I had the pleasure of participating this last week in the ILLA hybrid conference from Bergamo, Italy focusing on the digitization of legal discourse. As usual, the learned field of lecturers provided varying and illuminating perspectives on the changes in the legal field made possible by technology and spurred forward by the Covid situation. In the lectures that I attended, three aspects stood out, notably the evolution of legal forms, communication and substance.
Clearly, the physical barriers imposed by Covid restrictions have forced courts to adopt modern means of procedure. As Daniel Greineder noted, arbitration courts have significantly increased their use of video presentation and online evidence submitting facilitated by use of Live Note or similar software as well as rapid hearing transcripts. On a geographically larger scale, the International Court of Justice proceedings in Africa, as reported by Jekaterina Nikitina, involved mass use of video technology for both advocates and witness, including intentional hiding of faces and voices in the latter case. On an interesting note, the court allowed and requested attorneys appearing via video not to stand before the judges as the cameras would no longer be on their faces, a contrast from traditional court practice. Thus, courts have adopted to the availability of technology and difficulties of current circumstances by liberalizing their procedures.
On a communicative level, this digitization can create issues of vocabulary, intent and design form. Martina Bajcic and Martina Ticic researched key terms of EU online processes, specifically small claims, and noted the tension between use of the same term for all countries when the given term is not commonly known in a given country, giving the example of the word “domicile” in Croatia. Similarly, Sotira Skytrioiri showed how the words “bank” and “headquartered” can have different meanings, depending on specific jurisdiction, highlighting the relevant question whether an Internet bank has a territory. Giuliana Diani discussed the use of legal blogs that extract formal legal opinions to serve as a basis of personal points of view regarding the matters at hand, quickly transforming the decision from a final judgment to a basis for popular argument for legal lay persons. On the design level, Helena Haapio and Anna Hurmerinta-Haanpaa described and provided examples of actual user-friendly design, including the use of software to provide simple interpretations of legal text and a 3-level approach to online legal information: simple instructions, summary of conditions and full text, each accessible by a simple click. It was clear that the accepted manner of communicating law by Internet is in the process of change.
The most intriguing aspect was the impact on legal digitization on the present and future. Ruth Breeze compared non-commercial free advice websites with those of attorneys seeking new customers. Unfortunately, it required great viewer sophistication to distinguish the two, meaning that, through “colonization” the Internet has clearly blurred the difference between NGO legal assistance and aggressive legal firms. On a larger note, Dieter Stein noted the transition of law from oral, i.e., historical, to written, i.e., enactive, to digital, i.e., reactive. To clarify, while oral law was a form of precedent, written law was a guide for future activity, stable and slow to evolve. By contrast, online sites can change their content within minutes without any visual record of the change. On the one hand, these sites provide updated information on current regulations, quite valuable with the constant flux of Covid rules, among other matters. On the other hand, the sheer simplicity of the revision brings the disturbing image from Orwell’s 1984 of the constant, granted non-digital, changing of the news and modifying of the past. I am not sure that the long-term effects of this instant update are for the ultimate benefit of the citizen. Regardless, digitalization is changing the nature of the law.
I apologize for failing to mention the other speakers as I was unable to attend all the lectures. My own contribution was on the importance and manner of writing legal English in a manner that an average reader can understand. I also wish to thank the organizers for managing a hybrid conference quite seamlessly, a living example of digitalization on legal conferences. They provided a wonderful forum to help legal scholars of all kinds view the process of legal digitalization with a much wider lens, gaining a deeper perspective of the present situation and appreciation of future developments.
* Picture captions help the blind access the Internet.
Picture credit: Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/mbraun0223-2118828/?utm_source=link-attribution&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=image&utm_content=1223280">Mike Braun</a> from <a href="https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=image&utm_content=1223280">Pixabay</a>