East African courts crippled by Covid-19, judges say

Due to Covid-19, the Judiciary of Rwanda started the delivery of court rulings in criminal cases through the Skype application. Courtesy

Regional judges and magistrates have cited problems in form of inadequate I.T equipment and trained staff, as challenges they faced in delivering justice amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

In East Africa, just like many parts of the world, the Covid-19 outbreak has seen judicial systems look more towards information technology solutions in order to administer justice, as a preventive measure against the spread of the virus.

 

Regional judges and magistrates from Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, Zanzibar and Tanzania held a virtual meeting on Friday May 29, to look at how courts are faring in the time of the Covid-19 pandemic and discuss mechanisms and best practices of operation during this period.

 

Organised under the East African Judges and Magistrates Association, the officials held discussions, on among others the use of I.T systems to handle court sessions virtually, where each country was supposed to present a brief of what is transpiring in their courts.

 

The meeting was convened by Rwanda as the current head of the association’s secretariat.

Speaking to the New Times about what transpired in the meeting, Harrison Mutabazi the Secretary General of the Association who is also the Spokesperson of Rwanda’s Judiciary said that the officials cited inadequate I.T equipment and trained personnel, as some of the challenges encountered in the use of I.T in their countries.

He said this is partly because the pandemic came in unexpectedly, and they were not prepared.

“The major challenges are especially in form of inadequate I.T equipment, and limited staff to man all the courts. There are also connectivity issues,” he said.

He added that when the pandemic came in, most judicial officials were not ready in terms of skills needed for virtual court proceedings.

Mutabazi said the meeting discussed future plans among which the plan to carryout trainings for equipping judicial officials with I.T skills; and educating them on things like cyber threats, that may come along with the use of internet systems.

He said trainings may start in June, and may be handled online.

Speaking on the part of Rwanda, Mutabazi that there have been challenges in the use of I.T in delivering justice in Covid-19 times, though they are not to a large extent. This is because the country’s judicial system had already started to embark on the migrating from analog systems to digital.

“It didn’t strain us a lot but definitely there have been some challenges so far, but not alarming, for instance some hiccups in connection, and having few I.T devices,” he said.

In the times of Covid-19, Rwanda has been employing information technologies for court processes including case hearings and pronouncements.

hkuteesa@newtimesrwanda.com

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