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Estonian Justice to Be Digitalized With Salme

Estonia is currently testing an online writing tool to speed up the transcription of court sessions. Available to both in-person and online sessions, Salme can accurately write down who said what in the courtroom. Its potential is promising.

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Court gavel, law theme, mallet of judge
Photo: Sebastian Duda / stock.adobe.com

Estonia is considered to be one of the leaders in digitization in the 3Seas Region, as well as in Europe. The transformation has significantly impacted the public sector. It has the second fastest court proceedings in Europe. The judiciary has gone almost entirely online during the Covid-19 pandemic and has remained so to a large extent. The most recent digital innovation, currently tested, is the Salme court speech assistant, which works as a software writing tool. Its user-friendly contribution to an already speedy and efficient justice system can be enormous, as manual transcripts of sessions often take more than ten hours. With this tool, this time will be reduced to a matter of minutes.

How does Salme work?

Salme, part of the official Court Information System, receives data from the system related to the hearings it transcribes. During the court proceedings, it collects inputs from voice capturing and responds with an online transcription which is a few seconds delay as to what is being said. Once the text is written down, Salme can divide it depending on the context.  

Although almost fully automatic, some human input must occur before the proceedings. This consists of identifying the attendees before the court sessions so that Salme can subsequently learn to identify the voice. Salme can also produce offline transcriptions, claimed to be slightly more accurate, and notes related to the text of the proceeding can be incorporated in the final text sent back to the e-justice system.

Salme is stated to be 92 percent accurate in both text and grammar.

Who is behind the project?

Two private companies developed the tool in an effort to speed up the judiciary. In particular, CGI Estonia, working with IT innovations, collaborated with Tilde, which focuses on language technology innovation. Tilde has a wide range of offers and projects involving AI in text and language translation. The company, whose name exemplifies a grapheme in many languages, has around 50 employees and annual revenue of around EUR 3 million.

IT company CGI Estonia has likewise been contributing to innovations and helping to transform government systems. This has so far involved digitalizing the Register and Prosecutor’s Information systems, which are a source of bureaucratic burden in many countries of the European Union. CGI Estonia employs over 200 specialists and has a revenue of around EUR 5 million.

Challenges and what lies ahead for Salme

A possible challenge for such products is their development language-wise. Even though not directly connected to Salme, Tilde is currently working to develop ‘building speech technology’ services in Latvian and Lithuanian apart from native Estonian.

Another challenge set by the government, which contributed to the emergence of Salme, is the goal of having the justice system 100 percent digital by 2024. For this reason, other improvements and development are necessary. A solution could be improving the Hans program, which runs on similar principles as Salme but is adjusted to government sessions. Should Salme be successfully tested by the end of this month, much improvement can be awaited.

Martin Hochel

Martin Hochel comes from Bratislava, Slovakia, and has also lived in Belgium and the UK. He holds a BA in history and politics from Birkbeck College, University of London and is currently studying for his masters at the Central European University in Vienna in nationalism studies. Martin also works as a junior analyst at the Government Office of the Slovak Republic. In his free time, he likes to read, play the piano, and travel.

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