Italian Justice System and ICT: Matches and Mismatches Between Technology and Organisation1

Italian Justice System and ICT: Matches and Mismatches Between Technology and Organisation1

Francesco Contini (Research Institute on Judicial Systems, National Research Council, Italy) and Antonio Cordella (London School of Economics and Political Science, UK)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-59904-998-4.ch008
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Abstract

The Italian judiciary is characterised by a weak system of governance, consequence of institutional and cultural factors. In this framework, the deployment of ICT policies has been mainly conceived as tools to improve the management, the operational efficiency, and the consistent application of rules so to strength the governance of the system. This approach to the ICT can easily be conceived as an attempt that aims to tightly couple the elements of a system that is by nature (constitutionally defined) loose coupled. In this framework, technology has been considered as, if not the instrument to govern, strengthening the liaisons in the organisation, judicial offices, where other “traditional” tools have failed due to institutional and constitutional constraints. Matching and mismatching between institutional and technological constraints are analysed, providing a framework to discusses how these policies have been deployed and the consequence that the nature of the organizational liaisons is playing while the deployment of information systems is concerned.
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Introduction

The crisis in the performances of the Italian justice system is well known to practitioners, policy makers, and scholars all over Europe. Almost every day, the news report on the effects of such a crisis on the protection of legal rights, on the real life of citizens, and on the business activities. The annual reports of the apexes of courts and prosecutor’s offices regularly announce that a new negative record has been reached in the length of civil and criminal proceedings, or in the number of criminal cases dismissed as they reached the statutory of limitations.2

In this scenario, the Italian Ministry of Justice has made growing efforts to develop and deploy information systems. ICT policies have been mainly characterised as means to improve the management, the operational efficiency, and the consistent application of procedural rules to make uniform the way in which daily activities are performed (Contini & Cordella, 2007). The main goal has been, and still is, the improvement of performances and the reduction of times of proceedings. Not less important, however, has been the attempt of using ICT to improve the standardisation of justice procedures within and across the different offices.

As many researches point out (see for example the contribution of Marco Fabri in this volume), this effort has not been very successful so far. The gap between goals and results is broad. The applications running in judicial offices are often outdated, while many complex and expensive projects are still stuck in a never ending piloting stage, revealing their substantial failure. Grounding upon this background and confronting illustrative ICT projects promoted by the Italian Ministry of Justice, this chapter illustrates how the institutional context deeply affects the deployment of ICT in the judiciary. We argue that the organisation of judicial offices, based on mix of independent actors (judges and prosecutors) and bureaucratic staffs (clerks, administrative people, etc.) creates a context with conflicting organisational dynamics, negatively affecting the innovation processes.

While judges and prosecutors act as independent and autonomous actors, the “administrative staff” operates following a typical bureaucratic schema. As a consequence, judicial offices show an intricate mix of logic of actions that makes extremely challenging the development of ICT polices. This is particularly true for systems that aim at supporting organisational activities shared by judges, prosecutors, and administrative staff such as the writing of judicial acts. The concepts of loose and tight coupled organisations, proposed by Weick (1976) will be used to understand these organisational dynamics and their effects on the innovation process. This will help to investigate the question of how to deal with the developments of ICT in courts and prosecutor’s offices, and, more in general, in organisation in which outcomes are the results of the combination of the action of administrative-bureaucratic staff and of autonomous or even quasi-anarchic actors. The chapter discusses these challenges and argues that the nature of the coupling in the organisational relations is a fundamental dimension to be considered while choosing information systems to support organisational activities.

To discuss these points, we will first introduce the concepts of tight and loose coupling (Weick, 1976) and their application in the field organisational theory. This creates the theoretical framework to analyse the organisation of courts and prosecutor’s office and isolate key variables affecting the process of innovation. The chapter will then focus on two illustrative cases of the Italian judiciary. The first one considers the deployment of a criminal case management system called ReGe adopted statewide by the administrative staff of courts and prosecutor’s offices in the 1990s. This application has been the platform for the development of a number of local bottom-up applications promoted by judges and prosecutors to support their tasks. These applications have never been supported by the Ministry who, against them, launched a number of projects that have never been successfully adopted.

The second case covers the area of civil procedures. It moves from an analyses of the failure of Polis, a standardised system to support judicial drafting developed by the Ministry of Justice, and to show how the infrastructure built for this application has been reused for creating a public access to the court’s case management system.

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