President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo yesterday launched a $97 million e-Justice project, a paperless court system that will comprehensively enhance the nation’s efforts at improving its justice delivery.
Funded by the World Bank, the project seeks to automate the existing manual filing systems within the courts registries, from filing of cases to the execution of court decisions.
It is also designed for the Judiciary to avoid the duplication of suit numbers, high cases processing time, handwritten documentation among others.
Launching the project, the President said social vices and crimes such as vigilantism, bank frauds, cyber frauds, illegal mining, identity thefts, stealing of public funds, bribery and corruption, criminal cartels and criminal behaviour in general, including assaults on and by law enforcement officers, must be dealt with expeditiously with the help of technology.
“The project is attempting to help ensure that the law keeps pace with technology, ending the age-old “missing dockets” phenomenon and endless litigations, which have plagued the efficient delivery of justice in the country for several years,” he added.
He said harnessing the power of technology was critical in maintaining the confidence of the people and shoring up the nation’s reputation that it worked in accordance with the rule of law.
The President said some litigants had felt shortchanged due to the cumbersome nature of the processes involved in filing cases, while others, along the line, had given up on the justice system.
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The President explained that the e-Justice project was providing an electronic platform for process filing, process serving, fee assessment and online payments and automatically assign cases to court and judges.
The paperless court system operates with a minimum human interface, and if what pertains in the recent paperless port system is anything to go by, then greater efficiency is guaranteed in the justice delivery system.
President Akufo-Addo urged all actors connected to the project to strive for excellence and demonstrate integrity in the use of the platform so that anyone, from the judge to lawyers and clients who would use the platform would be confident that justice would always be delivered.
He said the application of technology to the practice of law in the administration of justice would facilitate the nation’s ability to reach its justice delivery goals.
Quoting the mission statement of the Judicial Service of Ghana; “to resolve legal conflict according to law, impartially and efficiently to all persons without fear or favour, affection or ill will”, President Akufo-Addo expressed confidence that the e-Justice system would be one of the surest ways of diligently executing the duties of the Judicial Service.
Fast Track Court
He expressed the hope that the e-Justice project would not suffer the same fate that befell the Fast Track High courts, which he assisted in introducing in his capacity as Attorney-General and Minister of Justice during the Kufuor administration.
He quoted the case of Tsikata versus the Attorney-General, reported in the Ghana Law Report 2001/2002, in which the Supreme Court held on a five/four decision that the concept of the Fast Track High Court was unconstitutional and, therefore, struck it down.
He said it took a successful vigorously argued review application to correct the situation and allowed the modernisation endeavour to proceed.
The President expressed the hope that the e-Justice project would not go down the same road, especially as it was the brainchild of two ladies: the Chief Justice, who was the first pupil of his chamber and the Minister of Information who was also a pupil of his chamber.
The statement by the President drew a loud laughter from the gathering, which included the Supreme, Appeals and High Court judges, lawyers and the members the Judicial Service.
He gave an assurance that the government would soon roll out a programme to tackle some of the infrastructure challenges facing the Judiciary, including dilapidated courtrooms and accommodation for judges.
The Chief Justice, Justice Sophia Akuffo, said the programme had been rolled out in 43 High Courts but would soon be extended to other courts.
She said the Judicial Service was, in collaboration with the World Bank, to ensure that within the next five years the project would be extended to all courts in the country.
She said the project had been crafted in such a way that even old ladies in villages could file court cases and follow the stages of those cases to their conclusion.
Commending on the launch of the e-Justice project, a law lecturer, Mr Justice Srem-Sai, described the project as very progressive, reports Mabel Aku Baneseh.
“It will go a long way to reduce the cost of litigation and cut out the delays that we experience at the courts and thereby increase access to justice, which has been the biggest problem in this country,” he stated.
A law professor based in the United States (US), Professor Kwaku Asare, said the project was good.
He, however, advised that “we must not allow it to go the way of the Fast Track courts. Ultimately, what we need is an increase in the supply of lawyers.
Perhaps, it is time to consider e-Learning for lawyers.”
The Fast Track courts were supposed to adjudicate cases faster, but they missed their essence along the way, as litigation there reverted to the long periods usually associated with the courts.
Prof. Asare said the project had the potential to “fix some of the potholes on the highway of justice, thereby enhancing the speed, fairness and transparency of litigation and trials.”
He added that the e-Justice project could not realise its potential unless it was matched by a substantial increase in the number of lawyers.
An Accra-based legal practitioner, Mr Yaw Oppong, told the Daily Graphic that the e-Justice system was a fantastic innovation that would facilitate expeditious justice delivery.
“It is now up to us lawyers, judges and indeed litigants to, as a matter of urgency, upgrade ourselves or acquire basic knowledge in Information and Communications Technology ( ICT),” he stated.
Mr Oppong added that the digital system would help the nation to make huge savings on the procurement of paper and other stationery.
“It will also enhance the nation’s determination to ensure safe environment consistent with Article 41 (k) of the 1992 Constitution, as less paper will translate to less felling of trees, which is inimical to a healthy environment,” Mr Oppong stated.
He proposed that the project should be extended to other legal instruments such as Wills to enable persons to save them in the clouds on servers of the Judiciary.