At the beginning of 2020, with COVID-19, courts of justice worldwide had to move online to continue providing judicial service. Digital technologies materialized the court practices in ways unthinkable shortly before the pandemic creating resonances with judicial and legal regulation, as well as frictions. A better understanding of the dynamics at play in the digitalization of courts is paramount for designing justice systems that serve their users better, ensure fair and timely dispute resolutions, and foster access to justice. Building on three major bodies of literature —e-justice, digitalization and organization studies, and design research— Designing for Digital Justice takes a nuanced approach to account for human and more-than-human agencies.
Using a qualitative approach, I have studied in depth the digitalization of Chilean courts during the pandemic, specifically between April 2020 and September 2022. Leveraging a comprehensive source of primary and secondary data, I traced back the genealogy of the novel materializations of courts’ practices structured by the possibilities offered by digital technologies. In five (5) cases studies, I show in detail how the courts got to 1) work remotely, 2) host hearings via videoconference, 3) engage with users via social media (i.e., Facebook and Chat Messenger), 4) broadcast a show with judges answering questions from users via Facebook Live, and 5) record, stream, and upload judicial hearings to YouTube to fulfill the publicity requirement of criminal hearings. The digitalization of courts during the pandemic is characterized by a suspended normativity, which makes innovation possible yet presents risks. While digital technologies enabled the judiciary to provide services continuously, they also created the risk of displacing traditional judicial and legal regulation.
Contributing to liminal innovation and digitalization research, Designing for Digital Justice theorizes four phases: 1) the pre-digitalization phase resulting in the development of regulation, 2) the hotspot of digitalization resulting in the extension of regulation, 3) the digital innovation redeveloping regulation (moving to a new, preliminary phase), and 4) the permanence of temporal practices displacing regulation. Contributing to design research Designing for Digital Justice provides new possibilities for innovation in the courts, focusing at different levels to better address tensions generated by digitalization. Fellow researchers will find in these pages a sound theoretical advancement at the intersection of digitalization and justice with novel methodological references. Practitioners will benefit from the actionable framework Designing for Digital Justice Model, which provides three fields of possibilities for action to design better justice systems. Only by taking into account digital, legal, and social factors can we design better systems that promote to access to justice, the rule of law, and, ultimately social peace.