The Judiciary is gearing up for a new kind of justice: telejustice. This is a type of justice that is delivered with the aid of information technology.
The system will see judicial officers and litigants interact without necessarily being present in a courtroom.
The Judiciary Transformation Framework, a new strategic plan launched by Chief Justice Willy Mutunga on Thursday last week, has underscored the importance of this latest kind of justice that is expected to ease the congestion common in courts.
The current congestion is brought about by the necessity of having everyone involved in a particular case present during the hearings or on the judgment day.
In order to achieve telejustice, audio and video conferencing tools must be installed in the courtrooms, which is an expensive.
However, the Judiciary is determined to overcome the challenge and achieve its objective.
Witnesses, judges or any other officer involved in a case but in a different location could participate through a connected video or audio link and make contributions.
To realise this, court officers would have to be trained to acquire the necessary skills to participate fully in dispensing this form of justice.
Money should not be an issue as the Judiciary, as an independent institution, now has a fund that is expected to finance its projects. In the past, the institution was underfunded.
With the Judiciary’s new information and communication technology policy, which is currently being prepared, expected to be in place soon as promised by Chief Registrar of the Judiciary Gladys Shollei, the arm of government would be much ready to fly with technological advancements.
It is not only the technology-supported justice that is on the way.
There are other monumental projects the new Judiciary, as it has branded itself, is seeking to achieve in the next four years.
Most of them go towards infrastructural development in a bid to make the courts friendlier, more accessible to users and warmer for judges and magistrates to deliver justice.
To curb corruption, the menace that has plagued the Judiciary for long, a corruption prevention strategy as well as other integrity assurance mechanisms would be put in place.
Performance of judicial officers would also be regularly measured through various performance criteria.
The Judiciary Training Institute, established in 2008 to “offer education and training to staff involved in the administration of justice and train judicial officers on better methods of service delivery and use of computers and information technology”, is to be restructured with a clear organisational structure to make it robust.
The Judiciary is set for a major operational shift following the launch of the plan.
It would be implemented over the next four years but its fruits are expected to be seen as soon as possible as the various judicial officers who spoke during the launch promised to adopt it and ensure its action plans are vigorously implemented.
Dr Mutunga launched the framework that would ensure fast implementation of the planned reforms with a promise to speed up the changes that would make the Judiciary the “most prestigious, attractive and effective arm of the government”.
The plan is a timely saviour to an administratively forgotten institution that was home to rampant rot.
Ms Shollei showed Powerpoint pictures of the mess in a number of courts across the country, capturing the enormous challenge ahead for the agents of change.
Dr Mutunga said he had personally taken up the Judiciary reform agenda “with pleasure” and would pursue it with utmost conviction.
“As the head of this institution I will do my part to help us realise our transformational objectives,” Dr Mutunga said during the colourful ceremony held at Kenyatta International Conference Centre to launch the strategic plan.
However, he warned the reforms’ naysayers, telling them that the “train had left the station”, therefore, had no choice but to join in their endeavours or die with the old order.
Delivery of justice
To keep the pace of the changes that would rid the institution of the perpetual case backlogs, corruption, intimidation and other evils such as rampant inefficiencies, including defendants’ files missing, the Judiciary has documented a 10-point action plan that would guide it in the implementation.
Firstly, the institution would be decentralised from the top courts to ensure access to and expeditious delivery of justice by all.
The Court of Appeal would be permanently moved to three permanent locations while High Courts would be established in all the 47 counties.
“Justice is not a privilege of a few. We seek to expand access to the expeditious delivery of justice for all Kenyans,” the Chief Justice said.
Secondly, the public would be able to interrogate the Judiciary without intimidation from judicial officers.
The framework proposes open days, judicial marches, public and student visitation programmes, which are all intended to close the gap that has separated the people and the Judiciary for long.
The Chief Justice would also be giving an Annual State of the Judiciary Address.
Another transformative gear adopted by the institution that would place it in on another level is the recognition that the people are the source of judicial authority. They promised not “to talk at the Kenyan public but begin a conversation with them”.
Other significant endeavours include staff development through structured training programmes, sprucing up of the courts’ infrastructure to increase their accessibility, starting the Judiciary Fund to push for financial independence and embracing ICT to dispensing judicial tasks.
The framework would be implemented by a Transformation Secretariat chaired by Justice Joel Ngugi.
Apart from the launch, the Chief Justice also oversaw two vital developments that are part and parcel of the reforms.
On Tuesday last week, he received a commissioned court prototype that would be used as a model in building friendlier courts in future.
The following day he closed a chief magistrates’ workshop at the Kenya Institute of Administration, where he outlined the importance of the framework and also announced the Chief Justice Legal Scholarship, a learning programme for outstanding staff.