Digital technology: Powering the administration of justice
By Inyene Ibanga
TECHDIGEST – In all societies, the judiciary is an important pillar of the governmental system. It is the organ of government that settles disputes that arise between individuals and groups, or individuals/groups and government.
Comprising courts, the judiciary safeguards the rights of individuals, arbitrates over issues, or interprets and protects a country’s body of laws, while upholding equality and fairness among citizens.
The judiciary has the responsibility to sustain efficiency, effectiveness, and the timely delivery of justice to all members of society, regardless of their statuses.
Digital technology is gradually making an incursion into the judiciary to enhance greater efficiency and convenience in the administration of the justice system by helping to remove some of the limitations in the old way it functioned.
Several manual procedures in courts have been phased out and replaced by digital/electronic processes in North America, Europe, and a few Middle East countries like Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, while China is expected to digitalise its courtrooms by 2025.
The maintenance of court records, filing of pleadings and orders, and the emergence of state-of-the-art courtrooms for the presentation of evidence are important aspects of the judicial system that have been impacted by digital technology.
Nigerians are full of anticipation as they look forward to the eventual commencement of virtual court proceedings in all correctional centres across the federation.
Their expectations are based on the announcement by the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, to the effect that a pilot of the virtual court proceedings will hold in the Kuje Correctional Centre, Abuja this week.
Malami revealed that this strategic initiative by his office, in collaboration with the Presidential Committee on Correctional Reforms and Decongestion, to enable the taking of the evidence of suspects without their physical presence in court is in order to avoid delays in the justice system.
Also, this forms part of steps to the implementation of the Post-COVID-19 Justice Sector Plan of the Federal Government, which is geared towards building lasting reforms in the criminal justice sector in Nigeria.
It is a creditable effort aimed at improving the efficiency and speed of the delivery of justice by leveraging the transformative powers of digital technology to facilitate the ongoing reforms in the administration of justice.
But the reluctance of the justice sector to adopt innovations had contributed to the perception by the masses that access to justice is reserved only for the well-to-do, and influential members of the public.
In recognition of this negative image, the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Mr Isa Pantami had advised the judiciary to deploy artificial intelligence (AI) and other emerging technologies to achieve the speedy dispensation of justice in our courts.
Speaking at a recent seminar on ‘Banking and Related matters for Judges’, Pantami emphasised the need for judges to acquire digital skills and leverage technology to provide efficient and the expeditious delivery of justice to decongest courts, Police stations, and correctional facilities.
“We live in a world that is increasingly integrated with technology, and it is very difficult to separate our online life and offline life, and everything we do is being captured, processed, and stored by these big tech companies. We need to utilise our time to develop new ideas that will improve our court proceedings.
“Before, humans can think and make decisions but today we have systems that can make decisions like the way we do by using available data. Artificial Intelligence has powers, and these powers can be used against or for social justice, criminal justice and many more, so we need to design a system with legal minds that can solve courts challenges”, Pantami advised.
Speaking at a different forum in September, the Director-General of the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), Inuwa Kashifu Abdullahi, had drawn the attention of lawyers to the imperative of adopting AI in their practices
Abdullahi told young lawyers at The Young Wigs Conference in Kano to fashion out ways of using technology to augment and facilitate the seamless analysis of documents, better resource management, and up-to-date levels of customer/client experiences.
He, therefore, challenged the young wigs to explore available opportunities as sources of inspiration to consider innovative ways on how AI could be deployed to boost legal services and help clients accordingly.
The successful implementation of the virtual court proceedings project would require the collective efforts of NITDA, the Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Interior, and other relevant agencies/institutions, as well as civil society organisations.
Adequate digital infrastructure must be developed to ensure the availability of good internet connectivity and wifi, otherwise, the virtual court proceedings will not achieve the desired goal.
Additionally, of greater importance is the need to expose judges and other staff to training on the use of digital technologies to enable them to utilise these tools effectively.
If properly implemented, this innovative deployment of technology, would, to a large extent, reduce the high volume of pending cases, cut trial length, enhance accessibility to judicial services, and significantly improve the pace and quality of justice in Nigeria.
Nigerians are anxiously awaiting the virtual court proceedings to commence because digital justice would offer courts archiving and retrieval systems for searching, analysing, and storing legal documents that would boost efficiency, transparency, save cost and make it easy to access and use information conveniently.
Inyene Ibanga is Managing Editor Techdigest and writes from Wuye District, Abuja.