Considered a technological and innovative world leader, Japan is lagging far behind the rest of the world in the courtroom, with its judicial system still paper based.

Now, the Supreme Court is trying to move into the 21st-century through digitizing data and using the Internet for civil trial proceedings.

To digitize the proceedings, the top court requested exploratory costs of about 49 million yen ($448,000) in the fiscal 2018 budget bill for the first time.

The expected benefits are not only to help facilitate economic activity, but also shorten and simplify the procedures for both court employees and the public.

“In Japan, the judiciary system is the field where digitizing is the most delayed. Compared to other developed nations, it is lagging nearly 20 years behind,” said Takehiko Kasahara, professor of Toin University of Yokohama specializing in legal informatics, who is familiar with court digitization in Japan and overseas. “It is important to computerize the portions that have been done on paper and to improve oral proceedings.”

In principle, under the Civil Procedure Law, civil trial documents such as complaints must be filed on paper. In fiscal 2018, the top court plans to conduct a full investigation on the benefits of digitizing civil trial proceedings. It will also look into security measures to prevent trial documents from being leaked and personal information from being disclosed.

For about four and a half years from July 2004, on a trial basis, the top court carried out digitizing proceedings on the Internet including changing trial dates and setting up witness examinations at the Sapporo District Court.

In September 2006, in summary courts in the jurisdiction of the Tokyo District Court, the procedures for pressuring individuals and companies to repay debts were digitized and expanded across the nation.

But even if the measures has continued, Japan would still lag far behind other countries in digitizing its judicial system.

According to the summary by the Japanese government and other sources, the United States computerized trial procedures state by state from the 1990s. In Singapore, from 2000, it mandated an online filing of complaints. In South Korea, in 2011, all civil trial processes were made available online and, in principle, can be chosen in paper or electronic form.

The Japanese government is worried that remaining at the current level will lead to it falling behind internationally.

In Doing Business 2018, the World Bank’s annual ranking of countries by ease of doing business, Japan was ranked 24th among 35-member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). In particular, on the quality of its judicial processes index, Japan was rated at 7.5 points on an 18-point scale. As for court automation, Japan received only 1 point on a four-point scale.

Attorney Hiroshi Miyauchi, a member of the IT project team at the Japan Federation of Bar Associations, said, “Courts have stuck to paper-based proceedings until now. Discussions with the wider public are needed in order to make civil trials easier to be accessed by digitizing.”