Parliamentary Committee Slams Electronic Case Management System

Criticism Mounts as Accessibility and Fairness Concerns Plague IECMS Implementation

by Ikeoluwa Ogungbangbe
Zimbabwe online justice system

The Parliamentary Legal Committee (PLC) has issued a scathing report on the Judicial Service Commission’s (JSC) Integrated Electronic Case Management System (IECMS), expressing concerns over its adverse impact on public access to justice.

In its report released earlier this week, the PLC criticized Statutory Instrument 153 of 2023, which introduced the IECMS, stating that the current implementation of the system hinders the general public from accessing justice. The committee highlighted the disparity in internet access, particularly in rural areas where the majority of the population resides, rendering the online platform inaccessible to many Zimbabweans.

Chairman of the PLC, Ndudzo, emphasized that the absence of public participation in legal proceedings undermines the democratic principles of fair hearings. He pointed out that not all citizens possess the necessary electronic devices or internet connectivity to utilize the IECMS effectively, thereby excluding a significant portion of the population from accessing justice.

Moreover, the PLC raised concerns about language barriers, noting that the IECMS operates primarily in English, which may pose difficulties for individuals who are not proficient in the language. This, according to Ndudzo, violates Section 6 of the Constitution, which mandates equitable treatment of all officially recognized languages in Zimbabwe.

The adverse impact of the IECMS on self-actors, particularly in bail applications, was also highlighted by the committee. Many citizens in remote areas lack access to smartphones or internet connectivity required for electronic filing, leading to a direct infringement of their right to liberty as enshrined in Section 49 of the Constitution.

Furthermore, the PLC expressed dissatisfaction with the efficiency of justice delivery under the IECMS, citing delays caused by inadequate internet connectivity and power outages. Virtual hearings, according to Ndudzo, often take longer than physical hearings, exacerbating the challenges faced by litigants and further impeding access to justice.

The committee’s verdict follows a complaint filed by Alpha Media Holdings (AMH) senior court reporter, Desmond Chingarande, regarding the limitations imposed by the JSC’s online system on media access to court proceedings and documents. The PLC’s report outlines the urgent need for reforms to address the deficiencies of the IECMS and ensure equitable access to justice for all Zimbabweans.

The PLC’s findings are expected to prompt discussions within the legal community and among policymakers regarding potential revisions to the IECMS to address the identified shortcomings. As Zimbabwe strives to uphold the rule of law and safeguard fundamental rights, the effective functioning of the judicial system remains paramount, necessitating careful consideration of the PLC’s recommendations for reform.

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