THE Parliamentary Legal Committee (PLC) has thrown a wrench into the US$3,8 million Integrated Electronic Case Management System (IECMS), issuing a scathing report that questions the fairness and accessibility of the new judicial online system.
Introduced in 2022, the IECMS automates and tracks all aspects of a case life cycle, from initial filing through to disposition and appeal.
Statutory Instrument 153 of 2023, the “High Court (Amendment) Rules”, ordered the use of the IECMS for filing documents, scheduling hearings and even attending court virtually.
However, the PLC report highlighted several challenges that could leave many ordinary Zimbabweans without access to a fair justice system.
“Not everyone has a computer, reliable internet access, or the know-how to navigate the online platform. This, we argue, excludes a large portion of the population from accessing justice, potentially violating their constitutional rights,” the report read.
The IECMS currently operates only in English, disregarding the country’s diverse linguistic landscape.
“The use of English as the sole language on the IECMS platform disadvantages individuals who do not speak English,” the report said, adding that it infringed on litigants’ right to be heard in a language they understood.
The report also raised concern about self-represented litigants, particularly those seeking bail.
“Without the necessary technology and skills, they might struggle to participate in virtual hearings, potentially jeopardising their right to liberty and fair representation,” the committee warned.
The ambitious six-month deadline for transitioning to a completely paperless court is another point of contention.
PLC argued that this time frame is unrealistic and exceeds the legal authority granted.
“The statutory instrument gives limited discretion as it insists that six months after going digital, thus exceeding the enabling Act,” the report said.
The report also questions the expanded powers bestowed upon the registrar under the new rules.
“The regulations seek to clothe the registrar with a lot of power as he can now decide whether the papers filled are proper or not. The powers given to the Registrar … intrude on judges’ functions,” report said.
Last year, Alpha Media Holdings senior reporter Desmond Chingarande took the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) to task over the IECMS.
This was after JSC advised its stakeholders that all litigation in superior courts would be done on the IECMS platform and to use this, litigants or users needed gadgets such as laptops, computers, tablets smartphones, adequate and stable internet connectivity and needed to be registered on the IECMS platform and to be trained on how to use the IECMS.
Previously, Chingarande said, this used to be possible because journalists would just sit in open court and follow proceedings. But now, accredited journalists are not allowed access to the IECMS system and are also not allowed access to virtual hearings and or trials so that they follow proceedings in order to cover and report about them.
The journalist argued that in terms of section 69(1) and (2) of the Constitution, every person has the right to a fair, public hearing and trial and a corollary of the right to a public hearing and trial is the ability of the media to cover the proceedings and have access to court documents.