Electronic Document Archive of the Austrian Justice (COURTDOC)

Published on: 24/04/2007

The aim of the Electronic Document Archive of the Austrian Justice is to replace the multitude of physical archives being maintained by individual courts. This archiving solution, which was established in 2005, is designed to store the documents which are the legal basis for entries in the Commercial and Land Register and make them available for the public via internet. The electronic document archives of Austria's Civil Law Notaries "cyberDOC" and the Austrian Bar Association "Archivium" allow to exchange original documents, because the data contents saved in these archives are regarded by law as an original of the document.

Policy Context

The administration of Justice offers an indispensable service to the public. Today this service is provided by an efficient and innovative enterprise, the Austrian judiciary. The figures show, that this enterprise (with an annual spending of 1,041 m Euro and about 11,000 employees) is one of the big companies. This enterprise is also working very efficiently: recently about 72 percent of the expenditures is covered by the revenues, although the administration of Justice has to fulfil also very extensive and responsible functions, where no revenue can be obtained. Austrian courts make use of information technology broadly since 1980. In the year 2006 an IT strategy of the Austrian Justice System was defined, which is not only in the harmony with national ICT strategies of the Federal Government but also orientates itself by the principles developed within the EU. The strategy adopts the main goals from the i2010 catalogue and particularly emphasizes the importance of establishing effective and efficient eGovernment, in order to make the advantages to citizens, businesses and public administration even more visible and to seek/to exploit synergies also in the realm of business. As far as long-term archiving is concerned the goal has been laid down to develop methods and solutions in order to integrate electronic documents into a system of archives that will permit continuous accessibility and usability of authentic electronic originals even many decades from now, when electronic signatures on other documents not contained in such archives are technically expired.

Description of target users and groups

One of the targets is to make documents stored in the electronic document archives of the Commercial Register and the Land Register easily accessible to the general public as well as for other administrations. As the electronically stored documents can be inquired via internet, not only people in Austria (approx. 8m.), but everybody worldwide can gain access. Data from the Commercial Register's database and its electronic document archive are also available via European Business Register (EBR).

Description of the way to implement the initiative

European and Austrian eGovernment standards were extensively used. We worked in close co-operation with cyberDOC and Archivium within the framework of a common management board. The Electronic document Archive of Austria's Justice was implemented by the Federal Computing Center, the Austrian Chamber of Civil Law Notaries, and the Austrian Bar Association co-operating with industrial partners. Multi-channel issues: The electronic document archives of the Land Register and the Commercial Register as well excerpts from the Commercial Register database are available online to the public via clearing houses and to authorities via the portal of the Federal Computing Center (BRZ). EU member states have access to the documents stored in the electronic archive of the Commercial Register via the European Business Register (EBR) and in the future to the documents of the Land Register via the European Land Information System (EULIS). In case somebody does not have access to internet, documents can be also received at the courts, where hardcopies of the documents are retrieved from the database and issued to the applicant.

Main results, benefits and impacts

When the Land Register and the Commercial Register were changed over to IT, the Document Collections of these court divisions were not changed over to electronic storage for technical reasons. Now the technology for archiving documents has been improved considerably. Since mid 2005 all documents presented to the Commercial Register are saved electronically. In 2006 the document archive of the Land Register followed, thus implementing a further step towards an optimized and service orientated process. From the beginning the electronic document archive of Austria's Civil Law Notaries "cyberDOC" played a major role in this scheme, as one of the methods for capturing documents for the electronic document collections of the justice is to retrieve documents from an electronic archive sovereignly run by a public corporation. It is characteristic for court documents that they very often have to be available and legally valid for a long time (> 10 years). As digital signatures expire after some years, secure public archives can help to preserve documents infinitely with the same legal quality. Thus all the archives are highly secured long-term archives where originals can be kept for a long period. The authenticity and integrity of a document is secured and proved by an archive-signature which is tagged to the document when it is recalled from the archive. Civil law notaries and lawyers have to approve the authenticity of the document with their qualified electronic professional signature when the document is transferred to the archive. The key advantage gained by this approach is a speeding up of procedures, and consequently, cost and time savings for both businesses and the public administration with positive overall effects on Austria as a place of business. As documents in the electronic document archive of courts in Austria can be inspected anywhere and anytime, the documents stored in electronic form are much more easily accessible for the professions having to deal with them as much as for the interested public. Further important aspects include the safeguarding of a consistently high level of legal certainty and stability and thus reliability of the data. As of 1-7-2007, lawyers and notaries are legally obliged to bring in documents in Land and Commercial Register's proceedings electronically.

Return on investment

Return on investment: Not applicable / Not available

Track record of sharing

Presentation of the electronic document archive at the European Commission's eDocument Workshop on April 18th, 2007 in Brussels and on the World Bank's Electronic Business Registries workshop in Brussels on September 28th, 2006. Close cooperation with candidate and new member states of the European Union in the framework of twinning projects and the Phare-Programme.- We are prepared to share our achievements also in this area.

Lessons learnt

As our experience points, there are some main aspects which have to be taken into account by every administration that builds up an electronic document archive: Lesson 1 - Partners who run other archives shoud be involved at an early stage in order to advance together the technological development of the archives and to ensure interoperability. Lesson 2 - Choice of technologies and document formats with guaranteed availability and durability for a long time. Lesson 3 - One should try to achieve facilitation in the operational procedure in order to obtain acceptance among the citizens, the legal professions and the employees of one's own.

Scope: International