Pandemic has catapulted West Africa’s judiciary into age of technology – Court President

The President of the Community Court of Justice, ECOWAS, Honorable Justice Edward Amoako Asante says the Covid-19 pandemic has catapulted the judiciary in the region into the age of technology and advised courts to build on that success to enhance the speedy administration of justice.

“We believe that this can be achieved through careful planning, resource mobilization and training of judges and court staff as Telecommunications and Information Technology (TIT) is obviously the way to go and will be indispensable for the courts in the future,’ the President said in a presentation to a delocalized meeting of the ECOWAS Parliament in Winneba, Ghana.

Traditionally, he said, judicial systems are based on interaction between the judges, court staff, lawyers, litigants and other court users and members of the public which were disrupted by the pandemic which necessitated Protocols that emphasized the avoidance of physical contacts.

Initially, he added, the immediate impact of the  Covid-19 induced lockdowns was closure of court buildings, or courts remaining partially open.

But in order to minimize the impact of the pandemic on the administration of justice, the rule of law and the judicial systems and protect the health and safety of judges, court workers, litigants, court users and the general public, the   courts moved very swiftly to remote delivery of justice through electronic platforms.

Consequently, he said that technology rescued the judicial systems, particularly those of the Community, from the complete disruption of its activities by the pandemic, enabling the Courts to ‘remain open and running while maintaining access to the judicial systems.’

The President, who spoke on the Impact of TIT on judicial operations in Member States of ECOWAS said that through online platforms, lawyers were able to file court processes, a technology that also facilitated the electronic exchange of legal processes, case management and the remote hearing of cases.

As part of the adaptation process, he said the courts adopted enabling guidelines and Practice Directions to align its judicial functions with the requirements of the Protocol.

“Technological solutions in the form of video platforms for the conduct of remote hearings, electronic systems to enable the filing and service of court processes, digital case management and e- signatures have become the new normal in our court systems,’ he added.

The major elements of this TIT dependent system, are video conferencing and other IT solutions, remote hearing of cases, electronic case management, electronic filings, E-Justice, E- Dockets, prioritizing of cases, among others.

The President listed the benefits of the TIT to the judiciary to include the speedy dispensation of justice; cost effectiveness; wider access to justice; increased access to information about court sittings by litigants and the anonymity and comfort it affords to victims and witnesses at risk.

Despite its benefits, Honorable Justice Asante identified the challenges to include poor internet connectivity, digital literacy, the verification of witnesses, the constraints imposed on accused persons in detention from giving evidence, cross examination and the inability of the judges to observe the demeanor of the parties and witnesses.

The five-day meeting, which ended on Saturday, 31st July 2021, was held under the theme The role of Telecommunications and Information Technology (TIT) in achieving regional development, peace and security.

It was hosted by the joint committee on Political Affairs, Peace, Security and African Peer Review Mechanism.