You know the saying, ‘justice delayed is justice denied.’ The Zimbabwe judicial system will be taking that slogan to heart this year. The theme for 2022, as announced by the Chief Justice is: Use of Technology to Enhance Efficiency and the Rule of Law in the Judiciary.
Of course, this push to adopt technology is as a direct result of the pandemic. The Chief Justice admitted that the Judiciary has been slow in adopting technology. Instead ‘finding comfort in traditional ways of doing things, such as reliance on hard copies of books, allowing of physical appearances in courts, and the filing of physical documents.’
I doubt anyone is surprised by this admission. Resistance to technology is after all a feature in most of these organisations where the average age of the leadership is at least 60. They probably prayed that the pandemic would go away before they had to resort to the Zooms of this world. Alas, Covid continues disrupting service and so they are going to have to make the jump.
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Whatever the reason, we still applaud the effort to enhance efficiency in the justice system.
Integrated Electronic Case Management System (IECMS)
The system will be a records management tool and will remove the storage challenges that court registries have been facing all these years. I find this quite funny, annoying and infuriating at the same time. Seriously, it took a pandemic for them to realise the files upon files that were filling their offices could be replaced by hard drives. That’s sad.
The IECMS will also help reduce corruption in the system. The specific issue here is the allocation of cases where humans are prone to prioritise certain cases. Or how certain people seem to get the ‘best people’ on their cases every time. The IECMS will allow for automatic case allocation and that will be the end of that. On the surface at least.
The courts are severely backlogged and the IECMS should help in managing that backlog. Remember the motto, ‘justice delayed is justice denied.’
The IECMS is expected to introduce various other game changers:
- Virtual hearings (all provincial centres and High Court to get equipment facilitating this)
- Electronic payments, electronic filing and service
- Electronic case tracking and management from filing to finalisation
The Integrated Electronic Case Management System was supposed to launch in January 2022. However, apparently lockdown related delays mean the new launch month is May. First in line to try out the system will be the Constitutional Court, Supreme Court and the High Court’s Commercial Court Division.
The players in the judicial system
It’s going to be interesting to see how well the IECMS will be adopted across the entire judicial system. Of particular interest to me is how the police are going to react to all this. As a reminder, the justice system has the following players:
- The Justice Service Commission
- Judges, magistrates and court staff
- Legal practitioners (lawyers etc)
- National Prosecuting Authority
- Office of the Attorney-General
- Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (hahahaha)
- The Zimbabwe Republic Police
- Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Service
Training will be provided to everyone but I feel sorry for the trainers, it’s going to be tough. They will face forces of resistance like they have never seen. That’s me playing prophet.
The partner – Synergy International Systems (SIS)
You didn’t expect the Judicial Service Commission to implement this thing all by themselves, did you? They partnered SIS, an American company that has been doing this for years. SIS has aided in judicial systems for governments all over the world and so should be bringing a competent software package.
There will be a data centre that will house the entire system. Procurement for equipment for the data centre is ongoing. I know that for a second, you thought the entire Zimbabwean judicial system would be hosted on an Amazon server somewhere in the Americas and were seething. Rest assured, we will have the data physically stored within our borders. Access is a different story but hey, what can you do?
What I love is that their system will allow for filing of documents using phones, tablets or computers. That makes it more accessible as the majority of Zimbabweans are more familiar with phones and may be intimidated by a desktop setup.
That being said, close to half of Zimbabweans do not even have the smartphones necessary. The Judicial Service Commission did not forget about them. They will be opening e-filing centres at all courthouses which will be manned by trained staff. They will help the public lodge their matters in the system.
I’m glad that we are working with a company like SIS, with a good track record but am a bit annoyed we couldn’t do this internally. I still would like to think we do have the skilled people, good enough to design a system like this. Anyway, we still have a lot of public service departments yet to adopt technology so maybe we will see local solutions in the future.