Parliamentarians reverse court e-system – say it violates right to fair hearing

Spread This News

By Staff Reporter

It is no longer mandatory for litigants to electronically file their cases or have proceedings done virtually after the parliament reversed the newly introduced Integrated Electronic Case Management System (IECMS) Statutory Instrument.

This followed a debate by the parliamentary Legal Committee after an uproar over the unfriendliness of the system.

“It cannot be disputed that not everyone in Zimbabwe has access to or owns an electronic gadget that permits them to file electronically. Not forgetting that internet access is strongest in cities. The challenges are culminated by poor internet connections in most parts of Zimbabwe, which are not yet within the ease of reach and convenience of the ordinary citizens.

“Further, it also infringes on the right to a fair hearing as the language of instruction on the IECMS is English, affecting those who do not speak English. This affects the respect of section 6 of the Constitution, which requires the state and all government agencies to ensure that all officially recognised languages are treated equitably,” read the committee’s report.

The debate spilled to parliament after a senior court reporter with Alpha Media Holdings, Desmond Chingarande complained to the Judiciary Services Commission that journalists’ work was being hindered by the new system as they were no longer able to access files or sit in trials.

In a letter written by his lawyer Dr Innocent Maja, Desmond Chingarande said the digital system only limits access to the parties to the dispute and court officials.

In September, JSC advised its stakeholders that all litigation in superior courts will now be done on the IECMS platform.

To use this, litigants or users need gadgets such as laptops, computers, tablets, and smartphones, adequate and stable internet connectivity and need to be registered on the IECMS platform and trained on how to use the IECMS.

Previously, Chingarande said, this used to be possible because journalists would sit in open court and follow proceedings.

But now, accredited journalists are not allowed access to the IECMS system and are also not allowed access to virtual hearings and or trials so that they follow proceedings to cover and report about them.

The court reporter argued that in terms of section 69(1) and (2) of the Constitution, every person has the right to a fair, public hearing and trial and a corollary of the right to a public hearing and trial is the ability of the media to cover the proceedings and have access to court documents.

JSC did not respond to the letter and Chingarande has since filed an application at the High Court challenging the new system.

The case is yet to be heard.

In the adverse report of the Parliamentary Legal Committee on Statutory Instrument 153 of 2023 High Court (Amendment) Rules, the parliamentarians concurred with the journalists noting that work has been slow since the introduction of virtual hearings.

They also noted that the cost of internet services is prohibitive, and requesting every litigant to file on the IECMS is unconstitutional as it excludes most litigants since they cannot afford internet services.

The IECMS also gave power to the Registrar who now has discretion on whether the papers filled are proper or not.

They noted that “the system thus becomes unreliable as the automation requires human input.

They also noted that the IECMS has shut the participation of the public in the proceedings, which affects the democratic nature of fair hearings.

The reversal of the Statutory Instrument came after a local journalist took the JSC to court demanding access to the information which they accused the commission of shutting the doors for them.