Zimbabwe braces for paperless courts
Fidelis Munyoro Chief Court Reporter
While piles of paper still rule in all Zimbabwean courthouses, the new Commercial Court Division of the High Court, which is getting ready to move at the end of the year into Bristol House now under renovation, will be the first paperless court.
All documents will be in electronic format, with lawyers sending their submissions through the Internet.
“The plan is to renovate and customise the building into a world-class courthouse with state-of-the-art equipment, including the Integrated Electronic Case Management System,” said Chief Justice Luke Malaba during the official opening of the 2020 Legal Year in Harare this week.
“Work at the building has commenced. Barring unforeseen challenges, the renovations and customisation are projected to be complete by the end of the year.”
Chief Justice Malaba, who also chairs the Judicial Service Commission (JSC), emphasised that as part of its responsibility to support national programmes, the Judiciary fully embraced the Government’s “Ease of Doing Business” initiative.
“To that end, commercial courts and small claims courts were established at all provincial magistrates’ courts across the country,” he said.
Already, the Commercial Court Rules for the High Court crafted by a team of veteran lawyers led by Justice Joseph Martin Mafusire are now complete and have since been forwarded to the Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs for legislation.
Other members of the team are senior legal practitioners Messrs Edwin Manikai, Addington Chinake and Tinoziva Bere.
Harare lawyers concurred with the Chief Justice that the paperless system should be given full backing because it was integral in minimising the opportunity for everything, from filing errors to corrupt activities, as it is difficult to cheat a digitised system or lose documents.
Mrs Sitembile Mpofu said administrative processes that were the bedrock of the system were cumbersome and digitisation will go a long way in lifting that administrative load.
“A digital system will minimise the chances for human error with regards to issues like filing of documents, for example,” she said.
“The additional fact that lawyers and witnesses will be able to make submissions via video link will cut both cost and time. This can only be seen as a positive development for the legal system as a whole.”
Mrs Mpofu said it was important to take into cognisance the external environment that the system will be operating in to ensure that there was adequate infrastructure like electricity and Internet connection to allow those in the remote areas to also benefit from digitisation.
Senior lawyer Mr Vote Muza, who was among guests at the official opening of the legal year, welcomed Chief Justice Malaba’s statement on the advent of paperless courts.
“He deserves loud praise for making our administration of justice compare with the best in the world,” he said.
“Litigation costs are curtailed. Time spent on travelling becomes a thing of the past and the idea of filing court documents at the click of a mouse is just thrilling.”
Advocate Sithembinkosi Magwaliba said the creation of a paperless commercial division of the High Court will be a significant milestone in the history of the Judiciary.
“Its benefits include easy file tracking and reducing the human element in the management of the process filed,” he said.
“It eliminates the common problems of missing files and tampering with the files. It provides convenience in that e-filing of the documents permits the parties to file documents from their offices.”
Adv Magwaliba said it must be managed well by appropriately qualified competent systems administrators because “any system is as good as those who manage it”.
Lawyer-cum-politician Mr Obert Gutu said: “E-lawyering has become the new normal in many countries, including even here in Africa. In Namibia, they are already at a very advanced stage in implementing a paperless court system.
“Chief Justice Luke Malaba was on point when he mentioned that the JSC plans to create a paperless commercial court.
Artificial intelligence has revolutionalised the way business is done in this world, legal business included.”