Ongoing automation processes are transforming Kenya’s judiciary into a fully-fledged e-court.
Piloted in the Commercial and Tax Division of the High Court at Nairobi, the initiatives aim to simplify procedures for both the judiciary and court users. The automation efforts are part of the judiciary’s digital strategy, enshrined in the 2017-2021 Sustaining the Judiciary Transformation Blueprint, to re-engineer its processes through information and communications technology (ICT).
Since 2017, under the support for commercial justice sector reforms program, IDLO is working to bolster the Kenyan judiciary’s capacity to deliver justice to citizens.
“The Commercial Court was established by the Kenyan judiciary to make litigation faster, fairer and more accessible to the business community," commented Hon. Elizabeth Tanui, the Deputy registrar for the Commercial and Tax Division. "However, the Division has struggled with case backlog and manual handling of its processes and procedures.”
Working with the Integrated Court Management Steering Committee responsible for the digitization of court records and proceedings, IDLO supported the introduction of ICT and automation processes to improve the Commercial Division’s efficiency, reduce case backlog and ease access to courts.
Concrete measures included retiring archaic filing systems and modernizing document management, for example, by converting physical files to electronic files. These automation processes have yielded several results positively enhancing the efficiency of the judiciary as well as faster results for court users.
All active cases – estimated at 12,000 – in the Commercial and Tax Division have been affected by these measures. To date, 1,487 inactive cases have been reviewed and closed since 2018. 817 files have been digitized, of which 287 are complete e-files.
Files waiting to be archived
“The automation initiatives are important because there is a need for the Kenyan judiciary, and especially the Commercial Court, to be efficient, cost effective, accountable and streamlined in its processes and administration,” Hon. Tanui continued. “This is because [it] is essential to economic development and sustainable growth.”
Other initiatives promote users’ direct access to court information, with a view to promoting transparency and building public trust. For instance, the case tracking module incorporates a communication feature which allows court users to send an SMS to learn the status of their case. E-filing has further enabled court users to file their pleadings online. By going through four simple online steps - creation of user account, uploading documents, payment and assignment of case registration details - the system has reduced the number of days it takes to file and serve a case from 40 to seven. In addition, a new e-diary system automatically assigns a court date to case files.
The e-payment platform through mobile money automates court revenue collection and helps citizens navigate previously complex court fee payment processes, while ensuring transparency and accountability.
Additionally, court proceedings are now audio recorded, replacing the former practice of manual recording proceedings by judges. “Audio recording of court proceedings and the ability to access them when a need arises has increased public confidence in the system,” stated Hon. Tanui.
Looking forward, the judiciary plans to continue these efforts and expand automation initiatives to other courts and divisions. E-filing is currently being replicated in the Lower Commercial Court. Court recording and transcription will be installed in 80 courts during the 2019 – 2020 financial year, with an aim to introduce the practice to all courts within the next four years.