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May 31, 2015

Director's Message: Harnessing Technology to Support 21st Century Rule of Law

By Elizabeth Andersen
Director, ABA Rule of Law Initiative

May 2015

We live in an exciting period of profound technological change, and as I survey the landscape of the ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) programming, technological innovation figures prominently. From cutting-edge information management and communications systems and online learning platforms, emerging technologies are changing the way that judges, lawyers, legal academics, students, policy-makers and citizens make, access and use law. And these technologies provide exciting new tools for rule of law promotion.

I recently returned from a visit to the Philippines, where I saw firsthand the impact of ABA ROLI’s work to introduce e-Court, an automated case management system that one judge characterized as “revolutionary” for his court. Litigants who used to wait weeks to receive court orders get them printed on-site in court. Judges can stay on top of their dockets, move cases forward, avoid delays and reduce lengthy pre-trial detention. Last week, we hosted a delegation of the Philippine Supreme Court and Court of Appeals in Washington, DC. Delegation members, led by Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, were impressed by the quality of the technology and court management methods. They learned a great deal, which they will use to improve the quality of the courts of the Philippines.

Meanwhile, on the e-learning front, this week saw the launch in Armenia of the latest ABA ROLI online learning platform to provide accessible and sustainable continuing legal education (CLE). Since launching our first such platform in Georgia last year, we have been working to expand our success in providing online CLE through similar initiatives in Armenia, Moldova and Ukraine. Like the other platforms now in use or in development, the one in Armenia will serve as a repository for video trainings and legal resources for the country’s lawyers and law students.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, technology is playing a critical role in protecting communities from violent attack. Working with partners, we implement an early warning system that uses SMS technology to enable local actors to send alerts of imminent attack to security forces able to ward them off. Forty-four such reports to the early warning system are believed to have helped foil rebel attacks on villages that are home to approximately 150,000 people. You can read a related story here. This model is now being adapted for use in northern Nigeria.

And in the Balkans, ABA ROLI recently launched a new regional website, connecting the bar associations of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania, Serbia, Kosovo and Macedonia for shared online learning, networking and problem-solving. You can learn more about the Balkans Regional Rule of Law Network here.

While technology provides important new tools to rule of law reformers, it also opens a new front with those who seek to curb progress, and ABA ROLI is engaged on these issues too—working with local partners to counter cybercrime and to advance freedom of expression on the Internet.

We do not know where technological development will take us, but one thing is sure, it is a permanent feature of the rule of law environment, and ABA ROLI is firmly committed to making the most of it for our cause.