The Infometer project experts have completed one more public audit of openness of information on Russian general jurisdiction courts' activities, focusing on online publication of templates for documents used for filing applications to courts. Online interaction between the Infometer experts and officials from various courts appears to be especially active and efficient: 7 regional courts and 132 first-instance level courts have reached 100% of informational openness in accordance with the current audit requirements.
General Audit Results
The audit took place in July – October 2014. The experts were auditing compliance of various level courts' official websites with the Federal Law “On Providing Access to Information on the Activities of Courts in the Russian Federation” No. 262-FZ from Dec 22, 2008.
The audit covered three groups of websites:
- the website of the Supreme Court of Russia;
- 85 websites of regional courts (those of Russian republics, oblasts, territories, etc.);
- 2,215 websites of first-instance level (district or town) courts.
The figures show general results of the audit.
Within the 2014 audit, special attention has been paid to online placement of templates of documents used for filing applications to courts. Applications. claims. and motions are often submitted by people without special legal knowledge; templates and samples can much help them to prepare necessary documents. For court officials, online access to application templates facilitates their work (this was discussed at a meeting of court officials of St.-Petersburg with the Infometer project staff) since they will more seldom have to return applications with obvious failures or give applicants advice how to compose an application.
The expert have prepared a list of document forms most demanded in various court cases (family conflicts, labor conflicts, executive proceedings, and so on) within criminal, civil, and administrative proceedings at different case stages (first-instance, appeal, cassation, supervisory appeal). Totally, 83 forms were evaluated for regional courts, 237 for first instance courts, and 79 for the Supreme Court of Russia.
For each category of courts, experts developed a specific set of parameters. They evaluated online presence or absence of various information categories such as: information on procedure for access to case materials, procedure of duty payment, rules for visitors, and so on. The study has shown that many courts place only general requirements for document preparation and submission.
List of evaluation parameters for audit of first-instance general jurisdiction courts' websites (2014)
List of evaluation parameters for audit of websites for regional bodies of the Judicial Department under the Supreme Court of Russia (2014)
The audit has revealed disparity in online openness of first-instance courts over regions. The leading regions are: Kalmykia, Mordovia, and Khakassia Republics, Ivanovo and Saratov Oblasts (see full rating of regions by openness of courts).
Interactive Map of First-Instance Courts' Online Openness in Regions
Interaction between Infometer Experts and Court Officials
The interaction period is a stage within the audit when officials of the audited bodies cam impact evaluation scores and final rating.
Immediately upon initial evaluation, court officials were provided with possibility to register in the Infometer system and to get familiar with preliminary audit results. During the interaction period, they could discuss our experts' advice and ask them questions, as well as place new information at their websites thus improving the rating position for their courts.
Totally, 38 officials from regional courts and 446 – from first-instance courts registered in the Infometer system and got familiar with preliminary evaluation scores. Our experts processed 10,246 comments from officials.
Timely acquaintance with experts' advice and discussion of evaluation scores in the Infometer system can help to improve website contents significantly. For instance, for regional courts interacting actively, the openness level grew by 39% after the interaction, and for first-instance courts, by 58%.
Before interaction, only two first-instance courts (the Zheleznovodsky district courts of Stavropol Territory and the Oktyabrsky district court of Saratov City) placed all forms of those whose presence was checked. Upon interaction, 132 first-instance courts of 2,215, and 7 regional courts of 85 provide 100% online accessibility level for forms in question; these are brightest performance indices for efforts made by our experts and court officials together. Full ratings of online openness are presented in the Infometer system.
The audit results show that for a large part of general jurisdiction courts' official websites, informational openness is below the mark, and requirements of the Federal Law “On Providing Access to Information on the Activities of Courts in the Russian Federation”are not fully observed. Against such a background, several regions show significantly better level of informational filling for courts' websites.
Experts point that courts' online informational openness level directly depends on how important do regional representatives of the Judicial Department under the Supreme Court consider it. According to law, a regional body of the Judicial Department performs organizational maintenance of courts' activities in the region. Many regional bodies of the Judicial Department include informational openness growth for the courts in "maintenance of activities"; the brightest example of joint efforts made by regional Judicial Department body and courts is Ivanovo Oblast where all courts have enabled 100% online openness level by placing all evaluated forms of judicial documents.
The website of the Supreme Court of Russia, according to the audit results, is open only for 25%. After abolition of the Supreme Arbitration Court, the judicial system is now subordinate to the Supreme Court only. Therefore, requirements to volume and quality of accessible information on the Supreme Court's activities do grow. We hope that poorness of openness indices for the Supreme Court's official website is only temporary.
Following the audit results, several general proposals can be made to court officials in charge of online information placement:
1) to pay more attention to website navigability;
2) to provide possibilities for a user to choose a convenient format for information access (for instance, document forms/templates should be placed, first of all, in downloadable formats for edition);
3) to get familiar with best practices of courts leading in informational openness;
4) to consult officials of the Judicial Department bodies on issues of information placement.
17:25, 17 November 2014