Kenyan judiciary slowly embracing technology

As it continues to deal with a backlog of cases blamed on the slow adoption of technology, the Kenyan Judicial System has been looking into ways of improving the transmission and dispensation of justice in fast and cost effective ways.

The judiciary has formulated the judiciary information and communication policy strategic plan to speed up cases and reduce a backlog that has been attributed to the use of manual record-keeping systems, which are now disappearing dramatically.

Videoconferencing terminals have also been commissioned at law courts in various parts of the country, including Mombasa and Nairobi, as well as the Court of Appeal, with a number of procedural applications having been heard by lawyers through the system.

This has, however, not been seamless, as explained by Nairobi lawyer George Kithi. “The participation of the advocates and their parties is consent-based to guard against the possibility of parties challenging of the use of video conferencing as a way of receiving evidence,” he said.

The first case to be heard through video conferencing was Livingstone Maina Ngare versus the Republic in 2011, where two witnesses living in the USA were allowed to give evidence, as they were reluctant to present themselves physically at the Kenyan courtrooms, citing security reasons.

The court clarified that since the video terminals from which the court would receive the evidence from were based in the Kenyan embassy, which by international law is Kenyan territory, it would not be sitting outside its jurisdiction, thereby clearing the two witnesses.

The court is also in the process of digitizing all manual records, with new evidence received through electronic recording, a step that will free judges from the task of manually copying verbatim evidence and arguments.

According to theKenya ICT Board, over 2.5 million records have so far been digitized out of the targeted 30 million, a process that will help ease retrieval of archived documents, case management, document flow and flexibility, and precision in the filing systems.

Overall, the digitization will make access to information easier and faster, while saving time and money for clients seeking access of various court files.

The Kenya Law Organization has since digitized records of all cases, now accessible throughKenyalaw.org.

The judiciary has further integrated mobile money transfer to ease payment of traffic fines using ‘Faini Chap Chap’ product, where it partnered with mobile services provider Safaricom to allow offenders pay fines via M-Pesa mobile money service.

Judges have also been supplied with gadgets such as iPads, which are stocked with various apps including the Kenya Law Reports and the Black’s Law Dictionary for easy reference and research on the Internet.

The next step, Kithi says, is the passage of relevant laws that can be used in current situations and relevant fields of technology.

“There is no established jurisprudence on emerging fields of law such as social media. Though currently there are cases ongoing, it is hard to predict how the courts will handle the emerging issues. It is also unclear as to whether the parties will pursue the cases to conclusion,” he adds.

One such case is where veteran lawyer Paul Muite sued PNU spokesman Moses Kuria over the contents of a Facebook post about the Kenyan ICC cases, with Muite claiming assertions made by the defendant were defamatory. In this case, the question of defamation with regards to social media is likely to come up.

Just yesterday, Kenya’s information PS Bitange Ndemo was cautioned over his use of social media to attack Consumer Federation of Kenya (Cofek), with a judge asking him to use relevant avenues.

“We also need to observe what works in other jurisdictions can be imported where suitable and workable in a local context,” explains Kithi.

As Kenyans continue to claim they feel more confident with the judiciary’s dispensation of justice using technology, the challenge now is to see how it can be rolled out countrywide to serve more Kenyans, especially those in rural areas.

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