Book Review: The Online Court: Will IT Work?

September 25, 2016

It ill-behoves the author of an article headed ‘Book Review’, which is actually devoted to reviewing a publication that is not and does not claim to be a book, to complain about inaccurate titles. But that won’t stop me. Joshua Rozenberg has not written this paper about ‘The Online Court’ (an entity that does not exist and which is vaguely defined even as a concept). There is a clue in his capitalisation of ‘IT’; this is really a paper about the whole range of IT-related projects affecting the justice system, with a special focus on the highly topical recent proposals for a new court which is likely to be called the Online Solutions Court (though I’d prefer ‘CourtSolve’).

So, having carped about the title, let me quickly say that what is here is great stuff – perceptive, rounded and rather frighteningly comprehensive (there were a number of projects mentioned that were new to me – and I am supposed to know about these things). The biggest plus for me was the neat balance between the insights into the politics of the justice system and the consideration of the practicalities of implementation of IT. Joshua Rozenberg has a reputation as a peerless commentator on judicial politics and so the only element of surprise is the amount of attention devoted to the technicalities. This is no guide to app design but there is a clear description of the way in which an online court can operate. If you are struggling with the concepts or just want to increase your understanding, perhaps in readiness for Professor Richard Susskind’s SCL Lecture on 6 October, this paper is a very worthwhile buy.

But if you are looking for material to reinforce your prejudice against tech solutions, you will not find it here. If you want tales of government IT disasters, you will not find that here. Although Joshua Rozenberg acknowledges the existence of some IT projects in the justice system that ended in disaster (and that might have been a small book on its own), he is clearly sold on the benefits of the online court and the application of IT solutions to improving the justice system; I don’t have a problem with that view but I do think the natural cynicism that arises from past failures deserved to be addressed more fully.

The paper is self-published and available only for Kindle. It costs £1.99. It would have been nice if it was also available as an epub but I accept the Kindle dominance even though I don’t like it. The author aims to update as developments continue and purchasers will have access to the updated version. That is laudable but of questionable extra value; I shall not be reading it again so the updates will pass me by and I suspect I will not be alone in that.

Laurence Eastham is the Editor of Computers & Law.