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Smart Courts: Roadmap for Digital Transformation of Justice in Africa Whitepaper Launched

Strathmore Law School and Access Partnership, with the support of Microsoft, launched a whitepaper titled: “Smart Courts: Roadmap for Digital Transformation of Justice in Africa” on 7th March 2019.

The whitepaper is the outcome of a nine-month study which entailed benchmarking study visits and workshops at the UK Supreme Court, the Dubai International Financial Centre Courts and the Abu Dhabi Global Markets Courts. Through these tours, a select group of judges and Chief Information Officers from the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) Court of Justice and the East Africa Court of Justice were familiarised with digital courtrooms and modern justice system applications.

The launch gathered judges, court administrators, public officials, IT and policy experts for a roundtable discussion on the challenges and opportunities in the area of digital transformation of justice systems in Africa.

Speaking on the challenges facing judicial systems, Christopher Casarrubias, Head of Africa and Middle East Policy, Access Partnership, mentioned lack of accessibility, delays, lack of transparency, corruption and lack of accountability. “Smart courts will eradicate these challenges and bring about judicial transformation,” he said.

Hon. Nyambura Mbatia, Chief Registrar, COMESA Court of Justice and Justice Gatembu Kairu, Kenya Court of Appeal, speakers at the roundtable, were among those who took part in the study tours.

“There is no question over whether or not we should transform. The issue here is how to do it. The judiciary has already benefited from this project and we have started an e-filing system in the commercial division,” said Justice Gatembu.

“By leveraging the cloud, courts can optimize their internal process and improve services to users,” said Chris Akiwumi, Director Government and Regulatory Affairs MEA, Microsoft.

Strides have already been made towards a digital future. In January 2019 the COMESA Court of Justice signed an agreement with CaseLines, the case management solutions provider, to begin digitization of their courtrooms and enable faster and more efficient access to justice across the COMESA region.

This software eliminates the need for paper in court by introducing an entirely digital platform with tools that allow the creation and presentation of a fully digital bundle including multi-media evidence, collaboration tools for enhanced pre-trial preparation and secure role validated videoconferencing for virtual hearings.

Staff at the Strathmore Law School have also been trained in the use of the CaseLines software and plan to have their students interact with case bundles on the software as they prepare for their moot court competitions for more effective and efficient case management.

“Not only will smart courts increase access to justice for all, but it will provide faster delivery through the use of technology. Smart courts will positively impact the delivery of and access to justice both locally and regionally,” said Dr. Luis Franceschi, Dean, Strathmore University Law School.