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In Slovakia, a Website Shines the Spotlight on Infamously Corrupt Judiciary

BY Jessica McKenzie | Wednesday, July 31 2013

Screenshot of the Google Translate version of Open Courts

The rampant corruption in Slovakia's judicial system has inspired a documentary called “Disease of the Third Power,” and approximately 70 percent of Slovak people do not trust it. Slovakia also holds the dubious honor of being one of only 20 countries where the judicial system is thought to be more corrupt than political parties or parliament. Enter Otvorené Súdy – or Open Courts – a website that makes information on judges and rulings easily accessible and, hopefully, the entire system more transparent, which went live last week.

The site was designed by two students, Pavol Zbell and Samuel Molnár, as part of their studies. They went on to win funding for the project from a civil society activism challenge called ReStart Slovakia, and had additional support from Transparency International.

The head of Transparency International Slovensko Gabriel Šípoš hopes the website will open up a debate about the judicial system.

“An untrustworthy judiciary influences not just the business environment, but also the quality of life,” Šípoš said in a press release.

One thing that distinguishes this project from many other civil society initiatives is that the creators do not align themselves with other civil society activists. Their larger goal was to make information – already open and free information, by the way – more accessible to the public. They are not championing a reformation of the judicial system, even though their website could be leveraged to do so by others.

Chris Worman, director of program development for TechSoup Global, the organization that sponsored the ReStart Slovakia competiton, sees their work as part of a larger trend in civil society activism. He wrote about the project The Guardian earlier this year:

Yet there they are, almost unintentionally helping create more transparent democracies. And their work exemplifies an emerging form of civil interaction. They, and many others like them are playing by a new set of rules that use for-profit tech startup techniques and rely on a social media-like model.

What they deliver before they jump to the next thing, however, can be immensely valuable – particularly if it is leveraged by organisations [sic] focused on systemic change.

Hopefully when Zbell and Molnár move on, they continue to find themselves unintentionally creating change for the better. In the meantime, the code is available on GitHub for anyone interested in emulating them.

Personal Democracy Media is grateful to the Omidyar Network and the UN Foundation for their generous support of techPresident's WeGov section.

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