Lawyers Gatu Magana (far-right) and Gitonga Kariuki (second-right) appearing virtually before Justice Teresia Matheka (far-left) on November 29, 2021. [Daniel Chege, Standard]

The advent of the Covid-19 pandemic posed a major challenge and disruptive force for delivery of justice. However, positively, it compelled the Judiciary to accelerate its automation and digitisation agenda.

Thus, in July 2020, the Judiciary introduced Virtual Courts, the Electronic Filing (e-filing) system for courts in Nairobi, and the Case Tracking System (CTS).

The e-filing system allows remote filing by court users. It is a platform for law firms, lawyers and non-lawyers to originate and complete the process of filing cases online from their offices or elsewhere provided they have internet connectivity. Therefore, court users do not need to visit court premises to file cases.

The adoption of e-filing signals a shift from traditional paper-based filing systems to a streamlined digital approach. It reduces the constraints of geographical distances to access courts, makes it easier to track and retrieve documents, provides timely information and is cost-effective. This ease of access makes the legal process more inclusive. The e-filing system has been in Nairobi, Mombasa, Kisumu, Homa Bay, Siaya, Kiambu, Samburu, Mandera, Wajir, Garissa, Bungoma, Nyandarua and Turkana counties. Activation of the system in Bungoma, Wajir, and Garissa counties is underway, with a country-wide roll out set for March 11, 2024, when the remaining 34 counties will be on-boarded.

This rollout of the e-filling system is part of the Judiciary’s quest to leverage technology to deepen access to justice and enhance the efficiency of its operations as championed under its institutional blueprint ‘Social Transformation through Access to Justice’ (STAJ). 

Once cases are filed in court, it is crucial to track their progress. The CTS complements the e-filing system. The CTS maintains and tracks the entire details of a case from origin to disposition. It provides real-time insights into the progress of cases. It automates registry operations namely; Case Registration, Automated fee assessment, Cause list Preparation, Court Orders Generation and Performance Reports and supports online payments.

 This digital platform allows judges and judicial officers to update and track the status of the cases they are handling. The CTS is fully operational across all court stations and tribunals and approximately two million and seven hundred and fifteen thousand, seven hundred and twenty-nine cases (2,715,729) have been registered in the CTS as of February 2024.

The Judiciary has also developed a Cause List Portal, integrated with the CTS, to provide litigants and advocates with easy access to cause lists. A Cause List is a schedule of cases to be heard by a court.

In an innovative move towards enhancing accountability and informed decision-making, the Judiciary has developed an internal tool: the Judiciary Data Tracking Dashboard.

This will be launched on March 11, 2024, and operationalised on March 12, 2024. The Dashboard utilises the CTS to extract requisite information. Some of its features include the ability to analyse cases based on whether they are civil or criminal, pending or concluded, computation of case backlog and providing crucial insights into case clearance rates. It also detects case adjournments, analyses the reasons behind them and can compare the rate of adjournments in various courts.

The Dashboard identifies and highlights stations where Sexual and Gender-based Violence (SGBV) offences are rife informing on the need to establish SGBV courts.

Notably, therefore, at the click of a button, the Chief Justice, Deputy Chief Justice and all Heads of Courts will have access to real-time statistics allowing them to take any requisite action. This means the Chief Justice, wherever she is, can access the statistics of any court or tribunal, giving her a firm grip on the justice situation.  

-The writer is an advocate and strategy advisor to the Chief Justice