Service orientation is commonplace in business and is starting to be implemented in the public sector. There is progress in creating comfortable conditions for obtaining administrative services in Ukraine, but the courts are still not being perceived as an accessible and comfortable institution aimed at meeting the peoples’ needs.
We decided to find out what innovative measures are being used by the courts to improve the comfort and convenience of using court services.
For this purpose, we sent out requests to all Ukrainian courts (over 600), and then analyzed and systematized the received responses. Unfortunately, the majority of the courts did not respond to our request. This itself suggests a lack of achievements they could be proud of. However, we believe that 50 responses that we received are sufficient to make certain general findings.
For convenience in navigation, we prepared an interactive map, which marks the courts and their introduced innovations. In this article, we will try to highlight common trends and inform our reader of the best practices.
Access to court for people with disabilities
More than half of the responding courts reported on measures taken to improve access to court for people with disabilities. The situation with access to court for people with disabilities in the courts of appeals is relatively better. 8 out of 9 responding appellate courts reported on measures they have taken in this area. In local courts, this indicator is much worse – just about a third of the courts reported taking such measures.
19 courts reported that access to court buildings is adapted to the needs of people with disabilities. Signs written in Braille characters are relatively common: a total of 11 courts reported the presence of such accommodation.
The remaining measures taken for the comfort of people with disabilities are less widespread. Thus, a specially adapted restroom is available in 5 courts, the marking of stairways in yellow color – in 4 courts, and special parking places designated for vehicles of people with disabilities – in 3 courts.
Some of the initiatives of the courts were outright impressive. In particular, the Sixth Appellate Administrative Court (located in Kyiv) broadcasts video materials about the court’s work in sign language in its building, while the court’s website is adapted to the needs of people with visual impairments. In its turn, Vinnytsia Appellate Court organizes sign language training courses for its employees.
Dissemination of information on court operations
The most popular means of disseminating information about the work of the court are online resources. Thus, 21 courts have reported regularly updating useful information on their websites, while 16 courts have their own social media pages (channels), including Facebook, Twitter, and Telegram. The Sixth Appellate Administrative Court went even further and created a bilingual Facebook page and separate groups to discuss the new Code of Administrative Justice of Ukraine, an electronic declaration, and a page for posting professional essays and sketches on relevant legal issues (PRO Pravo), as well as a Twitter channel in English. A total three courts (Khmelnytsky District Administrative Court, Fifth Appellate Administrative Court, and Seventh Appellate Administrative Court) reported the creation of Telegram channels (however, one of these channels was still inactive).
The courts also undertake efforts to work with the media, facilitating the dissemination of information about court operations. Of particular note is the Vinnytsia Appellate Court, which seems to have taken the most steps towards establishing constructive cooperation with the media. Thus, this court has introduced the practice of providing journalists with advance information on high-profile cases, facilitates rapid interviews of judges and court employees by journalists, has created a handout for media representatives, etc.
Some of the courts have produced videos (Economic Court of Odesa Region), a film, and even a series of programs on court operations (Zarichny District Court in Sumy). At the same time, the Seventh Appellate Administrative (located in Vinnytsia) has produced a series of programs for secondary school students regarding the work of the judicial system in general. These videos are broadcasted on local TV channels and disseminated through the Internet.
The most popular among the means of judges’ direct interaction with citizens is the open house day. 33 out of 50 courts practice this in some way. Some courts organize observation tours for university and secondary school students, meetings with secondary school students, and various contests and competitions. Judges of Yarmolynetskiy District Court of Khmelnytsky Region, Vinnytsia Appellate court, Khmelnytsky District Administrative Court, and Sloviansky City-District Court in Donetsk Region are also involved in parents’ meetings and conduct lessons and educational hours in secondary schools.
Increasing the comfort of staying in a court building and using court services
Free WiFi Internet access, water cooler, and a cell-phone charging station are gradually becoming the norm in courts. Some courts are trying to equip separate rooms for case participants and/or lawyers where they can prepare for a court hearing (Sixth and Sevenths Appellate Administrative Courts) or free access to copying equipment (Northern Appellate Economic Court). There is even a mediation room in the Economic Court of Odesa Region.
Among the measures aimed at improving the use of court services, the most common is posting of useful information on information stands insides court buildings. In particular, information such as necessary requisites for payment of court fees, excerpts from laws, and samples of procedural documents is posted on informational stands.
Some courts have reported about creating comfortable conditions in their clerk’s offices. For example, the clerk’s offices in Vinnytsia and Zhytomyr Appellate Courts and Odesa District Administrative Court operate without closing for lunch break, while the “One-Stop Shop” service, through which one can submit and obtain the necessary documents (for example, a court decision) in one place, has been introduced in Horodenkivsky District Court of Ivano-Frankisvk Region, Economic Court of Odesa Region, and Sevenths Appellate Administrative Court.
A lot of courts are taking measures to establish feedback with users of court services. Thus, 10 courts have reported conducting a regular anonymous poll of citizens regarding their level of satisfaction with court services. Bilopilsky District Court in Sumy Region placed a book for complaints and recommendations inside the building. Online communication tools are also being developed. In particular, Khmelnytsky District Administrative Court hosts online chats with court employees (using Viber and Whatsapp), while the Seventh Appellate Administrative Court, aside from such chats, also practices office hours for citizens to speak with the court’s leadership through Skype.
Some of the courts are taking measures to establish feedback not only with users of court services, but also between the court leadership and court employees. In particular, 3 courts implement internal court polls concerning employee satisfaction with labor conditions and even organize a competition to identify the best court administration employee to create incentives for the work of court staff (Central Appellate Economic Court).
THE MOST ORIGINAL INNOVATIONS
In conclusion, we present the five most interesting practices (in our opinion), which deserve being implemented as broadly as possible:
1. Electronic services for case participants, such as online ordering of copies of court decisions and review of case files (Seventh Appellate Administrative Court in Vinnytsia). This service provides a significant time saving for participants, as they do not have to travel to court to file a respective motion, agree about a specific time with a judge’s assistant or secretary, and then travel to court once again to pick up requested documents. For example, a party wishing to review case files usually must travel to court twice – to file the motion and for the review itself. Situations when a party is unable to review case files at agreed-upon time due to them not being prepared or the absence of a judge’s secretary are not infrequent. Electronic services offered by the court minimize this risk. This service should become universal once the E-Court system is introduced, but this has now been postponed indefinitely.
2. “Without the Robe” Project: informal rapid interviews with judges and court staff (Vinnytsia Court of Appeal). Thanks to this project, the court is really getting a human face for users of court services, since the interviews not only offer autobiographical information, but also an opportunity for judges and court employees to talk about personal aspects of their lives.
3. Civic Education project “Judicial Journalism School” (Sixth Appellate Administrative Court in Kyiv): typically, the public becomes aware of what is happening in the courtroom through media. In other words, journalists usually form the public’s perception of the court. That is why the courts are interested in objective, complete, highly professional media reports. To effectively highlight the progress of a trial, journalists must have knowledge in the area of the law and understand what is happening in a court hearing and why. The project introduced by the Sixth Appellate Administrative Court is a good example of court and media synergy towards increasing public confidence in the judiciary. In our opinion, it would be worthwhile to expand the range of school’s audience to cover not only students, but also professional journalists.
4. The website of the Sixth Appellate Administrative Court is a good example of optimizing the site for the needs of people with visual impairments. In particular, using a special menu, one can change the font type and size, contrast, increase the pointer size, highlight the link, and even turn on the page sound.
5. “A Little Visitor’s Corner” (Severodonetsk City Court in Luhansk Region, Vinnytsia Appellate Court) is a place where visitors with children can spend time while waiting for a court hearing.
In summary, we can conclude that most of the positive changes can happened through the courts’ own efforts. Certain courts, without waiting for instructions from above, undertake efforts to ensure that citizens are aware of court operations and that users of their services feel comfortable and have no hard feelings even in case of losing their case.
A note for courts. To place your court on the map or to update a list of mentioned services, please contact the Centre of Policy and Legal Reform by email at firstname.lastname@example.org