Electronic Casebooks: a step forward for technology in the court

Casebooks are a vital part of the trial process. Most of the evidence used in a case is contained in the casebook, making a casebook a key tool in litigation. In particular, complex construction cases generate huge numbers of documents, making an accessible and functional casebook fundamental to the running of any trial. For decades, casebooks (formerly known as common bundles) were provided in a hardcopy. Casebooks generated tons of paper carefully organised into files. In document-heavy disputes, these casebooks could span thousands of pages organised into multiple folders.

The use of electronic casebooks has gradually increased in the New Zealand courts. The Court of Appeal began using electronic casebooks in 2014 for criminal appeals, but today, almost every senior court in New Zealand utilises electronic casebooks for their trials. In document-heavy trials, electronic casebooks are the desired medium, with the High Court requiring the use of electronic casebooks in any trial where the casebook is likely to exceed 500 pages.

The benefits of electronic casebooks cannot be overstated. In terms of preparation, the process is much more streamlined, able to be completed in a few weeks depending on size. Further, casebooks are extremely accessible. A judge no longer has to track through thousands of pages. Casebooks utilise hyperlinks. With a click of a button, a judge or counsel can jump to the required documents, resulting in a far more efficient trial process. Efficiency also provides for more persuasive advocacy from counsel as a judge has quick access to the evidence being referred to at all times.

Despite the increase in use of electronic casebooks, they have not yet been entirely accepted by the legal profession. Many judges and counsel will still request a hardcopy casebook, nullifying any positive effect an electronic casebook has on the trial process. More education may be needed on the benefits of electronic casebooks to help increase the rate of acceptance of electronic casebooks in the legal community.

One positive outcome of the COVID-19 pandemic on the New Zealand trial process is the increased use of electronic casebooks, leading to a greater acceptance of their use as we move back to in-person trials. Throughout much of the last two years, the High Court in Auckland has been forced to conduct many trials through video conferencing software. With the trial itself occurring online, the use of electronic casebooks has increased. As we now transition back to in-person trials, there is hope that the use of electronic casebooks will remain a priority for the courts.

Given the efficiency and improved advocacy skills with the use of these casebooks, the benefits of their use far outweigh the learning curve required for legal practitioners.

If you are interested in knowing more about the use of electronic casebooks and/or the 2019 Senior Courts Civil Electronic Document Protocol (amended on 16 September 2021), please get in touch with the team at Grimshaw & Co.

Grimshaw & Co