Lessons on Digital Justice System for Nigeria –  How the Comesa courtroom became one of the most advanced in the world

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By Paul Sachs

Paul Sachs, leading expert in the field of legal technology, founder and CTO of digital evidence management platform CaseLines, is participating in a trade mission to Nigeria this month to discuss legal digital transformation. CaseLines is the leading global provider of software as a service for the electronic preparation and presentation of evidence, legal bundles, documentary and video evidence. Nigeria’s extremely slow justice system and burdensome court processes could leverage the solutions from Caselines to enhance its justice system. This article offers insights as to how.

One area where technology is making big advancements in Africa is inside the courtroom. The Court of Justice for the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) has upgraded the standard paper-based system in favour of a digital courtroom. Not only will this drastically improve the delivery of justice, it also gives the court the tools they need to meet the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 16 objective, which is to “provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.”

The digital justice system now being used by COMESA is among the most advanced to be implemented anywhere in the world. The new software eliminates the need for paper in court by introducing a fully digital bundle, including multi-media evidence. It also has collaboration tools which enable enhanced pre-trial preparation amongst all stakeholders, including judges, lawyers and witnesses, and secure role validated video conferencing for virtual hearings.

“In England and Wales there are now more early guilty pleas thanks to CaseLines. That’s because digital evidence is available more quickly than paper evidence was, so the defence gets to see it earlier and so can advise appropriately.”

If we look at the how the COMESA Court based in Khartoum operated under the standard paper-based system, when lawyers filed a claim, they were forced to take the documents to court and file in person – a task which is costly in both time and money. According to internal research by CaseLines, while the standard cost of a sheet of paper costs well below 1c, once the storage, transport and preparation charges are included the price can rise to be as high as $0.30. The courier bill for moving paper around the COMESA Court of Justice’s members nations runs to thousands of dollars a month.

In the UK, prior to the implementation of Crown Court Digital Case System the amount of paper used by the courts if stacked from the ground up, would reach the height of the London Shard, the tallest building in Europe, every four days. It’s this colossal use of paper that is one of the driving factors behind this modernisation globally, but there are others.

“Digital justice systems offer a lower cost alternative to the way courts are currently run and help deliver a far greater efficiency and transparency to the process of justice.”

The current paper-based working practices haven’t allowed judges to properly prepare for cases. How can they when they might not see key evidence or files until just before the case is heard in court? Digital evidence management software gives Judges earlier access. It means they can now log into case files securely from their home offices, improving preparation, cutting unnecessary travel and speeding the process of preparing judgment after a hearing, with the assurance that they are viewing the most recent and relevant files.

The same is true for advocates. In England and Wales there are now more early guilty pleas thanks to CaseLines. That’s because digital evidence is available more quickly than paper evidence was, so the defence gets to see it earlier and so can advise appropriately. The converse is true too. If you’re innocent and accused of a crime, you see the evidence earlier giving you more time to prepare your defence. In addition, an unexpected early benefit in the UK Crown Court was a 50% reduction in hearings as a result of earlier access to evidence. A digital courtroom can also make securing a testimony much easier. Policemen or vulnerable witnesses for example, need no longer take time off work to travel or attend court, but can provide a digital testimony instead. This also saves time and a significant amount of money.

 

Nyambura L. Mbatia, Registrar at the COMESA Court of Justice, is pleased with the results so far and how they align with the UN’s sustainable development goals. She told us that: “In line with the UN’s SDG 16, one of the objectives of the COMESA Court is to eliminate financial and practical barriers to justice. By adopting CaseLines, the Court will become more efficient and processes such as physical filing will become obsolete. This will mak

“A digital courtroom can also make securing a testimony much easier. Policemen or vulnerable witnesses for example, need no longer take time off work to travel or attend court, but can provide a digital testimony instead. This also saves time and a significant amount of money.”

e a huge difference for our Judges and for litigants dealing with the Court and will bring us closer to achieving access to justice for all citizens of the COMESA Region.”

Digital justice systems offer a lower cost alternative to the way courts are currently run and help deliver a far greater efficiency and transparency to the process of justice. An effective and functioning legal system is not just good news for those who use courts, but for a country’s society and businesses too. Once fully implemented, the COMESA system will be as advanced as anywhere in the world, it’s a giant leap forward to addressing legal technology in Africa.

 

CaseLines’ platform is the industry’s most comprehensive solution for delivering efficient end to end digital evidence management, allowing legal teams to prepare, collate, redact, share and present evidence/legal bundles, documentary and video evidence, securely from one system. The platform holds over 300,000 cases, with over 100 million pages of evidence. learn more visit www.caselines.com or follow us on twitter @CaseLines

 

 

 

Paul-Sachs CaseFiles Founder
Paul-Sachs CaseFiles Founder

Paul Sachs

 


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