What happens when the head of the Caribbean’s highest court teams up with one of the region’s most respected technology minds? The answer could spell big change for the delivery of justice. The partnership between Sir Dennis Byron and Bevil Wooding fell under a spotlight earlier this year after the Caribbean Court of Justice announced the successful launch of a custom software suite designed to help the region’s courts to streamline essential services. Sir Dennis, a serial court-innovator, and Wooding, an internationally regarded advisor to governments and corporations, earned praise for spearheading that advance in the region’s justice sector.
It’s not every day that the august, hoary-haired judges of the venerable CCJ break with tradition and embrace technology-driven change. But t’s not exactly a surprise. By the time Sir Dennis was sworn in as CCJ President in September 2011, his reputation as a court reformer had been well earned. In the late nineties, as chief justice of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, he led a multi-pronged technological upgrade to the regional justice system. Then, during his four-year tenure as president of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, he instituted judicial performance management systems still used as benchmarks to this day. So, few doubted he would leave an indelible mark on the region’s highest court as well.
The flash point came when a mutual acquaintance introduced Byron to another Caribbean pioneer, the man who would in due course fashion new technology-driven solutions custom-built for Caribbean courts. Byron recalled the conversation.
“I was speaking with Dr. Didacus Jules, Director-General of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States, about certain aspects of innovation in the judicial processes when he suggested that I should meet somebody called Bevil Wooding."
Wooding had sprung to international attention in 2009 when he was selected as one of only seven persons entrusted by ICANN, the body overseeing the Internet, to hold a special cryptographic key to protect—and potentially reboot—the Internet. By then, this soft-spoken trailblazer had already made his name, quietly assisting regional bodies and local communities to get the most out of the digital economy.
On the surface, the Internet Evangelist had little in common with the eminent legal mind. But when the two eventually met, they instantly found common ground—Caribbean development.
“Our half-hour appointment extended into a four-hour conversation about justice, technology, regional politics, Caribbean integration,” Wooding recalls.
Once they agreed to work together on an area of shared interest, and their attention quickly focused on the issue of court efficiency. Wooding pulled together a team from around the region and across the diaspora and began a 16-month process to develop what would become the first comprehensive court management software suite built from the ground up to meet Caribbean requirements.
Mindful that it would take more than software to change decades of tradition, they also set about building out a region-wide network of judges, lawyers, registrars and software developers—called APEX—to support the initiative.
“Our approach to implementing new technology-enabled systems is built on collaborative partnerships with justice stakeholders across the region,” Sir Dennis explained.
“Every new technology and innovation pushes the courts to adopt new approaches for how justice is served and how they account for their activities to the public,” Wooding added. “This is why we have established a formal structure in APEX, to ensure that all stakeholders have an ongoing say in the evolution of these approaches to administration.”
The new software will replace antiquated paper-based processes and outdated desktop applications being used in many Caribbean jurisdictions with simpler web-based workflows.
“The software we’ve released is built to meet and exceed global best practice for digitally enhanced courts. But more importantly, it’s tailored to the specific requirements of Caribbean courts,” Wooding said.
And courts in Belize, Jamaica and Guyana are in discussions to begin pilots of the new systems. Governments have also shown their support through financial contributions to the initiative. For Byron and Wooding, these are only the first steps.
Foundational to their strategy is the development of region-wide capacity to maintain and expand the systems in the long term. In other words, they’re not interested in handouts.
“Too often the region has to depend on others to define the technology that drives our own development. That should not be so for the critical technology that influences how our courts perform,” Sir Dennis said.
“Through APEX, our goal is to create an entire value chain to support development of Caribbean courts and Caribbean jurisprudence. We are convinced the region has the creativity to generate intellectual capital capable of sustaining the justice sector,” Wooding stated.
Charting a course to take the Caribbean into a position of technological strength is neither straightforward nor is it without significant challenges. But Sir Dennis, Wooding and their growing cast of Caribbean, jurists, lawyers, software developers and government leaders seem to think it is attainable.
“We may have a long way to go, but for the Caribbean, it is a journey well worth taking.”
Originally published: Trinidad and Tobago Guardian