Well-documented: court cloud system gets fans on Berezovsky

With 15,000 pre-trial documents totalling 200,000 pages, the battle of the Russian oligarchs was the ideal testing ground for the latest case-management technology

Graham Smith
Graham Smith

With the Ministry of Justice keen to make the most of London’s courts as an exportable asset, it was only a matter of time before the technology gurus descended. But persuading a traditional judiciary to invest in technological developments to enhance case management was never going to be plain sailing.

At the head of the Commercial Court sits Mrs Justice Gloster, though, who has been making use of cloud computing technology to help manage the mammoth Berezovsky v Abramovich litigation.

Traditionally the courts use Merrill Legal Solutions, which did not pitch for the Berezovsky mandate. Instead, Graham Smith-Bernal of Opus 2 International, who developed the LiveNote transcript service in the 1990s, won the job to deliver the first cloud computing system to be used by the High Court.

Smith-Bernal says he first met with Addleshaw Goddard, which is representing Boris Berezovsky, and Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom, representing Roman Abramovich, last April, six months before the trial began. Gloster J also attended the meeting, with an eye on how she might make use of the technology.

With an estimated 15,000 documents comprised of 200,000 sheets of paper expected to be used in the build-up to the trial alone, a central depository was required that would make it easier to manage the caseload. Gloster J was pushing for a ­paperless trial.

Magnum force

The end result was the MagnumCloud, a system that enables the ­parties and the judge to have secure access to transcripts of evidence as well as all related documents, including all research and related case law at any point from anywhere in the world. Footnotes can be hyperlinked to supporting evidence and, in filmed arbitrations, witness evidence can be streamed.

Parties involved in the case believe it saved them approximately five ­million sheets of paper.

Addleshaws partner Mark Hastings comments: “It actually automated so much of the work that the lawyers would normally spend hours on. There’s no question that it makes lengthy trials more manageable.”

The technology is also being used in the Innovator One trial, with one party watching the trial from inside a European prison, where he is being detained. From inside his cell he is able to access all evidence presented at the trial, either orally or in a ­written format; make notes on the case that can be shared with his allied ­parties; and create his own bundles of evidence to link in with the ­evidence.

One Essex court senior clerk ­Darren Burrows, who is clerk to ­Berezovsky’s counsel Laurence Rabinowitz QC, says: “It has to be seen as being universally positive. There are a number of similar products out there, but from the trial team point of view, this helps manage the documents in a central fashion. Courts and arbitrators should be embracing this software in document-heavy cases. It can only be a good thing.”

Others are less convinced. One clerk questions whether highly ­sensitive documents should be held online, where there is a risk that they could be hacked.

“Clients, I think, would be quite concerned if we started talking about keeping their documents on clouds,” the clerk says. “They want to know that what they’re saying is being kept private; they’d be worried that the ­opposition would find out.”

In a highly sensitive political case such as Berezovsky, the need for tight security arrangements is acute.

Opus 2 International director Steve Fleming, who helped develop the software, responds: “We have a dedicated team looking after the security aspects. Access to documents isn’t ­really an issue [because cases are ­discussed in open court]; normally the key concern is about access to notes made by the lawyers.

“We have strict process controls and controls around adding people into the system. It’s a three-phase process, signed off by a second ­person here after we’ve spoken to our contact at the firm and got it in ­writing that they’re able to open it up to a third party.”

Cloud gazing

In the Berezovsky trial, Gloster J and the parties all had their own passwords to give them access to their own files, but firewalls were built to prevent them accessing each other’s.

Smith-Bernal adds: “In the courtroom now it’s all about the technology on the benches, with everyone accessing everything on a computer. The contingency is that they have to go through an interface to get to their own screens – everything needs to be controlled.”

The other criticism levelled at the development is its cost. Clearly, ­oligarchs such as Abramovich and Berezovsky are not short of a bob or two, and this kind of investment may save them some cash in the long run. While the cost is dependent on the size of the case, it will be picked up by the client whatever size it is.

Some believe it should be the court itself, not the users, that picks up the tab. One user says: “In Singapore’s Maxwell Chambers this is the kind of technology that would be invested in. If we’re to compete with them in ­investment terms, money and ­enthusiasm are needed.”

There is no doubt that cloud ­computing could change the way court users interact with their own teams and their clients. The Berezovsky trial was a good testing ground and one that proved it could be utilised to the benefit of the ­parties. Costs aside, this is groundbreaking stuff for London’s courts.