Courts measure justice with Linux

Legal professionals in NSW will soon access NSW court reference material via the new Judicial Information Research System (JIRS) application developed entirely in-house with Linux and open source technologies.

JIRS keeps the courts informed with legal reference material including sentencing statistics, judgments, and other information.

NSW Judicial Commission CIO, Murali Sagi, told Computerworld migration of JIRS from Windows 2000 to Debian GNU/Linux will complete the organization's desire to host its entire backend systems with open source.

Hosted on Linux with Apache, PostgreSQL and PHP making up the application framework, JIRS will also feature a new custom search engine.

Sagi said open source was the best option as it lent itself to a "fresh, innovative approach" and any use of commercial software will be on his terms - not a vendor's.

"We do all development in-house with permanent staff," he said, adding he has recruited and retained "exceptional talent" sourced by directly recruiting computer science graduates.

First developed as a Web application in 1994 - and redeveloped four times in 15 years, JIRS contains 600,000 pages.

Although the NSW government is conducting a much-publicized open source evaluation, the judicial commission has been using such software since 1997.

"Linux provides all our server infrastructure and is used on the desktop by the 10 IT staff who use VMware for windows apps," said the Debian desktop-using CIO.

"Software development is more of an art than science and people make all the difference. We follow the open source development model to the nth degree and CVS is at the heart of everything we do."

Sagi estimates that a content application similar to JIRS would cost between $20 million and $30 million if purchased off the shelf.

In addition to JIRS, the Commission's main applications include a case management system and XML publishing system, both developed with Linux and open source.

"The XML publishing system contains 1000-page bench books which undergo a lot of frequent changes and we had to move to a system that could handle both [print and online]," Sagi said.

"We could have spent megabucks and bought a single-source publishing system or come up with something of our own. But we have a tradition of building innovative solutions."

The case management system - consisting of 140,000 lines of PHP code - was developed in nine months by five people and is used in the district courts to track cases.

Having developed the applications in-house, the Commission now has the option of passing them to other government departments, commercializing them, or releasing them as open source projects.

The applications were designed to be extensible and could be used across other sectors like health, Sagi said.

Open source at NSW judcom

Server: Debian GNU/Linux, Red Hat Linux

Desktop: Debian GNU/Linux, OpenOffice.org, Mozilla

Infrastructure: Apache, Postfix, Courier IMAP, OpenLDAP, Samba, CVS, bugzilla

Data management: PostgreSQL

Development: PHP, XML, DocBook, HTML

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