always advisable to use the latest available technology for storage.  Secondly, as soon as media changes, tool for conversion to new media become available.

CONCLUSION

The Courts are opening up to a global environment like Electronic Case Filing, Electronic  noticing, Electronic Mail. Some security breaches may be accidental or committed innocently enough such as sharing a password with an unauthorised person, allowing easy access to PCs  with sensitive information. Consequently, in such environments secrecy would be ensured  only for a portion of data that is defi ned as critical. There is a need to encourage the offi cials  to implement certain measures. Among other measures, grant limited access. A solution to  this problem is also possible by preservation of record on electronic devices. A duplicate copy of  record will available and would also lead to paperless environment. Delay and  inconvenience faced by the litigant public as well as counsel for having copies of  orders/judgments will be reduced. All the information/record will be integrated and chances  of tampering with it will be eliminated. The same methodology can be opted for all public  sector organisations.

“Delay and inconvenience faced by the litigant public as well as counsel for having   copies of orders/judgments will be reduced. All the information/record will be integrated and chances of tampering with it will be eliminated. The same methodology can be opted for all public sector organisations.

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