Failed attempt to digitalise Belgian legal system costs 28 million euros

Two decades after Belgium joined forces with the American firm Unisys in a bid to digitise the justice department the curtain has fallen over this failure: the total bill is 28 million euros.

In 2001 the federal justice department launched the Phenix Project that was supposed to cut back drastically on paperwork in the Belgian judicial system and put matters of a digitised footing.  Belgium signed a contract with the US tech firm Unisys, but it soon became apparent that the solutions provided by the company did not work.  All co-operation ended in 2007.

The matter ended up in the courts with Belgium seeking damages worth 28 million euros.  Unisys launched counterclaims, but today it has become clear Belgium can forget about recuperating these monies.

Justice minister Van Quickenborne (Flemish liberal) points to a court ruling from last year that states that the two parties will each foot the bill for the costs they incurred. Flemish nationalist lawmaker Kristien Van Vaerenbergh, who quizzed the minister on this issue, says that after two decades the case brought by the Belgian state yielded no result, while legal costs added 300,000 euros to the bill.

Van Vaerenbergh claims the whole Phenix Project initiated by the then Francophone socialist justice minister Laurette Onkelinx is a “total flop” and the digitalisation of the justice department is still at a very early stage.

Justice minister Van Quickenborne has promised a totally digitalised judicial process will be established but Van Vaerenbergh notes there is a long road to go: “We need to achieve a completely digitalised legal process that allows us to start a judicial case in a digitalised environment and for the entire process to be completed in this way.”

Belgium is receiving 136 million euros in EU grants to realise this aim.

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