The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) is using a document management system from OpenText to handle applications and disseminate case law more efficiently. 

The court, based in Strasbourg, France, employs around 800 staff, and handles in excess of 64,000 case applications each year. The court also has a responsibility to make available case law and other public documentation and receives more than 4.6 million visitors to its website each year. 

“For a lot of people in the world, human rights is very important. We have this public duty to make available to as wide an audience as possible the judgements of the court,” said John Hunter, Head of IT at ECHR, in an interview with Techworld.

“Probably 90 percent of the applications we receive will be deemed inadmissible, but we still have to sift through them and make quick decisions on them, so that real just satisfaction is given to the other 10 percent of applications that come to the court that are actually looking for justice.”

ECHR had long been using OpenText eDOCS at the heart of its Court Management Information System (CMIS) database, but the court was faced with a growing case load, resulting in higher than ever document volumes, and it also needed to start integrating with other court systems. 

It therefore adopted version 5.3 of eDOCS, which allows the organisation to capture all types of documents both inbound and outbound, including case notes and emails, in order to build up a complete view of any case, application or other interaction.

The solution not only manages documents related to the core activity of the court, but also personnel, finance, and other administration documentation. All documents are categorised and, where required, are then fed into the case management system.

“The reason what we liked OpenText's solution is that it's completely integrated with the Microsoft Office pack, which meant that we had very little training to do to our users. It also gave us the flexibility that you could be in any application and have access to the system to find documents easily,” said Hunter. 

Document approvals are handled via a workflow system based on Microsoft SharePoint. All users can instantly check on the status of a task and call up any related documentation from eDOCS. Users can access their work tasks from one central point, without the need for numerous emails alerting them to new or updated tasks.

The court has also introduced electronic signatures into its workflow processes. This means that there is now no need to print, sign, and then scan back into the system documents requiring signature, saving time and money. A full audit trail is also retained, aiding internal compliance. 

“We are constantly being audited, and we come up smelling of roses because we put in solutions that are excellent value for money, and that work and that are efficient as well,” said Hunter. 

Public documents are made available through a public knowledge base. To ensure the long term preservation of the documents that ECHR produces and handles, documentation is also created in PDF format for long term digital preservation, ensuring the documents can be accessed and read for years to come.

OpenText eDOCS also offers an enterprise-wide search capability. The new system, HUDOC, offers users many new features, including the ability to drill down easily to the judgments they are looking for via search refiners. The search capability also enables visitors to the public website to find the right document quickly. 

“We put systems in place where we can publish the metadata and the documents over into the Sharepoint search engine. That immediately gets indexed and is made available for journalists, academia, lawyers,” said Hunter.

“We had a case against Ireland to do with women's right to have an abortion. We announced to the world we were going to publish the case on a Friday at 11, and within one minute the Irish Times website had published our decision, and five minutes later it was on the BBC.”

As a result of the implementation, ECHR staff can now be confident that they have sight of all related documentation when they access a case. One particular benefit has been the ease with which correspondence can be created and stored.

Hunter said that, before the document management system was put in, employees would have to search for a physical case file, look up the name and address of the person, copy and paste the body of an old letter into a Word file and add in the correct details. There were no style sheets, and it could take up to 15 minutes just to write a letter. 

ECHR now has over 2,000 model letters that deal with all the different legal processes of the court, and when someone writes a letter they simply have to enter the application number and the letter is automatically generated with the details already inputted. 

The court is now looking to harness mobile and social media. Within HUDOC, users can create their own specific RSS feeds and publish links to Twitter, and ECHR is about to release a new Internet site based on responsive design, so that people who can't afford a computer can still get a good experience via a smartphone.

“Enterprise content management for me is just a must for any big organisation, and what I love about it is it’s dead easy to manage, it’s not a big heavy solution,” said Hunter.

“Our whole karma on software development is we are very user-conscious, in that we don’t want to have to support it and get loads of questions saying I don’t understand, so we try to put in solutions that are easy to use.”