Current ICT approaches to enhance Access to Justice in Uganda
Like many countries, Uganda has adopted the use of ICT in most of its sectors through innovative platforms that have advanced the provision of those services ranging from banking, transportation, service delivery, and other online related trade countrywide.
The legal fraternity hasn’t been spared either with the boom and dependence of technology in advancing their mandate. Many government agencies, organizations, law firms, and individual lawyers have employed ICT to make their work easier. We have seen innovative websites, applications, and other tools being developed to enhance and serve the broader communities in a bid to in advocating for human rights and access justice.
The Adoption of ICT in the administration of justice
In preparation for the adoption of ICT in the justice sector, Uganda has since 2011 passed several laws such as the Computer Misuse Act, Electronic Transactions Act to regulate the ICT sector while protecting human rights.
With the embracement of ICT in the Courts of law, the Judicature “Visual–Audio Link” Rules1 were passed to complement the Judicature Act.2 This law aims to provide for evidence submission in court by visual-audio link. This has made it easier for witnesses to give evidence without physically appearing in court. It allows individuals to remotely access to courts of law.
The government in 2019, issued the Integration of ICT processes law3 for Courts of law in a bid to guide the integration of ICT in the court adjudication processes, also to complement the Constitution of Uganda.4
Current ICT Platforms in use
Even before the formal adoption of ICT in Courts, many institutions innovated various tools such as websites and web-based applications that aimed at enhancing justice. This can be seen as hereunder.
The judiciary’s website provides the Court Case Administration System (CCAS), a system to facilitate the registration, maintenance, retrieval, and dissemination of course lists for judicial officers. The judiciary also runs and maintains the Uganda Legal Information Institute (ULII) which reports all cases that have been discharged by courts free of charge.
Other non-government institutions have also played a key role in the advancement of access to justice through innovative platforms to disseminate legal information, link legal aid service providers, track and document human rights violations amongst others.
Several organizations have dedicated their websites to help track and document human rights violations in and around the country. Strategic Response International (SRI) has created a form through their website where a person may report a rights violation in their area. Chapter Four Uganda has a human rights tracker on their website which maps out where specific rights violations are committed.
Barefoot Law has come up to provide the public with free legal information and assistance through the use of ICT and social media.
The Uganda Law Society in its mandate to enhance access to justice recently unveiled its innovation, ‘PULIDAWO‘ a mobile-based application that connects lawyers to the vulnerable people in real-time. In the same spirit, the Association of Women Lawyers in Uganda (FIDA-U) also created a mobile-based Android application to provide legal education and also connect with an immediate staff member to best handle a specific issue.
Another spectacular innovation is the JusticeBot that uses artificial intelligence technology through a full-time chatbot on Facebook Messenger and the organization website. The innovation helps the public cheap and timely access to justice by providing free legal information to legal aid providers.
Achievements in the provision of Access to Justice
These innovations have positively impacted on the administration of justice widespread access to legal materials and information from both the government and non-government institutions.
Many individuals have been able to link to lawyers and other personnel for robust assistance even in the hard to reach areas. There has been the exposure of gross human rights abuses and in many instances, the perpetrators have been brought to account.
Uganda not a highly digitalized country in terms of access to the internet, many deserving individuals have not been able to use these innovations. Even with the internet accessibility challenges, the current internet prices are high which makes it unaffordable for the people at grassroots with low incomes. The Daily Monitor5 reported that Uganda has the highest internet prices in East Africa as per research conducted by the regulator, the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC).
As for the Judiciary, they continue to face resistance to change towards the adoption of ICT by most of its officers preferring to use the old system in the delivery of justice.
With the societal changes due to Covid19, the justice sector must embrace ICT to enhance its functionality and improve access to justice. to address the security and privacy concerns, it must be addressed by creating the legal framework under which the data continues to be transmitted and protected.
The government needs to further fund the judiciary and all courts of law to capacitate it to handle cases using Visual – Audio Links in all major courts of law.
The private sector must, in turn, continue to sensitize the public on the adoption of their innovative platforms as they push their agenda in promoting and protecting human rights for every person.
All in all, the attempt of the government to digitize the justice sector comes at a time when many organizations and agencies have developed innovative ways hence they need to reconcile these efforts to enhance access to justice for all.
1 The Judicature “Visual–Audio Link” Rules 2016 (SI 26 of 2016)
2 Section 41(1) and (2) (y) of the Judicature Act
3 the Constitution (Integration of ICT into Adjudication Processes for Courts of Judicature) (Practice) Directions
4 Article 133 (1)(b) of the 1995 Constitution of the Republic of Uganda