When you deal with children’s welfare, confidentiality and information security are critically important. But, so are efficient workflows, document sharing and management — anything to help court hearings run as quickly and smoothly as possible, anything to minimize unnecessary distress and delay.
Court proceedings centre on the “court bundle”, a full set of relevant documents agreed and shared between all parties involved. Traditionally, a bundle is a set of lever arch files, each containing 350 sheets of paper, all of which must be paginated, indexed, copied and distributed (usually by courier) to all the parties involved: the judge, solicitors and barristers, parents and guardians, doctors and other experts. Once issued, the various copies must be managed so that they remain in sync throughout the case, as papers are added or amended.
Childcare Solicitor Gawain Williams explains, “An average bundle might be two or three files, but for a serious case it can be much more. The worst I remember recently was 36 lever arch files—over 12,000 pages.”
Inevitably, errors occur and proceedings are delayed by disputes over missing or mismatched pages.
Williams and colleague Andrew Morris decided to find a better way. Together they used Citrix ShareFile to create the South Wales Shared Services Portal because, as Williams explains, “Bundles are like living entities. They are working documents, updated by many parties, most of the time.”
Now, documents are securely shared and updated by any authorized parties and instantly available to other users. Because ShareFile encrypts data both in transit and at rest, users are assured that litigants’ confidentiality is always protected.
“Our ShareFile portal has changed the way we work,” Williams explains. “It’s available and up-to-date 24 hours a day. Barristers work in the middle of the night; judges read court papers at the weekends, when they’re not in hearings, so having access to a live, shared bundle is extraordinarily important. Judges are already saying they don’t need paper bundles so much. Instead of bringing 15 lever arch files to court, we can simply bring a laptop.”
Williams and his peers have enjoyed other benefits, too:
- 84% reduction in photocopying – with all the related savings in admin time and cost
- Consistent reproduction of important visual evidence including X-rays and images
- Ease of sharing audio and video files from police interviews and similar events
- Granular security controls make it easier to share individual documents with other agencies or experts
- Creation of a community of childcare experts from all fields within the ShareFile directory
The courts are often thought slow to adopt new technology, but in this case, Williams says, “The Designated Family Judge in Swansea has been extraordinarily supportive.”
With keen interest from other councils, agencies and private law firms, Williams has ambitions to extend the ShareFile portal’s reach nationwide.
“There is enormous value in ubiquity,” he says. “The more people who use it, the easier it becomes for Local Authorities, because the lawyers and experts they need are already on the system; they can just add them to the file. And, if people are looking for an expert who works in the southwest, they can look on our directory and, for example, see who has done independent social work reports for us before.”
Read more about how ShareFile is supporting Swansea’s smoother, more efficient child court system.