The trinidad Guardian / What happens when the head of the Caribbean’s highest court teams up with one of the region’s most respected technology minds? The answer could spell big change for the delivery of justice.
The partnership between Sir Dennis Byron and Bevil Wooding fell under a spotlight earlier this year after the Caribbean Court of Justice announced the successful launch of a custom software suite designed to help the region’s courts to streamline essential services.
Byron, a serial court-innovator, and Wooding, an adviser to governments and corporations, earned praise for spearheading that advance in the region’s justice sector.
It’s not every day that the august, hoary-haired judges of the venerable CCJ break with tradition and embrace technology-driven change. But it’s not exactly a surprise. By the time Byron was sworn in as CCJ president in September 2011, his reputation as a court reformer had been well earned.
In the late 90s, as chief justice of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, he led a multi-pronged technological upgrade to the regional justice system. Then, during his four-year tenure as president of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, he instituted judicial performance management systems still used as benchmarks to this day.
The flash point came when a mutual acquaintance introduced Byron to another Caribbean pioneer, the man who would in due course fashion new technology-driven solutions custom-built for Caribbean courts.
Bevil Wooding had sprung to international attention in 2009 when he was selected as one of only seven people entrusted by ICANN, the body overseeing the Internet, to hold a special cryptographic key to protect—and potentially reboot—the Internet. By then, this soft-spoken trailblazer had already made his name, quietly assisting regional bodies and local communities to get the most out of the digital economy.
“Our half-hour appointment extended into a four-hour conversation about justice, technology, regional politics, Caribbean integration,” Wooding recalls.
Once they agreed to work together on an area of shared interest, and their attention quickly focused on the issue of court efficiency. Wooding pulled together a team from around the region and across the diaspora and began a 16-month process to develop what would become the first comprehensive court management software suite built from the ground up to meet Caribbean requirements.
Mindful that it would take more than software to change decades of tradition, they also set about building out a region-wide network of judges, lawyers, registrars and software developers—called APEX—to support the initiative.
“Our approach to implementing new technology-enabled systems is built on collaborative partnerships with justice stakeholders across the region,” Byron explained.
“Every new technology and innovation pushes the courts to adopt new approaches for how justice is served and how they account for their activities to the public,” Wooding added.
“This is why we have established a formal structure in APEX, to ensure that all stakeholders have an ongoing say in the evolution of these approaches to administration.”
The new software will replace antiquated paper-based processes and outdated desktop applications being used in many Caribbean jurisdictions with simpler web-based workflows.
“The software we’ve released is built to meet and exceed global best practice for digitally enhanced courts. But, more importantly, it’s tailored to the specific requirements of Caribbean courts,” Wooding said.
And courts in Belize, Jamaica and Guyana are in discussions to begin pilots of the new systems. These Governments have also shown their support through financial contributions to the initiative. For the team, these are only the first steps.
Foundational to their strategy is the development of region-wide capacity to maintain and expand the systems in the long term. In other words, they’re not interested in handouts.
“Too often the region has to depend on others to define the technology that drives our own development. That should not be so for the critical technology that influences how our courts perform,” Byron said.
“Through APEX, our goal is to create an entire value chain to support development of Caribbean courts and Caribbean jurisprudence. We are convinced the region has the creativity to generate intellectual capital capable of sustaining the justice sector,” Wooding stated.
Charting a course to take the Caribbean into a position of technological strength is neither straightforward nor is it without significant challenges. But Byron, Wooding and their growing cast of Caribbean, jurists, lawyers, software developers and government leaders seem to think it is attainable.
“We may have a long way to go, but for the Caribbean, it is a journey well worth taking.”
• an e-filing application that allows litigants and lawyers to upload their case files using a web browser, a mobile phone or a special kiosk
• a case management system that allows courts to track cases and generate email and mobile alerts for key dates and milestones
• a performance management program that allows courts to easily identify and address areas requiring attention and improvement.