Capricious and opaque legal decisions continue to be one of the main problems facing the Ukrainian justice system. But, Ukrainians aren’t waiting for the system to change on its own. While an independent anti-corruption court in Ukraine has only recently been formally established, activists and startups are making their own improvements to the legal system in order to safeguard the rights of all citizens. One such startup is Court on the Palm — one of three winners of the 2017 Open Data Challenge, an annual event run by Eurasia Foundation’s Transparency and Accountability in Public Administration and Services Activity (TAPAS), funded by USAID and UK aid. Shining a light on Ukraine’s judicial system, Court on the Palm is an online application that allows lawyers, journalists, civic activists, and others who monitor the legal system to conveniently search for and view court decisions.
Through the Open Data Challenge, the Court on the Palm team received 500,000 hryvnia ($18,600) to launch a “Google” for lawyers. The application helps lawyers visualize information from the register of court decisions and 14 other topic-related registers using key words and up to 39 different filters. “Participation in the Open Data Challenge has opened tremendous opportunities for us: an expert community appraised our project; we received valuable help from mentors; and we came to better understand the specifics of business development and doing business based on open data”, said Kyrylo Zakharov, Co-founder and Director of the Court on the Palm project. “It was an incredible mix of innovation and learnings, intense work, and it gave us a real drive. And, of course, this was the fastest way to create a full-fledged product!”
Previously, Court on the Palm team members found themselves in situations where they lacked a range of judicial information they needed to defend themselves in court proceedings. So, when open data became more popular in Ukraine and the Court Decision Registry was made public, they came up with an idea to create a special tool for lawyers. In turn, the 2017 Open Data Challenge enabled the team to create an innovative and practical tool for both legal professionals and businesses, journalists, and NGOs working on anti-corruption issues. For businesses, Court on the Palm is a convenient tool for carrying out risk assessments and verifying parties to legal proceedings. For journalists, the service is useful for fact-checking, investigating and monitoring trends. Anti-corruption activists can also use Court on the Palm’s app to reveal connections between participants, such as relationships between certain judges and prosecutors.
Officially launched in December 2018, the Court on the Palm app has had tremendous success and currently has more than 13,000 active users. The app is available in both a basic and more advanced version. Basic system functions are available for free, while all additional functionalities, such as access to the full list of registers, 39 search filters, and visualizations of court decisions are available for a fee. Users may purchase additional functionalities through daily, monthly, or yearly subscription packages. Court on the Palm is free for journalists.
Building on their success, the Court on the Palm team also developed and launched WINCOURT in December 2018. WINCOURT is a court decision analyzer which predicts the outcomes of court cases and provides users with recommendations based on current laws and previous decisions. It also provides users with all information currently available in open data registries. The analyzer is already proving useful amongst Ukrainians. For example, as a result of a small mistake in one of its documents, a company was faced with a large fine of approximately $5,700 for violating labor legislation. The company disagreed with the fine and prior to contesting the charge with the State Labor Service, decided to check its chances of winning an appeal through WINCOURT. Initially, the analyzer showed that the company only had a 50% chance of winning the case. However, when the company’s lawyers tinkered with the analyzer by putting in relevant legislation and previous court decisions for similar cases in which the defendant won, WINCOURT’s analysis showed that the company had an 80% chance of winning their case which is exactly what happened; the company was able to avoid paying the fine.
The annual Open Data Challenge taps into the country’s innovation potential by supporting products and services that use open data to combat corruption; it is also Ukraine’s biggest IT competition. In the last three years, applicants have submitted 520 applications to the Open Data Challenge. In 2017 and 2018, nine teams out of 30 finalists won the Challenge and collectively took home $144,000 in prize money to continue developing their projects. The success of Court on the Palm and other startups demonstrate that with a small investment and the promotion of open data usage, Ukrainians can develop and implement creative solutions to fighting systemic corruption. More startups like Court on the Palm are on the horizon. The names of the Open Data Challenge 2019 winners will be revealed on September 20 during this year’s Open Data Forum in Kyiv.
The Open Data Challenge is a competition for innovative projects based on open data that will contribute to solving social problems. It has been held in Ukraine since 2017 with the support of the USAID / UK aid Transparency and Accountability in Public Administration and Services / TAPAS Project, the State Agency for e-Governance of Ukraine and in partnership with the East Europe Foundation and 1991 Open Data Incubator.
Open Data Challenge in 2017 and 2018:
- 360 applications from all over Ukraine
- 30 finalists
- 9 winners
- 4,000,000 hryvnia ($144,000) awarded in prize money
The USAID / UK aid Transparency and Accountability in Public Administration and Services / TAPAS Activity supports citizens and the Government of Ukraine in reducing or eliminating corruption in key public administration functions and services through eGovernance reform and introduces best international practices in the key areas of eProcurement, Open Data, and eServices.EF-TAPAS-Impact-Story-Court-on-the-Palm