What does Big Data mean for Civil Justice?

February 16, 2015 at 6:11 pm Leave a comment

Can Big Data radically transform justice? Most likely not. At least we cannot expect a radical revolution. First, justice happens in many rooms – court rooms, living rooms, administrative offices, lawyers’ board rooms, village elders’ houses etc. Second, even in the formal justice, data is not in the driver’s seat. Justice is rooted in legal, cultural and social norms. It is about moral values, social order and distribution of power. Knowledge which is based on quantified data plays relatively little role in the design, planing, implementation and assessment of the justice processes.
Big Data itself is a cloudy term which encompasses technologies for storing and processing large amounts of (structured and unstructured) data. Nowadays, for a few hundred dollars (the bill though can scale up quite quickly) one can buy massive cloud storage and powerful analytical services from providers such as Amazon Web Services, Google App Engine, Microsoft’s Windows Azure, Cloudera and many others. Data which was deemed technically, economically and organizationally insurmountable  a few years ago now can be easily processed and converted into knowledge.
Will the Big Data hype go unnoticed in the justice world. Highly unlikely. Examples from the fields of national security, anti-terrorism and criminal justice show the abundance of justice relevant data and the appetite to collect and extract knowledge from it. Mass-surveillance programmes of national intelligence services are par excellence Big Data applications. I should note that most of these practices are controversial with respect to their compliance to legal (privacy and data protection), governance (transparency and democratic oversight) as well as moral perspective. My interest here is the field of civil justice. It is the domain of disputes and grievances that occur in the daily lives of people and companies. Think about disputes with providers of goods and services or disagreements over real estate and land, employment, family and inheritance.
There is a variety of potentially Big Data sources in the world of civil justice:
  • Case law of courts and tribunals
  • Records from private and public providers of justice services (lawyers, legal aid organisations, self-help web sites etc., online dispute resolution schemes)
  • Meta-data from courts and other agencies that dispense civil justice (public registries, notaries public, enforcement agents, bailiffs, police, public authorities that deal with disputes and grievances)
  • Records and users’ reviews from e-commerce sites,
  • Data from complaint departments
  • Social media
  • Credit ratings
  • Data generated by “internet of things” devices
  • Traffic data from internet and telecom providers
  • …..
With the existing Big Data technologies it becomes technically feasible to store, link and analyze data in various formats and stored in different places. Many tools are available to process real-time data streams. But the challenge for Big Data in civil justice is to formulate sustainable business models. In other words – how to translate the data into value. Here are a few propositions for the value that Big Data can deliver to the field of civil justice:
  • Identify gaps in the supply and demand for justice
  • Understand better the needs of the users of justice
  • Deliver justice services that better fit the needs of individuals and communities
  • Better prevention and resolution of disputes
  • Diagnose and triage of dispute resolution
  • Turn the vast world of unstructured justice data into knowledge
  • Innovate justice
In a next blog post I will discuss Big Data tasks and technologies that can bring justice value.
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Entry filed under: Access to Justice, Big Data.

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