Saturday, June 16, 2018

Deleting Court Data

Recently I shared my opinion on a conference call that court IT systems (CMS/EDMS/E-filing) should not allow deletion of any data.  I explain below.


My general philosophy is that court IT systems should operate using the same rules as financial accounting systems.  That is, errors are not erased/deleted but instead a correcting entry should be made nullifying the incorrect data.  And at the most extreme this may require that the entire case record terminated via such a correcting entry and a new case record initiated. There are many reasons for this approach.

First, a correcting entry allows the system to collect all the transactions that are both correct and incorrect.  Mistakes happen.  It is better to record the mistakes in the system so that we can understand what, when, and where they occur.  This approach also provides information as to what needs to be done with the system design or staff training to reduce mistakes. 

Second, erasure of data allows for potential manipulation of the case processing rules.  Our judicial and legal systems rely upon these rules to ensure fairness.  If case events are deleted, the rules governing inaction or delay may be invoked.  This may, in turn, result in an incorrect decision since the judge will be given false information. And one can easily follow that bribery and corruption enter this conversation as the decision can benefit the party paying for the erasure.

Third, including all correct and incorrect data allows for what is called “continuous auditing” in finance.  Wikipedia provides an introductory statement on this process:
“Continuous auditing is an automatic method used to perform auditing activities, such as control and risk assessments, on a more frequent basis. Technology plays a key role in continuous audit activities by helping to automate the identification of exceptions or anomalies, analyze patterns within the digits of key numeric fields, review trends, and test controls, among other activities. 
The "continuous" aspect of continuous auditing and reporting refers to the real-time or near real-time capability for financial information to be checked and shared. Not only does it indicate that the integrity of information can be evaluated at any given point of time, it also means that the information is able to be verified constantly for errors, fraud, and inefficiencies. It is the most detailed audit.”
And last, it is my belief that all actions need to be recorded supports many of the “core values” of the International Framework for Court Excellence which are:

  • Equality before the law
  • Fairness
  • Impartiality
  • Independence of decision-making
  • Competence
  • Integrity
  • Transparency
  • Accessibility
  • Timeliness
  • Certainty

To finish, I have worked with courts where filings and files were hidden by judges and court staff awaiting payment (bribe) by a party or parties to move the case forward.  And of course, nothing is recorded in the register.  So, while this level of corruption does not rise to the level of billions of dollars being stolen as occurs in some countries, it hurts the rule of law, trust in the courts and the government, and ultimately the country and their economy.  After all, who wants to write a contract in a place where corruption may determine its ultimate outcome?

1 comment:

  1. One other thought. It is OK to change field data as long as it is documented. For example, say a party's birth date is incorrectly entered into that field when the case is initiated. The correct date is later discovered. Then I think it is fine to correct the field date/data but the change should be noted in a document that is approved by the judge and entered into the case registry/document management system.