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Kenya’s digital courts praised at the United Nations General Assembly

NATIONAL
By Patrick Vidija | September 23rd 2021

Kenya's online courts have been praised at the UN General Assembly in New York.

Estonia President Kersti Kaljulaid told the 76th session that this is an encouraging example that should be emulated by nations across the globe.

Kaljulaid said it is encouraging to see how Kenyans have embraced the e-courts.

She said although Covid-19 has made physical interactions risky, it was worth noting that online services have played a key role in bridging the gaps.

She added, “With online education and e-courts services, my special greetings go to the chief prosecutor in Kenya who has ensured that citizens receive verdict while unable to meet.”

She said Kenya’s example is a testimony that from the despair and devastation presented by the pandemic, solutions have sprung which enable the nations to become better and more egalitarian societies.

“I can assure you that Kenya is not turning back. It is my prayer that all governments who have seen the benefits of online service provision will continue down this journey,” Kaljulaid said.

AShe said this had helped people from rural areas especially nursing mothers have access to access justice without having to physically travel to government offices.

“This has helped people with special needs access what the society can offer without discrimination. This is evident that if we focus on financial and scientific efforts to such solutions, we can overcome even the biggest problems,” she said.

In 2020, retired Chief Justice David Maraga ordered the closure of courtrooms to the public amid efforts to align itself with Covid-19 containment measures.

Maraga while reiterating the need to limit gatherings as one of the measures to contain the spread of Covid-19  highlighted the risk posed by heavy human traffic saying that most judicial officers were older, and therefore fell into a more vulnerable category.

With this scale down, priority was given to applications that the courts deemed to be urgent with those who could not demonstrate urgency being denied access to the court system.

The move was further impeded by curfews imposed to limit the spread of the disease.

Since the limited rollout of information technology was not good enough, a section of lawyers petitioned the court to declare access to justice among essential services.

As the lawyers won the case against the government, the judiciary came up with mechanisms for all litigants to access its services amid efforts to remain functional while safeguarding the rule of law, equality and justice with minimal delay.

While allowing the Judiciary to operate temporary open-air courts in strategic places, Maraga launched the e-filing system which enables litigants to file and track their cases.

As the country still grapples with the pandemic, the judiciary also conducts virtual court sessions with prisoners through video link sessions for matters such as bail and plea taking.

Although there still exists challenges with access to or familiarity with technology, most proceedings are taking place on online platforms.

Court clerks send Skype, Zoom, or Microsoft Teams links for a court session to the parties involved, litigants turn up at an appointed time and the application hearing takes place.

In areas outside the Nairobi metropolis, some courts are allocating litigants time slots to attend matters within the court premises.

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