Increasing civic trust by supporting judicial accountability and transparency

An interview with Gentiana Mahmuti, Judical and Open Data Manager at MFK, on the role of Public Access to Judicial Information (PAJI) activity in increasing judicial transparency and accountability. This interview is published on the 11th edition of MFK’s quarterly newsletter ‘The Challenger’, November 2020.

 

– What is the key aim of the Transparent and Accountable Governance Project implemented by the Millennium Foundation Kosovo?

 

Transparency and accountability are the main pillars for governing democracies since they ensure the public availability of information that can be used to measure performance and contribute to good governance. This is also what our Transparent and Accountable Governance Project aims to achieve by improving the public availability and analytical use of judicial, environmental, and labor force data by civil society, business, and the Government, thus promoting data-driven decision-making.

 

– Many international donors have been supporting the rule of law activities in Kosovo. What is the added value brought by the MFK planned activities?

 

Since 1999, many international donors have been supporting the efforts of the Kosovo institutions to establish a functional justice system and carry out the necessary reforms of in the rule of law. International stakeholders (USAID, European Union Office in Kosovo, Council of Europe, and Norwegian Embassy) for years now have invested in improving efficiency and transparency in the sector. However, the judicial system still faces challenges to improve data-based decision-making, making the judicial data publicly available, and ensuring a more proactive communication with the public, which would ultimately build greater public trust in the justice system. Thereof, the Public Access to Judicial Information Activity that is being implemented by MFK will bring added value by digitizing some of the services provided by the judicial institutions, making the judicial data publicly available, as well as creating a more data driven and pro-active communication of the justice sector with the civil society, private sector, and media.

 

– What are the benefits of the digitalization of the justice sector and how does MFK activities relate to the ongoing process of court digitalization supported by Norwegian Government?

 

Digitization of the justice sector brings many benefits for users and stakeholders. Some of those include improvement of data management, accessibility, visibility, system integration, and more efficient case administration in general. One of the most important projects, the Case Management Information System (CMIS), supported by the Norwegian Government, entails the digitization of the judiciary, enhancing transparency and accountability of judges, and improving the overall efficiency and quality of justice in Kosovo.

 

The Public Access to Judicial Information (PAJI) activity, implemented by MFK, builds upon the ongoing efforts of the CMIS project and aims to take it a step further in providing citizens with access to their judicial cases. This project will also address problems caused by unequal access to justice; unequal access to judicial information and timely procedural data for the parties involved in court cases.

 

In the current state, the data generated through CMIS on court cases and cases that are under investigation is only internally available, specifically only for the users of the system that comprise of court and prosecution staff. While such data is useful for the public, the information is not made available, distributed or exchanged with external parties. Our Public Access to Judicial Information (PAJI) activity, aims to support the Kosovo Judicial Council (KJC) by building upon assistance provided by USAID and Norway to implement the CMIS and use that system to improve the administration of justice in Kosovo, through the following sub-activities:

  • Creating an Online Data Platform for the public to access to statistical data generated by the case management information system (CMIS), as well as enabling disaggregation and analysis of data by meaningful categories, such as sex, region, income level or ethnicity.
  • Creating an online Case Tracking Mechanism for authorized public users to access their individual case information, case status and procedural actions within the judicial system.
  • Supporting the improvement of communication and outreach by the judiciary and other rule of law institutions to encourage new data analysis; establish and maintain a constructive dialogue with the public over judicial data and judicial performance.

 

– How can the MCC-supported project help transparency in the court system and how can citizens be more involved through these activities?

 

MCC Public Access to Judicial Information project is focused on facilitating the availability and implementation of new ICT in the Kosovo justice system that will permit multiple interactions between social actors and justice sector, which will in turn translate into more transparent and collaborative relations between the citizens and the court system. This judicial openness and judicial transparency will in turn improve the justice service delivery which positively affects citizens daily lives. In addition, this project will also have an impact on judicial accountability and the capacity to provide an effective response from judicial bodies to the citizens.

 

– Are Kosovo organizations and citizens ready to consume and use open data from the judicial sector in their work, either in the private sector, or academia or civic advocacy?

 

Open data has the capacity to allow citizens and other stakeholders have a better understanding of the work of judicial sector and participate in improving the efficiency of this sector. The civil society, academia, and the private sector must productively work alongside governments and institutions to address gaps where additional data would improve government, citizen, and private sector decision-making with respect to improved judicial information.

 

Although Kosovo’s judicial institutions, government, civil society, educational institutions, and private sector have collected data on the factors associated with justice sector, this data is neither widely accessible, aggregated, interpreted, nor well-understood. This lack of clarity continues to compromise Kosovo’s ability to plan and execute reforms and stimulate economic growth and citizen well-being.

 

On the other hand, are these stakeholders ready to use and consume these data when they become publicly available? I can say that from what we have learned by running two different open data challenges in 2019 and 2020, which to mention have not been concentrated in judicial data, is that despite the fact that open data is a new concept in Kosovo, these stakeholders have the willingness to use and work with open data, yet, investment in building the skills of these stakeholders to use open data remains a strong need.

 

I’m basing this claim on the fact that from the pool of applicants we had, when datasets where published for use in proposals, we noticed a gap in skills of most of the applicants to do the actual analysis of open data. Therefore, I believe that while there is a willingness to use these data, some work has to be done in developing the capacities of the civil society, private sector, academia, and media when it comes to doing the actual analysis of open data and translating these data into insights.

Date: 20.11.2020

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