Article - Secure Electronic Court Lodgement Pilot Project (February 2001)

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Executive Summary

Project Summary

This document reviews the Secure Electronic Court Lodgement Pilot Project undertaken between the NSW Attorney General’s Department, the Law Society of NSW and the NSW Land and Environment Court. The project’s aim was to pilot an implementation of Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) to aid the secure exchange of documents between the Courts and its customers.

The project delivered a proof of concept of PKI technology and provided a basis for the further refinement of the Attorney General’s Department’s Electronic Service Delivery (ESD) plan. The project was funded by a grant under the NSW Office of Information Technology connect.nsw program.

Project Participants

Project Group
  • The NSW Attorney General’s Department jointly coordinated the project and provided technical services to the Land and Environment Court, including network security configuration. The web server was hosted in a public area of the AGD network known as the De-Militarised Zone (DMZ).
  • The Law Society of NSW jointly coordinated the project. It acted as the Registration Authority (RA) and liaised with customers of the Court (selected solicitors from law firms).
  • The NSW Land and Environment Court pilot trialled the electronic lodgement of Class 4 documents. This required a court administrator to perform appropriate manual tasks when documents were lodged. The pilot was run in parallel with the existing paper-based lodgement system.
  • Solicitors from eight NSW law firms participated as customers and lodged a total of about 50 documents. Participants were issued with digital certificates and certificate storage software from Baltimore, whose Security Domain subsidiary acted as the root Certificate Authority (CA). The participants were able to digitally sign and encrypt Class 4 documents and lodge them with the Land and Environment Court via the Internet.
Technical Assistance
  • Baltimore Technology provided the software and technical expertise in setting up the Public Key Infrastructure and acted as the Certification Authority.
  • Galexia provided the end-to-end solution integration including user interface design, document storage and retrieval, on-line payment processing, server configuration and documentation.

Project Structure

Project Sponsors
  • Her Honour, Judge Mahla Pearlman - Chief Justice, Land and Environment Court
  • Mr Russell Cox - Director, Finance and Administration, NSW Attorney General’s Department
  • Mr Mark Richardson - Chief Executive Officer, Law Society of NSW
Project Management Group

The Project

The pilot comprised three parts:

1. A Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) employed to securely submit documents from solicitors to the Court;
2. Lodgement of documents at the Court via a secure web page; this also included notification to the Court that a document had been received; this step also involved the Court receiving payment; and
3. Receipt of the document by the Court with notification of document receipt sent to the firm that lodged it.


The primary objective of the Pilot was to remove the requirement for Solicitors to physically lodge documents with the Court and for the Court to dispense with, as far as possible, the requirement to keep a physical file of Court documents. The aim was to prove the concept of the secure electronic exchange of documents between the courts, Government and the legal profession. The Broad Objectives related to the establishment, through consultation, of policies and standards relating to the secure electronic exchange of documents. The more specific objectives related to the technical methods of achieving secure electronic exchange.

Broad Objectives
  • Identify court processes requiring re-engineering to exploit secure e-commerce transactions.
  • Identify court processes requiring re-engineering to take advantage of the benefits of electronic lodgement.
  • Allow the Law Society to gain an insight into the requirements of setting up a Public Key Infrastructure for the legal profession that will enable the legal profession to exchange secure documents with clients and government.
  • Dispel fear barriers related to security for the growth of e-commerce within the legal sector.
  • Provide a mechanism for the Attorney General’s Department and the Law Society to define policies and standards for the on-line exchange of data between the legal profession and other Government agencies as well as between Government agencies.
Specific Technical Objectives

At the conclusion of the Pilot the aim was to have:

  • Examined and proved the concept of the use of public key technology by solicitors to lodge court documents.
  • Examined and proved the concept of the electronic lodgment of documents at the Land and Environment Court.
  • Examined and proved the concept of the Land and Environment Court receiving payment with Court documents.

The Pilot is not intended to evaluate or model Court document management systems. This Pilot is a ‘Proof of Concept’ and is not scaleable to a production system.



The Pilot has answered a number of questions that were posed at the start of the project.

  • Was the pilot a successful proof of getting html forms and/or documents signed digitally?
  • What issues did the pilot highlight with respect to digitally signing messages and/or documents?

The Pilot proved that it was possible for solicitors to digitally sign HTML forms and attached documents, and to securely lodge this information with the Court via the Internet. 25 documents were lodged using the system. It also showed that it was possible for the Court to process these documents, and for solicitors to securely retrieve them.

Public Key Technology

It may be argued that document lodgement does not require the level of security offered by Public Key Technology (PKT):

  • There is no identity check in place for the current manual lodgement system at the Land and Environment Court.
  • It seems unlikely that someone would seek to lodge a false court document, especially if a lodgement fee was due.
  • It may be argued that most Court documents are not sensitive therefore encryption during transmission is not required.

Other requirements in the court process, such as document integrity, confidentiality and non-repudiation can be fulfilled by PKT however there may be more cost effective methods of achieving these requirements. For example, SSL can be used to encrypt documents in transmission, passwords to ensure confidentiality and Adobe Acrobat PDF to ensure document integrity. It was outside the scope of the pilot to examine these options and it is acknowledged by the authors that each of these solutions have limitations.

Court Processes

A simple document management system had to be developed to cater for the storage of documents for this pilot. The pilot did not integrate with the court’s case management system.

The pilot demonstrated the concept that electronic lodgements could occur for certain documents without any manual intervention by court staff.

A number of issues were identified but not necessarily resolved:

  • The current range of payment options is very narrow and not adaptable to electronic transactions. The pilot proved the concept that payment could be accepted but the method chosen, credit cards is not practical for all court participants and other payment methods need to be explored.
  • The ability to lodge documents outside of “court hours” will require review of rules and protocols. The return date/time is currently set for close of business on a day, is this appropriate?
  • The service of documents is the responsibility of the party lodging the document. How can this be achieved with documents lodged electronically? The rules will need review to cater for electronic service.
Establishing Public Key Infrastructure

This issue is beyond the scope of the pilot however the objective was for NSW Law Society to gain an insight into the requirements of setting up a Public Key Infrastructure. This project did successfully establish a temporary infrastructure which enabled the secure exchange of documents with solicitors and the court.

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