O sodiščuKonference3CSG, Bled, 29. – 30. september 2005ContributionsPaper by Mr Maciej Graniecki, Constitutional Tribunal of Poland

Paper by Mr Maciej Graniecki, Constitutional Tribunal of Poland

Information technology (IT) as a tool supporting and improving the work of the constitutional court – exemplified by the practice and experience of the Constitutional Tribunal of the Republic of Poland
Information technology (IT) as a tool supporting and improving the work of the constitutional court  – exemplified by the practice and experience of the Constitutional Tribunal of the Republic

REPORT

by Mr Maciej GRANIECKI
Head of the Office of the Constitutional Tribunal of Poland


Information technology and IT tools play a very significant role in the work and operation of the Polish Constitutional Tribunal.
 
All the judges at the Tribunal, their law clerks and assistants as well as the most of other employees of the Office of the Tribunal, are equipped with computer sets, linked by a local area network enabling the direct cooperation, mutual communication, access to numerous IT databases functioning at the Office of the Tribunal, as well as to the resources offered by the Internet.
Thus, all the necessary conditions for the active use of IT tools exist and the employees of the Office of the Tribunal are expected to use these tools as part of the standard, necessary and compulsory requirements in their work, whereas the judges – of course – are left with the option to use them at their own discretion, since not all judges are interested at all or to an equal degree in the direct use of information technology in their work.
In this context it should be noted as a preliminary remark, that in the practice of the work of the Constitutional Tribunal all items of information and working materials recorded and distributed in electronic form may also be available in printed hard copies. 
 
The IT equipment used in the work of the Tribunal consists not only of personal computers, laptops, scanners, etc., but also of servers supporting the local area computer network, INTERNET and e-mail servers, as well as information database systems (including professional legal information) and software forming the totality of the IT systems supporting the activities of the Tribunal and its Office.
In accordance with technological requirements and IT development trends, we seek to make sure that the computer hardware should be modernized and replaced on a cyclical basis. Each year about 20% of the equipment is replaced – presently we dispose of computers, which were produced in the year 2000 at the latest, which implies that the cycle of replacement of the entire computer equipment of the work posts at the Tribunal averages five years.
 
The basic functions of information technology in the work of the Constitutional Tribunal comprise the following:
    1) Support and facilitation of efficiency of the activities connected with the inflow of cases and preparation of judicial decisions of the Tribunal; 
    2) Prompt access to any information, source materials and case law both of common courts and the Tribunal itself, as well as foreign courts and international court institutions;
    3) Full presentation of the works and the accumulated case law of the Tribunal, both to the media of public communications and to a large degree via their intermediation – to public opinion, as well as to interested circles of lawyers, the courts, institutions, etc. via the INTERNET; in this area of activity we attach particular attention to objectives connected with the dissemination of knowledge concerning the Tribunal and education covering the scope of the principles of the state based on the rule of the law and legal culture.
Of course, the various particular functions and objectives correspond with the IT technologies and tools applied by us.
 
It is therefore worthwhile to present the most important and – as I believe – the most effective areas of exploitation of IT in the work of the Constitutional Tribunal.
 
All of the correspondence flowing to the Constitutional Tribunal – via the Office of the Tribunal – is recorded in the IT system. In this way every letter and every procedural writ are registered, so the possibility exists to effectively combine the in-coming correspondence with the specific cases heard by the Tribunal, as well as with the persons of the petitioners or applicants, who have turned to the Tribunal concerning specific cases. Once the Head of the Office has assigned the letters to particular addressees, they are passed on to the respective organizational units of the Office and handled accordingly. Each organisational unit (department) makes a note in the system concerning the mode of handling the given document, so there is a possibility any time to monitor and obtain information (reports) on what is going on concerning a given case, when and how promptly it was dealt with, and even which employee took care of the case. At the Tribunal we do not yet possess a system enabling the submission of documents and of delivering correspondence in electronic form. The issues of the electronic signature, and therefore of being able to submit procedural documents in this form to the Tribunal, are in the phase of being the object of preliminary preparatory work (this concerns the whole judicial system and requires, i.a., the implementation of the respective solutions with respect to court proceedings).
Procedural writs concerning cases submitted to the Tribunal or already being reviewed by the Tribunal may be delivered to two organizational units, depending on the nature of the case. Applications concerning abstract control and legal questions from the civilian and administrative courts, as well as written statements of parties to proceedings, procedural motions, etc., are referred directly to the Chief Registrar (Secretary of the Tribunal). They are registered in the repertory and in the e-repertory, kept exclusively at the Secretariat. Constitutional complaints and some applications, which according to the Act on the Constitutional Tribunal are subject to preliminary formal review, similarly as the constitutional complaints, are referred to the Applications and Constitutional Complaints Preliminary Control Department, where they are also recorded in the register, as well as in the e-register. Prompt access to data in the e-repertory enables the President of the Tribunal, as well as the interested judges and employees, to be constantly updated on the status of cases scrutinised by the Tribunal, both according to the object of the case, as well as according to the subject initiating the proceedings before the Tribunal, and also in terms of the composition of the adjudicating bench or the reporting judges. In cases concerning the preliminary review of constitutional complaints and certain kinds of petitions, the e-register also enables to promptly become oriented at any time as to the state of progress of the handled cases, the compositions of the adjudicating benches, the status of the time limits attached to the procedural acts, etc.
The e-repertory – after the adjudication on the case by the Tribunal – also contains information concerning the issued judicial decisions  of the Tribunal, including their texts, and also on their referral to publication in the Official Journal of Law, as well as the date and place of publication.
In the system currently being used by us, the e-repertory and e-register are exclusively for internal in-house use, enabling prompt identification of cases in progress before the Tribunal and the retrieving of information, especially by the President of the Tribunal, on the state of progress of their preparation. The gathered information resources are also extremely useful for accessing, processing and presentation of statistical data connected with the entities submitting applications to the Tribunal, the object of the complaint, as well as constitutional models concerning the cases claimed, the work-loads of judges and their adjudicating benches, etc. Some of the data of a basic nature from the repertory kept by the Chief Registrar of the Tribunal is placed on the website of the Tribunal in the form of a list of the cases in each year together with catalogued information concerning the status of the works (which will be discussed further in a subsequent part of this paper).
It should be noted that the data collected in the repertory of the Preliminary Control Department concern exclusively the preliminary stages of proceedings, especially in constitutional complaint review cases. After the completion of this stage and the qualification of the constitutional complaint by the Tribunal to be heard accordingly, the case is transmitted to the Chief Registrar of the Tribunal and is recorded in the repertory (both traditional and electronic).
 
IT is of course utilised in the course of work connected with the preparation of judgements of the Constitutional Tribunal. The judges and their law clerks and assistants prepare the draft texts in electronic versions and basically these draft texts are transmitted to the Chief Registrar  only in such form, for further technical and editing work. Electronic media are used for this purpose, but also increasingly often electronic mail (this form requires particular security measures, especially to prevent the possibility of data leaking outside, as the preparatory works at the Tribunal, especially at the stage of developing the decision, are strictly internal and confidential). The Secretariat of the Tribunal is equipped with special IT security systems and follows strict procedures, including the making of safety back-up copies of data files.
Electronic tools are also used for recording the course of hearings at the Tribunal and drafting minutes of their proceedings. Every hearing is recorded, and subsequently the person in charge of the minutes drafts the written (printed) version of the protocol, which is then approved by the judge presiding over the hearing. The recordings are kept in the archive and may always serve for the needs of verification of the faithfulness of the written minutes. As the hearings at the Tribunal are broadcast on the local area network (everyone may observe their course on their computers at the offices of the Tribunal), they are simultaneously recorded and archived in the form of computer files. Therefore, there is a possibility to reproduce the course of a hearing, for example, for training or historical purposes.
 
IT systems play a key role in the substantive work of the judges at the Tribunal, and also of their assistants and employees of the Office dealing with studies and analysis of jurisprudence and of the binding law. At the Constitutional Tribunal, apart from using printed editions of the Official Journals of Law, professional databases on the binding legal acts are in use provided through the services of renowned firms (in the form of licensed access); these contain information concerning all the legislative acts and regulations, together with their texts, as well as on the case law jurisprudence of the courts and the most important commentaries and doctrinal glosses. Moreover, the Library of the Tribunal gives access to any information concerning the databases on the jurisprudence of European constitutional courts and of the European Human Rights Court in Strasbourg, and also – which is particularly important in the present situation – on European Union law, thanks to which, via the electronic media, every judge has assured access to needed judgments and materials. We also collaborate on an ongoing basis with the Supreme Court and the Supreme Administrative Court with regards to the accessibility of the entire body of jurisprudence of these courts on electronic media, thank to which the Tribunal has the possibility to gain fast and complete orientation concerning cases in areas of interest to them (bulletins published by these courts present only selected judgments). Today it is hard to imagine any studies or preparatory work conducted by judges of the Tribunal on particular cases without access to electronic information resources and without IT tools, thanks to which such access and study work are possible. This does not mean, of course, that in the work of the Tribunal one does not make use of resources gathered in library collections and in other materials maintained in printed form, but even in such cases the very retrieval of the required information and sources is much more convenient and faster thanks to information technology.
All of these tools are also helpful for the activities of the Jurisprudence and Study Department of the Office of the Tribunal, a unit providing assistance to the Tribunal in the performance of comparative studies, analyses of jurisprudence in various different cross-sections, and recently also of the functioning of European Union law and the jurisprudence of the Court of Justice of the European Communities [ECJ].
 
IT tools are also very helpful for the gathering, presentation and processing of data in the domain of the judicial decisions of the Constitutional Tribunal itself. All the judgments of the Tribunal are collected in a special electronic database. This database, thanks to a special search system enables one to become acquainted with every judgment issued by the Tribunal (in „word” and “acrobat” format), both in terms of their chronological succession, and also according to the contested object, the constitutional model and a glossary (index) of different headings.  The functioning of the judicial decisions database of the Tribunal still requires much improvement, but one can already note - its enormous utility and the effectiveness of the adopted IT solutions both for the work of the Tribunal itself, which in each of the considered cases refers to already developed wealth of its own jurisprudence, as well as for all those who are interested in  the accumulated judgements of the Tribunal, as that database is equally accessible from the internal local area network and from the outside world via the INTERNET.
 
In the work of the Constitutional Tribunal a significant role is played by internal information databases functioning on the  I N T R A N E T  network. These databases are accessible only to users at the Tribunal, which thanks to appropriate security systems allow the dissemination of materials of an exclusively in-house service nature, and even confidential contents – according to topical scope and to user group categories.
Thanks to the INTRANET the judges of the Tribunal, as well as employees of the Office, have fast access to the above indicated legal information databases as well as to Polish legal bibliography, and also to: lists of items in the Library of the Tribunal, systematic information updates concerning new acquisitions to the Library, information prepared at the Library providing notes on the content of legal periodical journals (both Polish and foreign), successively updated registers of the laws in force (so called promulgation excerpts, extremely important and useful for quoting the normative acts that are the object of rulings of the Tribunal), and also topical library searches upon request of the President and of the Judges of the Tribunal in the context of the cases under adjudication (e.g. “National parliaments versus European integration” or “Precedence of Community law before the domestic law of the Member States”). In the same network we can also find a study on: “European law, rulings of the Court of Justice and the Court of First Instance of the European Communities – modes of reference”, prepared exclusively for use at the Tribunal, in the face of the increasingly prevalent need for uniform, legislatively correct and comprehensible quotations in the judgements of the Constitutional Tribunal indicating where the acts of European legislation and European Court of Justice jurisprudence are published.
Moreover, access is provided to the most important papers and study materials of the Jurisprudence and Studies Department, both of the analytical kind concerning the case law of the Tribunal, as well as ones dealing with various aspects of the impact of the jurisprudence of the Tribunal upon legislative practice, comparative legal studies in the context of the case law of foreign courts, etc. The electronic form of these materials excellently facilitates access to them for the judges and the capability of using them at discretion many times over.
One of the most recent segments of the INTRANET databases consists of the so called press archive. It contains all the statements, commentaries and descriptions referring to the work and especially to the judgements of the Constitutional Tribunal published in a number of the largest newspapers with national coverage. These materials are selected and prepared by the Press and Information Department.  They are subsequently scanned in the form of “acrobat” files and placed in the electronic press archive. In this way, in connection with each case adjudicated by the Tribunal a set of press statements and comments is produced, which enables the Tribunal – also by this way - to become acquainted with the reception and assessment of its judgements on the part of public opinion.
It is worth noting that on the internal network also “archival” files with the recordings of annual public Assemblies of the Judges of the Constitutional Tribunal are placed. They are devoted to the discussion of information concerning the activities and basic problems in the jurisprudence of the Tribunal in the past year, which is subsequently submitted to the Parliament. These events are very significant, as they involve the gathering not only of representatives of the highest authorities of the state, but also of academic circles and professional organizations of lawyers. The recorded course of these meetings, discussions and statements provides valuable material for analysis.
Apart from the databases serving as support for the work of the Tribunal, all the in-house orders issued by the President of the Tribunal, which concern the organization of the work of the Tribunal, and orders issued by the Head of the Office of the Tribunal, which concern the organization of the work of the Office as well as matters concerning the staff are placed on the INTRANET. Moreover, each week, information is posted concerning all the planned hearings of the Tribunal and concerning miscellaneous events, e.g. visits of foreign delegations, conferences, travels, etc., involving the President and the judges of the Tribunal  (the Agenda of the Tribunal).
We assure continued communication of data placed on the INTRANET, as every new study, material or information is notified about to all the users by means of messages distributed by electronic mail. This mode of communication is also applied with regards to every kind of notification and information concerning the events taking place at the Tribunal.
 
A special electronic work tool at the Constitutional Tribunal, serving as well as a medium used by the Tribunal for presenting its own activities and its case law – is the                         I N T E R N E T.  Today it is hard to imagine the functioning of the Tribunal, especially in the public domain, which indeed has no limits, without the INTERNET.
Thanks to continued use of INTERNET sources, the judges at the Tribunal and the employees of its Office are able to access all the needed materials, studies and information, as well as the jurisprudence of European and non-European constitutional courts and international courts and tribunals, as well as to multiple library resources. The scope and speed of access to various sources of knowledge and information in the work of the Tribunal – similarly as in the work of any other entities and institutions – can hardly be overestimated, evidently contributing to the expansion of the range of knowledge, assessment of the functioning of the law, observance of the standards of constitutional protection of human and civil rights, etc.
In the daily activities of the Tribunal the INTERNET is a tool, which is in continued use and is being improved all the time, especially in terms of the employed technologies and functions. One cannot, of course, disregard the significance of the benefits of contemporary electronic communications provided by e-mail, which is utilised in many ways, especially for communications on the part of judges with the Tribunal, for the transmission of materials, information, working drafts of court verdicts or mutual consultations – especially when the judges and their collaborators are temporarily away in various places from the Tribunal’s seat. The work of the Tribunal gains enormously in efficiency and effectiveness thanks to the utilisation of the INTERNET network and of electronic mail.
At the same time, the INTERNET is a medium for communication of the Tribunal with the “outside world”, serving for the presentation of its activities, its jurisprudence, informing about the scope of competencies of the Tribunal, about the basic procedural regulations in the case of turning to the Tribunal with applications and constitutional complaints, as well as for the popularisation of constitutional knowledge, which also carries educational value with respect to the citizens.
 
The website of the Constitutional Tribunal: http://www.trybunal.gov.pl/ is edited in accordance with a specific concept concerning the presentation of knowledge about the activities of the Tribunal and it is updated on a current basis, which is the precondition for the communication quality and utility of this medium.
The basic elements of our  WWW  site consist of the following:
     1) Information concerning the legal regulation of the status and functioning of the Constitutional Tribunal – the text of the Constitution of the Republic of Poland, the Act on the Constitutional Tribunal and the By-Laws of the Tribunal;
     2) The basic body of information concerning the composition of the Constitutional Tribunal, together with biographical notes on the Judges, listing of their terms of office, and also a list of all the judges of the Tribunal over its almost 20-year long history. We also present here the history of the activities of the Tribunal and explain its basic functions, we also place there some more interesting press articles concerning the activities of the Tribunal or statements given to the press by the President and the Judges of the Tribunal;
     3) Information concerning the Office of the Constitutional Tribunal, its tasks and its organisational structure, the Head of the Office and the persons running the organizational units, together with data enabling to establish direct contacts  - telephone numbers, electronic mail addresses details. In this part we also transmit information concerning the basic structure of budgetary expenditures and revenues of the Tribunal, realized at the Office in the given year, and also basic data on the fulfilment of the budget in the previous year;
     4) Information concerning cases submitted to the Constitutional Tribunal, about the entities submitting applications, the objects of the complaints and the constitutional patterns referred to. Such kinds of information concern all the cases registered in the given year (sequences of particular years), broken down between applications, constitutional complaints and legal questions. If a case was resolved by a judgement of the Tribunal, the respective information is placed under the respective item together with a “link” to the text of the judgement of the Tribunal. In this part we also inform about the case-list of the Tribunal, that is the dates of hearings scheduled in the given month, which enables the interested parties to orient themselves accordingly as to the prospects for the case to be adjudicated by the Tribunal.  We also place press releases preceding the hearing on each case coming up for trial at the Tribunal (the subject matter and a brief description of the case, which is to be adjudicated by the Tribunal), and subsequently        – directly after the hearing (always on the day when the judgement was announced) –      a statement informing about the judgement of the Tribunal concerning the respective case together with a “link” to the text of that judgement. If the given verdict is commented on in the press, the respective “link” to such press material will be accessible in conjunction with the statement “after the hearing” (link to the - mentioned above - electronic press archive). We apply the highest level of due diligence to assure that the communications connected with hearings before the Tribunal and with the judgements issued, fulfil not only the information function, but also that they are written in communicative language, free of excessive legal complications – which is not always easy to do;
     5) Information concerning the institution of the constitutional complaint, formal-legal conditions behind the submission of the complaints, necessary detailed procedural elements determining the end-result of effective submission of a complaint, etc.
     6) Presentation of the judicial decisions of the Constitutional Tribunal – a database containing all the jurisprudence (judgements together with their justifications) of the Tribunal, the usage of which is facilitated by the offered individual or group search (index by key words and topics) of the respective judicial decisions;
     7) Catalogue of publications of the Tribunal – presenting the successively published printed collections of the case law of the Tribunal (official compendiums) as well as occasional publications concerning constitutional problems and the activities of the Tribunal, produced by the Office of the Tribunal. W also offer a segment called                  E-publications, i.e. studies and materials prepared for the needs of the work of the Tribunal or popularising its activities, presented in electronic form, which may and should be accessible to broad circles of lawyers and to anybody who may be interested (e.g. considerable interest in the study published annually in E-publications, entitled “The law creating process in the jurisprudence of the Constitutional Tribunal”, presenting the jurisprudence of the Tribunal in the aspect of the rules of proper legislation and the principles of creation of good law);
      8) Catalogue information concerning the collected resources of the Library of the Constitutional Tribunal, and also the possibilities of using these collections;
      9) Services informing about the events at the Tribunal – lectures, seminars, visits and meetings, containing also – as far as possible – the texts of interesting interventions and lectures, as well as files with electronic records of their proceedings;
      10) Information resources concerning the INTERNET addresses of constitutional courts in the world, a number of government bodies, courts and other institutions in Poland and abroad, libraries, etc.
      Thanks to access to its website  it is also possible to pay a virtual visit to the premises of the Polish Constitutional Tribunal.
 
We note that each year our website is visited by over 220 000 interested persons. Many of them use e-mail to address questions and requests for information or explanation concerning the activities of the Tribunal to the Office of the Tribunal – which we make efforts to answer on a current basis. Although the available IT tools do not yet serve the needs of carrying out the procedures before the Constitutional Tribunal specified by the law, within the remaining scope of communication with the citizens or institutions they are universally applied in our work.
At the same time, it should be stressed that in practice of the Constitutional Tribunal activities, more and more often INTERNET broadcasts of hearings before the Tribunal are provided. The realisation of such a broadcast is decided on by the President (hearings before the Tribunal are public), taking into account the subject matter considered by the Tribunal and especially social interest in it. In the case of such a decision of the President we place the respective announcements on the home page of the website of the Tribunal and in the part devoted to the case-list and press releases, providing at the same time, in electronic form, the basic materials concerning the hearing, i.e. the application submitted to the Tribunal and the written statements of position of the parties to the proceedings. INTERNET broadcasts of hearings before the Tribunal are very popular and meet with broad interest (e.g. recently the hearing of 4 and 11 May 2005 devoted to the review of constitutionality of Poland’s European Union Accession Treaty).
 
The website of the Constitutional Tribunal is also maintained in English and French language versions. Apart from the information resources concerning the position in the political system and the legal basis for the activities of the Tribunal, its history, its tasks and competencies, the composition of the bench of judges, the organization of the Office, and also the texts of the Constitution of the Republic of Poland and of legal acts regulating the functioning of the Tribunal, on these internet pages we successively present descriptions of selected judicial decisions of the Tribunal, which we regard as being most interesting and important.
 
Observing the practice of increasing scope of the use of IT in the works of the Tribunal, rising expectations, especially on the most part of the judges of the Tribunal, enhanced technological efficiency and functionality of IT tools, the Office has undertaken work on the rebuilding of the entire IT system of the Constitutional Tribunal, on its uniform integration based on a single software platform and its modernisation, enabling simpler and more effective use of the resources available in the databases and the processing of these data as well as any other information according to the diverse expectations of the users.
Our objective is to create the conditions for complete computerisation of the work of the Constitutional Tribunal – within rational limits taking into the account the specific features of the functioning of this judicial institution. Of course, the method and intensity of its utilisation will always depend on the will and readiness of the judges of the Tribunal and of other users of the system.  
After having finalised the conceptual work on the new integrated IT system, we are now embarking upon the implementation phase, which requires enormous input of software development work as well as substantial reconstruction of the equipment with hardware able to assure the reliable functioning of the new system. We hope to start working with the new system at the end of 2006.                                                         
 
In this concise paper, which is a summary by its very nature, I have been able to present only the basic issues and key areas of utilisation of IT in the work of the Polish Constitutional Tribunal. I am strongly convinced that continuing development and the applied IT instruments, conditioned by continually upgraded technologies, will increasingly serve the purposes of making the activities of the Tribunal more efficient and effective.
The situation in many constitutional courts in other countries is probably rather similar. Hence, the exchange of information and experiences in this regard between the Secretaries General of the European constitutional courts may be of great significance not only in terms of sharing knowledge, but also of providing inspiration.
 
 
Warsaw – Bled,  September 2005.