Kenya’s public sector has undergone major transformation in the past five or so years. In fact, it would be safe to call it a digital overhaul. Pre-2013 times, accessing government services in this country was one of the most daunting tasks ever. From unfriendly staff, to ‘disappearing’ files, simple things like acquiring a national identification card required, in most times, higher connections or kickbacks to hasten the process. Even then, an ID card could take a year to process, a land title deed years, if it was ever processed at all.
Lack of crucial yet very basic services meant that the rule of law was greatly compromised. The rule of law is intrinsically linked to human rights. Both human rights and the rule of law are important for organizing the justice sector, and are also critical to all sectors of state activity.
After 2013, the government embarked on a digital revolution that has put most of its services online. From passports, birth certificates to business registration, most services are now accessible from anywhere and on most devices with internet connection on the E-Citizen portal.
Despite this highly popular transformation, a check on the justice system reveals great reliance on methods that continue to alienate the system from its desire to meet a growing demand effectively. The law as is in Kenya remains a complicated set of jargon even though the population is expected to live and abide by it.
Poor case management, partisan interests and outright apathy are some of the reasons why justice systems across the world crumble. The consequence is that many of the world’s most vulnerable people lose out and citizens grow less patient with justice administration.
On the bright side, both the developing and developed worlds are coming up with innovations to counter various challenges, including putting information and communications technology into the courtroom. In Kenya, the National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) has broken down traffic offences into simple, easy to understand messages, then distributing them through popular social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp. Another group of youngsters, Sauti, has created a mobile based tool targeting cross boarder traders in Busia. The tool enables the traders to access information on trading procedures and voicing incidents of corruption or harassment.
The enthusiasm with which such applications are being treated is a clear case that the justice sector is ripe for disruption. Young innovators are channelling their creativity towards the justice sector trying to come up with solutions that will allow more people regardless of their economic and social backgrounds to access justice. Organisations such as The Hague Institute for Innovation of Law (www.hiil.org), are championing the push for technology interventions to enhance accessibility to justice for more people.
Technology is a positive contribution to the justice sector however, we must be careful not to allow the rule of law to be compromised by tech fads. Disrupting complex justice systems is necessary but risky because of what is at stake. The best innovations will be citizen-minded, human-centred, fair and open; they will reinforce rule-of-law principles and answer to the growing demand for transparency, information, speed and participation.
The demand for effectiveness in justice system is swelling and the system must do the populace a huge favor by embracing technology to bring the basics of law closer to the ground and work from the real justice needs people face on a daily basis.
Evelyne Wangui is the East Africa Agent for the Hague Institute for the Innovation on Law