Founder E-Court Foundation
E-Court provides a major contribution to access to justice: simple court proceedings, at an affordable court fee for the large public.
E-Court is an online private court for civil disputes; the legal proceedings are designed to last 8 weeks at an affordable cost. This private court generates its own verdicts, which have the same legal force as a verdict of the public courts.
1. Can you briefly describe the innovation, the problem it tries to solve and why it is necessary?
E-Court is an online private court for civil disputes; the legal proceedings are designed to last 8 weeks at an affordable cost. This private court offers generates its own verdicts, which have the same legal force as a verdict of the public courts.
It is designed to solve:
- Inequality of arms, financially: low cost court fee
- Inequality of arms, knowledge: easy to understand what will happen during the trial and for parties to bring forward their opinion on the case
- Inequality of arms, psychologically:
And as such it tries to solve the inaccessibility of public courts and of justice in civil disputes as a result of financial reasons, stress or people experiencing it as too complicated. Many of the civil disputes are not brought before the costs as a result of these problems.
2. What makes your innovation unique?
- It is the first time that the monopoly of public court proceedings (“rechtspraak”) has been brought to an end on a massive scale for the general public by a private initiative. This is possible because e-Court by itself generates a title for execution of the verdict, in the same manner that the public courts do.
- In addition, certainty and prediction are also unique features:
It is the first time in history that court proceedings take a predetermined amount of time (no delays are granted to the parties, nor to the court).
It is the first time in history that it is clear to all involved what will happen during each week of the proceedings.
- Transparency by virtue of online exchange of pleadings and documents, as well as information about the professional background of the e-Judge.
- Very high efficiency and productivity by smart use of computers and knowledge.
3. What triggered the development of the innovation?
16 years of frustration and experience that justice in public courts in the Netherlands is usually at the side of the “fittest” party. The court proceedings are supporting “powerplay” and frequently used as a way to exhaust the other party financially and emotionally. More than 1.000 clauses in 4 Law Books on civil proceedings in the Netherlands, make it a complicated business. Too complicated for everyday problems and claims.
4. Which persons and organisations were involved in the development and what role did they play?
The concept was designed by Mrs. H.W.R. Nakad-Weststrate. It was supported (financially and morally) by my family and (business) friends. The legal technicalities were brought to perfection by former public notary Henk Alers (doehetzelfnotaris.nl), lawyers HJ van der Tak and René van Beurden and the ICT was made possible by Johan Burgemeester en Ronald Heerema of Juno IT and Robert Blom (partner of Doehetzelfnotaris). Public figures then helped to obtain support in politics and public office.
5. What kind of resistance have you encounterd and how have you overcome it?
"Change is hard because people overestimate the value of what they have - and underestimate the value of what they may gain by giving that up."
- James Belasco and Ralph Stayer, Flight of the Buffalo (1994).
The first - most effective and simple – method used to block e-Court in the legal field was that some people spread the rumor “this is not possible/allowed under the laws of [the Netherlands]” . We found that lawyers are often embarrassed when they are faced with something new. Why had they not discovered the concept themselves (as the history of e-Court goes back to the laws of 1838)? Laywers are supposed to be experts and specialists; there is no joy or surprise for them about new possibilities, but rather a sense of shame that one did not see this one coming.
The second step was that “the opposition” approached people who had committed to this innovation and let them know that it is no wise to commit their reputation to an institution that was considered controversial. Some public offices went as far that they threatened to put people out of office (via their professional courts of complaints), if they would be in favor of e-Court and provide services. There was also one senior legal professional within e-Court, that was forced to leave, or otherwise he could not become a public judge.
The opposition usually tried to maintain the status quo, in terms of finance and/or status.
100% certainty about legal issues can only be granted by the Supreme Court (this process will take approximately 12 years in the Netherlands) or by the Ministry of Safety and Justice (who is under a strong influential lobby of all the legal professionals trying to stop it).
The extra problem is that the public courts feel they are a party to the e-Court innovation (in the sense that many magistrates are slightly embarrassed that e-Court can meet the large public’s needs and that makes it difficult for them to rule impartially (like asking British Airways to give a judgment about Easyjet).. One time the judge even denied us to give a verdict in a principal matter of law. The reason: there was no argument between the parties, which meant the verdict would be in favor of e-Court. The judge did not want to be on the leash of e-Court. Whereas e-Court emphasized that the public judges have their most important role in criminal law and issues of complexity, principal rules of law and large claims.
Finally, because of the voices of opposition, companies were afraid to start procedures at e-Court, because they are advised by their in house or external legal professional, who was afraid to confirm that the new concept works. No commercial or legal manager in the Netherlands is eager to take a decision about something new, especially in the legal field. If it plays out bad, that could damage his career.
The battle to keep e-Court out of the arena has been fierce. Public officers did not refrain from posting malicious words on the project, but also on the people involved. I was even accused of misleading and my integrity was attacked in many ways.
We had to initiate 4 public court proceedings over the past 9 months, and we involved the Dutch competition authority. We stood for our innovation and the social benefits of honest court proceedings and with the help of a few frontrunners in each profession involved, we finally succeeded.
6. How did you make the goals realistic and attainable, and at what time will which quick wins be available?
Strangely enough, we started with the end in mind (Stephan Covey; 7 habits of highly effective people) and there was no possibility to take this up in small steps. This means that all aspects of e-Court were constructed simultaneously, since this institute had to rise all at once.
ICT had to be good. The quality of the e-Judges had to be outstanding. The Board of Supervisors had to have lawyers of standing. The ethical code on impartial decision making had to be drafted. Funding had to be arranged. Offices had to be rented and places for (fysical) hearings. A network of public notaries had to be established. There were no quick wins for e-Court. Not one.
e-Court has now had almost 1.000 legal proceedings and many to come. Now that we have overcome the resistance, things go very fast, because the need for e-Court is clearly available. We managed to find some frontrunners in each legal field (public judges, lawyers, notaries, scientists, court bailiffs) and with joint forces we managed to persuade the conservative legal experts.
7. Will the innovation have an effect on other organisations in the chain and if that is the case, how will it affect them?
e-Court has an impact in many ways.
For the positive impact on society, see slide 9 of this presentation "The first online court".
- e-Court brings legal professions together to make access to justice come true.
- e-Court connects different types of Codes of law to make access to justice come true.
- e-Court unites the legal field and ICT to make access to justice come true.
8. How was the development funded and what were reasons for the financing organisation?
It was funded mostly by the private person who started it. Obtaining external funding is quite impossible, because of the requirements of impartial justice. We managed to obtain some loans, from people far outside the legal area in the circle of relatives and (close) business friends.
E-Court has not had any public subsidies as it wishes to improve the government’s budgets.
9. Can you name 3 to 5 characteristics of the innovation that are most essential to make it work?
- We took measures to safeguard the expertise and the integrity of the e-Court judges;
- We took measures to safeguard impartial ruling by the e-Court judges;
- We took measures to take maximum advantage of ICT;
- We took advantage of all networks to unite people in the Netherlands to create a strong basis of support in all layers of society (from the Ministery and legal professionals up to consumers’organisations).
10. How do you measure whether it is a successful innovation?
e-Court can measure it by the number of proceedings per month, the evaluation of use by all parties (also if you have not won), the number of appeal, etc.
11. How many people or organisations benefit from this innovation now?
The innovation has a large impact on everyone in society (reduce unemployment in legal professions, reduce budget deficit Ministery), and on a micro scale claims will have a higher success rate in recovery, but the consumers/debtors are protected against high costs, so their risk of ending up in personal debt restructuring programms will be much lower.
12. How many people or organisations could potentially benefit from it now or in the future (scaling-up)?
E-Court has started to take the first initiativas to export this model within Europe and outside Europe, because all governments are struggling with the costs of the banking crisis and economic crisis on their national budgets, while the political agenda is dominated by criminal law and terrorism and governments have a lot to win by this concept, also financially.
13. Can you quantify the financial benefits? (Cost savings, additional income or otherwise)
The costs of society of debt that cannot be recoverd, as well as bringing the budget for public courts down and avoiding unemployment rates rising in public notaries, law firms and court bailiffs as well as companies, will add up to many hundreds of millions of Euro cost saving for our society.
On a micro scale people can save up hundreds to thousands of euro costs (court fee and lawyers’ fees)
14. Is the innovation financially viable and sustainable and if yes, how?
Yes, because we have successfully gone through the pilot fase and the demand is high for our services. We have not used any public subsidies.
15. Can or will the innovation be used internationally and how will you overcome cultural differences?
Yes. This is a tool that can easily be used in any country and any language, where many people have access to computers (at home or internet café). While making our software available in other countries, governments can easily take a profit of this concept without having to invest millions in software development.
16. What lessons did you learn along the way that could be useful to others?
Even though it is not always easy, enjoy the travel and don’t be impatient to reach the destination