Austria has a system of sworn and court-certified experts which is unique in Europe - both for the judiciary and for society.
Being embedded in our legal system, court experts are "auxiliaries of the judiciary" or "advisors of the judge" in a technical context and they are therefore given a special place in court proceedings by legislation, both in civil litigation and in criminal proceedings.
This special position entails great responsibility, which court experts must live up to in all respects, it also ensures that they are not only highly qualified and skilled professionals, but also enjoy trust in their economic and societal environments outside of court and that their independence is beyond doubt.
Thus, at the request and initiative of the Main Association of Sworn and Court-Certified Experts in Austria, legislators enshrined the statutory certification of all court experts in law about two decades ago. Through this high-quality examination system - the actual certification procedure - it is ensured that court experts have up-to-date and comprehensive specialist knowledge in the relevant fields expertise – this is a prerequisite for entry in the list of experts maintained by the judiciary - and that they guarantee the legal and procedural knowledge required for court experts.
In order to safeguard continuing education, which is also laid down by law, court experts must be recertified every five years and, in the course of this recertification by the judiciary, they must provide proof of continuing education specific to their fields (if possible, this is done through the continuing education passport, which is also a statutory instrument).
There is no other certification system in Europe which is regulated by law, covering all areas of expertise - construction and real estate, medicine and motor vehicles, public accountancy and many other fields. It is unique indeed.
In cooperation with the Main Association of Sworn and Court-Certified Experts in Austria, the judiciary has thus created an enormously future-oriented system on a sound statutory basis; it assures court expert quality, and if carefully maintained, it will be a solution for long time to come.
Let us be glad that we succeeded in developing and implementing this system together with the judiciary.
The introduction of the certification system was negotiated with the government at just the right time, a period when much was in flux in the judiciary and many people realised that the "old system" was not forward-looking and thus not suited to the further development of the judiciary and its increasing demands.
The Main Association of Sworn and Court-Certified Experts in Austria recognised this situation and in difficult negotiations with the "stakeholders" this vision of mine was developed to become what is today's certification system, implemented in cooperation with the judiciary.
Today, hardly anyone can imagine that what we have now has not always existed. Today, judges and public prosecutors would almost assume that our certification system has always been this way. One can no longer imagine the court expert system without certification.
However, this circumstance also spells great responsibility for the judiciary and the Main Association; great in several respects – one could almost call it a burden.
In the coming five to ten years, business as well as other administrative and social spheres of life will change at a pace and with an intensity which has been unprecedented in a long time. One can compare developments to the beginning of the Internet era – yet another major change to the way we work, the pace at which we work, as well as the complexity of tasks and work processes. Digitalisation will do something similar but it is still rather in its infancy and, reinforced by the development of artificial intelligence, is only just beginning to permeate all aspects of our lives.
We do not yet know details about the spheres, intensity and speed of development of digitalisation as it will conquer our areas of activity. However, it will surely force more or less serious changes in almost all industries. These changes will significantly impact our working world, our society and our administration. Processes, systems, quality requirements as well as project management will be redefined - not only in the construction business; this will impact almost all industries, spheres and societal processes of our lives and our working world.
Project processes and work demands will fundamentally change due to digitalisation!
Therefore, new business areas will emerge in many industries or existing business areas and project processes will significantly change due to digitalisation. However, the digitalisation of individual processes will also require new know-how about the digitalisation of these processes and their stages in every discipline. Thus, know-how in every industry will have to be expanded to also include digital skills.
For example: if there are defects and process deviations in a construction project, there will be a need to assess whether the root cause was a human error or omission - or if it was a software bug. The responsibility of the court expert in such an assessment will have to be broadened to also include aspects of digitalisation. In this context it will not be possible to always call in an IT court expert, court experts will have to expand their know-how and expertise as they are expected to be trained in sync with the times. An IT court expert will only have to be consulted above a certain level of problem complexity. And IT court experts will not be able to solve such problems on their own, e.g. if they have to do with construction industry software.
This goes to show that the requirement profiles for court experts will change significantly in the next few years. The potential for disputes which the judiciary will have to deal with vis-à-vis business and society will certainly not diminish, it will probably even increase during the transitional period. Hence, important tasks lie ahead for the judiciary if the business community is to accept it as a problem solver.
These newly defined processes, requirement profiles and resulting additional divergences and dispute potentials as may lead to litigation will need court experts who are up to these tasks and fulfil the related requirements.
In this period, the certification procedure and especially the recertification procedure, including the need for continuing education, will indeed make us happy because it will hopefully ensure that the judiciary will be able to find and appoint those court experts for their cases – court experts who are able to fulfil their tasks.
We as the Main Association of Sworn and Court-Certified Experts in Austria have created the system for this in cooperation with the judiciary. Court experts must now tackle and master the extraordinary challenges arising in the context of digitalisation in their respective sectors.
Court experts will be faced with the excitement of change and continuing education requirements, which will surely lead also to a generational shift and the influx of a new generation of court experts in the coming years.
Digitalisation and networking in European business in general as well as in groups of companies will lead to increasingly international disputes. This will also lead to more cross-border activities of court experts in proceedings.
Of course, you may wonder why I am writing this.
It is because I think that we - the Main Association of Sworn and Court-Certified Experts in Austria - have created the right tool for the judicial system in Austria. Tools that will enable the judiciary and the court experts to cope well with these huge challenges and new areas of responsibility which are coming our way.
I believe that digitalisation is opening up many new areas of work and activities for court experts – provided that continuing education with regard to the extremely rapid development of digitalisation is pursued – and that the need for high-quality court experts with related skills will tend to increase although this will also require a fundamental change of the players.
All things considered, we do not have to worry about our areas of work, we just have to reach excellence in these areas.
It will be the responsibility of the judiciary to continue developing the outstanding certification system which is already in place in accordance with these requirements, i.e. also to create the necessary economic conditions which help avoid a migration of court experts to the private sector – after all, their services and skills will also be highly sought after in a business context.
Therefore, a sensible economic balance between the work of court experts in a business context and their work in court must be ensured so that judges can appoint the specifically qualified court experts they need for their proceedings, experts whose opinions stand their ground in comparison with any outstanding private expert opinions as might be submitted. Such an economic balance is crucial in complex proceedings with many technical implications so as to ensure that the judicial system continues to function well.
DI Dr. Matthias Rant
Main Association of Sworn and Court-Certified Experts in Austria