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Swiss judicial authorities take flak for developing open source software

Whilst an ever increasing number of countries is deciding to give free software priority in public sector projects, an open source courts package is currently taking flak in Switzerland according to Germany’s Linux-Magazin. Some years ago the Swiss Federal Court developed a program called Open Justitia which assists in inquiries into court decisions. As a consequence the Federal judiciary is now having being accused of being commercially active.

According to a press release from the Digital Sustainability Parliamentary Group, Swiss judicial authorities are being unjustly criticised of “partial reporting” in the country’s main media. At the weekend, the Schweizer Tagesschau and Sonntagszeitung newspapers made the allegation (wrongly in the Parliamentary Group’s opinion) that “with the freely available software, the Federal Court is illegally conducting a business as a state institution and is forcing private suppliers out of the market with a 100% subsidised product”, the Digital Sustainability Parliamentary Group wrote on its website. At the same time it announced it will be submitting a motion which would explicitly permit public sector organisations to release software they have developed themselves as open source.

“No advanced algorithms were available on the market”

The Federal Court developed the software since there was alternative of a comparable quality for searching for court decisions. No suitable “advanced” search algorithm was available on the market, so the court “was forced to develop its own solution”. The allegation that the Federal Court is offering commercial services around the open source Open Justitia package is false.

And finally the Group writes that development under free licences is underway in Europe and results in savings if public sector organisations are involved, mentioning cantons which are saving six figure sums thanks to the software. Commercial service providers are charging CHF 15,000 upwards for integration of .

Open Justitia

Open Justitia consists of several components (Norm, Doc, Bib, Ldoc, Anom and Spider),ranging from document management and search to the anonymisation of court rulings and the integration of external legal data sources. In 2012 the project won the Enterprise & IT Architecture Excellence Award and the Swiss Open Source Award. Open Source Award jury chairman Matthias Günter wrote as follows in its statement of reasons: “In the field of federal administration, the Federal Court has long been a trailblazer for open source, even if most public sector organisations are consciously or unconsciously using ever more open source. The next logical step is the release of complete solutions, by means of which new ecosystems arise in which the authorities, like the private sector, benefit from lower costs, increased interoperability and more sustainable solutions. A department which takes such a step needs courage; dealing with existing market participants, as well as the development of a new community need endurance and conviction.”

Read the original German new piece in Linux-Magazin.