New Zealand Law Society - Senior courts reviewing Electronic Document Protocol

Senior courts reviewing Electronic Document Protocol

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The senior courts are reviewing the Electronic Document Protocol and are seeking feedback from the legal profession about the protocol and their expert assistance in improving it.

Lawyers wanting to provide feedback are asked to complete this form by 29 June 2018.

Memorandum from Justice Miller

The senior courts are reviewing the protocol, as promised at roadshows when it was first introduced in the Court of Appeal. We seek feedback from the profession about the protocol, and their expert assistance in improving it.

Of 47 civil appeals before the permanent Court in February – September 2018, 27 are electronic. Only about 25 per cent of divisional court cases are electronic, perhaps because the casebooks are often smaller than the 500-page threshold.

The review is also timely because it should inform the work of other courts which are beginning to develop their own protocols as part of the courts modernisation project.

Electronic Casebooks should:

  • improve the quality of advocacy, for both counsel and court;
  • increase courts’ efficiency in preparation, in hearing time, and in judgment-writing;
  • advance access to justice by being accessible and lowering the expense of court processes.

To do these things, they must:

  • use a standard, accessible format;
  • offer strong indexing, searching and annotation capability;
  • accommodate hyperlinks for cross-referencing;
  • allow the parties to add documents as a case progresses;
  • function in the Windows 10 operating environment to which the courts are presently moving.

Having regard to the march of technology, it is sensible to begin by asking whether there is a better alternative to the PDF, which the existing protocol is based upon.

If not, the next question is whether the existing protocol can be made simpler and more efficient for those building casebooks?

Some particular issues arise:

  • for appellate work, should the 500-page limit be reduced? At present it is optional for smaller casebooks;
  • can hyperlinking to pinpoint references be made easier or automated?
  • Should the file structure be changed? The Ministry would prefer this to accommodate electronic filing, which has been piloted in the Court of Appeal and will soon become business as usual there. The portal cannot accommodate the file structure (or, at present, very large files). It is possible to retain the existing practice of lodging memory sticks, however. Cost-benefit analysis is required;
  • Should the protocol retain multiple PDFs, one for each discrete document, or merge them into one?
  • What are the training and education needs of those using electronic casebooks? A well-attended webinar was held and is still available on the New Zealand Law Society website. Should more be done?
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