Towards an Efficient, Qualitative Legal System
By Eunice Ruth
Even though the world has adapted to digital mode to fulfil all needs, still some of the sectors have not yet gotten the hang of it. Now however, the COVID-19 pandemic has awakened us to the need for speeding up the digitalisation process within the country, from Justice Ministry to all other sectors.
Digitalisation is not a process of replacing judges, lawyers, or Courts, but assisting them through computer and digital technology. It can minimise time, increase efficiency with improved quality, standardise communication, and prevent misplacement or loss of documents and records.
Memorandum of Understanding
Therefore, in order to digitalise the judicial system of the country, the Ministry of Justice has joined with Information Communication Technology Agency (ICTA) and a Memorandum of Understanding has been signed between them.
The Strategic Communications Specialist of ICTA, T.M.G. Chandrasekara, noted that the automation of the Courts systems in Sri Lanka with digital solutions is a long-felt need and it is expected to commence the project by March and to complete the first phase of the project before the end of 2022. This process will digitalise the entire judicial process including file management system, case recording, record keeping, case file issuance, and online fine payment method. In addition, the privacy and the security of the details will be protected under Lanka Government Cloud.
The Electronic Transaction Act facilitates, electronic filing of any application, petition, written submission or any other document with any Court can be done with this digitisation process and it would result in faster and cheaper access to justice by reducing the obstacles faced by entrepreneurs, Small Medium Entrepreneurs and Corporate sector as well as the citizens.
In this digitalised process, improvements will be made in efficient and effective way to carry court procedures which will facilitate improvement in contract enforcement through fast-track resolving of disputes and through this process the country position in the ‘Doing Business Index’ is expected to improve.
The proposed E-Court solution consist three main systems such as a Filing System, Court Management System (CMS) and Court Recording and Transcription System. The filing system will allow lawyers, legal firms, the public, relevant government agencies to file documents to the courts electronically thorough a designated portal or a counter established at the court premises. The individuals who are unable to file documents via the system have the option of filing cases via the court counter. The system will consists separate pathways for new online case filing, manual case filing, filing of appeals, lawyer reference, filing of other documents, filing cases through the Attorney General’s Department, requesting certified copies and registration of users.
The CMS will ensure to provide timely and organised flow of cases through the court. It promotes processing efficiency and early court control of cases. The master data network is an integral component of the court management system as it contains data of the court locations, court calendars, case types, specific routing paths for each matter types among others. The CMS master data has different categories including court master, work centre master, case master, routing master, resource master, jurisdiction master and production master in order to categories and provide needed information easily for the work process.
The Production Room is used to store all production items related to cases and each court location has a separate production room which should be well monitored. The details of every time a production item is taken out for trial or brought back to the production room should be recorded. The proposed system provides a solution by assigning a barcode to the items. The system will assist in receiving production items, issuing production items, return production goods, release production goods to the accused when case is in progress, request production goods from Lower Courts, release production goods to other courts, disposal of production items and release production items after judgment. Bail Management covers all aspects of the bail process from applying for a bail to the bail being granted or rejected. The applicants can submit the bail application via the system. Other motions relating to bail management can also submitted via the system. Requesting bail appeal, cancelling warrant or detention by surety and requesting bail deposit can be done via this system.
The Public Portal should provide necessary information as well as how the portal should facilitate user registrations. The portal should facilitate to provide solutions to court users, namely the legal firms, public agencies, enforcement agencies, litigants, and interested individuals from the general public. It provides up-to-date information on Court cases via online or self-service at key areas of court premises. According to their user profile stakeholders have different authorizations. The portal will be available in Sinhala, English, Tamil, and would be available 24x7, it should be accessible from anywhere in the world via the internet.
The portal would facilitate to allow the user to view any service information from Courts displayed on the web portal. The portal would allow self-registration along with user ID creation and security questions. The system caters on how the portal should facilitate unsuccessful logins, termination of login sessions and password changes.
Present system is ancient
Attorney-at-Law Ruwantha Cooray explained that the system which was followed by Sri Lankan judiciary is 150 years old and all the steps were done manually with loads of paper work. However, along with the current trend of using digital technology due to the COVID-19, updating of the Judiciary system is also very important to carry the Court proceedings without further delays.
He said, the documents of the old case files will be scanned and updated in the new system which can be easily accessed by lawyers and court staff for case details and in case of emergencies. In addition, all the courts of Sri Lanka will be connected in this system. With the introduction of the digitalised system, the case filing and other proceedings will be carried out on digital platforms and it is also expected to develop this system further with remote hearing system in the future for the hearing of the cases.