By Yolande E. Williams
Ensuring access to justice for all citizens is a fundamental principle for courts. Access ensures that citizens are informed participants in all court matters whether it is contesting a parking ticket or ensuring interpreter services are provided for citizens with limited English skills. The Seattle Municipal Court is increasing access with the introduction of an electronic case file application.
Increasing accessibility to case information while improving court efficiency, Seattle Municipal Court launched an electronic case file system on June 24. Joining other courts locally and nationally, the Court's ECF system stores case records digitally. Court staff, attorneys and the public can now access many case documents online in the courtroom and remotely through the Court's website.
Attorneys who practice in Seattle Municipal Court can submit case documents online as well as view non-public documents by signing up for an online account. For more information on how to sign up for an attorney account, please visit: http://www.seattle.gov/courts/ecf/ecf.htm.
"ECF is more than getting rid of paper," said Seattle Municipal Court Judge Karen Donohue, the project lead. "When we do our work with greater transparency, efficiency and accountability, we're deepening our service to our mission - justice with integrity."
ECF will enhance customer service at the Court and offers an opportunity to streamline internal processes, resulting in increased courtroom efficiency, case processing timeliness and case file accuracy. Reducing the use of paper also demonstrates the Court's commitment to environmental responsibility.
Implementing ECF, the third phase in a four-phase move to an electronic courtroom, is part of the Court's strategy to embrace technology in support of effective and innovative justice delivery. In the next phase, all court forms will be completed electronically, further reducing the need for paper and continuing to add efficiency to the Court.
Previously, the Court fully implemented electronic case files within magistrate operations where civil infractions are processed. The Court also conducted a video proceedings pilot for in-custody arraignments in 2013. Video proceedings and the work within magistrate operations laid a framework for ECF.
Looking forward, the Court is exploring the future of its legacy Municipal Court Information System (MCIS) and the system's ongoing viability. MCIS was implemented in 1990 and both the Court and the City of Seattle are highly dependent on MCIS to provide a continuing record of cases and hearing outcomes. As the Court evaluates the future of MCIS, it is considering new directions and initiatives within the broader criminal justice system that may influence this critical technology decision.
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