The Sunday News
Munyaradzi Musiiwa, Sunday News Reporter
THE Judicial Service Commission is now at an advanced stage of setting up virtual courts that would handle more than 90 percent of the court processes while submissions by litigants and parties to disputes will be done without them being required to be physically present at court.
Some suspects may also be tried from remand prisons.
In a speech to mark the official opening of the 2021 legal year, Chief Justice of Zimbabwe, Justice Luke Malaba said the JSC has entered into memoranda of understanding with cooperating partners such as the UNDP, ICJ and UNICEF to assist with the establishment of virtual courts throughout the country.
“It became apparent to the JSC that, in the midst of the raging pandemic, Information Communication Technologies (“ICT”), had evolved from being an option to an absolute necessity. Courts could not afford to lag behind in harnessing the potential of ICT in ensuring that access to justice was not disrupted.
To this end, plans to introduce virtual court sittings are at an advanced stage. The process involves presentation of submissions by litigants and parties to disputes without them being required to be physically present at court. This digitisation of the courts and their processes has already been adopted and is in use in other jurisdictions in the region and beyond. We must as an institution see beyond the Covid-19 pandemic. The recent upsurge in cases and the emergence of a stronger and more infectious variant of the virus calls for everyone to remain vigilant and comply with health guidelines issued from time to time by health authorities to slow down the spread of the disease,” he said.
Chief Justice Malaba said one of the courts at Harare Magistrate’s court had already been connected to one of the prisons.
“One courtroom at Harare Magistrates’ Court has already been fitted with virtual court equipment which connects the court to Harare Remand Prison. A pilot run of the equipment was successfully done towards the end of 2020,” he said.
Chief Justice Malaba said this will also help in curbing corruption within the judicial system.
“The benefits that accrue to any organisation from the deployment of technology in its processes and activities cannot be over-emphasised. A few years back, the JSC introduced an electronic case tracking and monitoring system at the High Court as a pilot project. This has since been cascaded to all courts in the country. Automation of court processes reduces human intervention in the processes. That in turn eliminates opportunity for corruption. Corruption was a source of many complaints, especially in the High Court where reports of court files disappearing in the registry were widespread. The scanning of each document filed with the courts to produce duplicate electronic files has successfully eliminated the incentive for deliberate removal of court files by corrupt elements in the registries. The system has greatly improved efficiency of court registries, as files are now easily accessible to litigants and stakeholders. Everyone can now benefit from the services offered by information kiosks, which have eliminated long queues that had become synonymous with most court registries,” he said.
Chief Justice Malaba said under the new systems the new technology will account for 90 percent of court operations.
“Litigants are able to make enquiries on the progress of their cases with registries from the comfort of their homes or offices through the information kiosk e-mailing system. The JSC’s website has equally been enhanced to make it more interactive and informative. This is in addition to the recruitment of a full-time website administrator to manage it. A fully-fledged Information and Communication Technology department was created. The department will be strengthened in the full appreciation that this is an area which holds the future of court operations. Debate is raging all over the world on the possibility of Artificial Intelligence taking over the adjudication of cases in the courts. This appears ultra-difficult, if not impossible. The reality, however, remains that technology will sooner rather than later account for more than 90 percent of court operations,” he said.