Microsoft has partnered with Strathmore University School of Law to initiate discussions on the digitization of East Africa’s justice systems. The partnership forums dubbed the ‘Policy Innovation Series’ are informed by the need for government agencies, justice systems and private sector players to digitize in a rapidly changing world.
Speaking at the forum that brought together judges, lawyers, public administrators and IT professionals held at the Strathmore Law School last week, Christopher Akiwumi, Microsoft’s Middle east and Africa Director of Government Affairs said that, ‘The technology that courts are seeking to introduce will provide improved access to justice in a number of ways ranging from making it easier for litigants to participate in the court processes, to providing efficiency and increased productivity and ensuring there is enhanced transparency,’
Some of the court processes that need to be digitized include case management systems, e-filing and document management systems as well as digitalization of courtroom applications and functions such as audio visual and transcription capabilities.
Microsoft and its partners are collaborating with the COMESA Court, the East African Court of Justice, the Supreme Court of Kenya as well as the Court of Appeal to enable them to achieve their visions of a digitized court system. ‘The idea is for all of us to be able to sit together to discuss some of the bigger issues and challenges we are facing in the judicial systems today, share best practice and explore how digital transformation can address some of those challenges,’ Akiwumi added.
Legal experts at the forum said the level of confidence of citizens in the judiciary is a valuable indicator to assess how functional the rule of law in a country is. In order to build confidence among citizens, judicial institutions should ensure accountability of the justice system, the forum heard. In addition, ensuring the independence and impartiality of judges and prosecutors is key to this end, they said.
‘We have a commercial justice sector in the commercial division that we are working on with regards to case management and an e-filing solution and we hope that before the end of the current year, we will be able to roll these services out to the other stations,’ said Justice Gatembu Kairu of Kenya’s Court of Appeal. The solution entails digital recording of proceedings and then availing a transcription system on a need-by-need basis.
‘We see a lot of promise in technology in making services accessible remotely to people where they are,’ he added.
Technology can help the justice sector improve accountability through different means, including the development of mechanisms to improve access to information like enabling free access to court forms, legislation and judgments online and mechanisms to provide feedback known as court user surveys and grievance redress.
Justice Gatembu lamented that judges and lawyers have to go through large volumes of physical forms and files, thereby delaying justice and increasing costs of litigation.
“Filing a court case can take up to three months because of the manual processes involved not forgetting the associated costs,” Justice Kairu regretted.