By Hon. Rizine Mzikamanda SC-Chief Justice of Malawi and Fenella Frost- UNDP Malawi Resident Representative

May 2, 2024

The current global climate of rapid change creates opportunities for innovation. Digital transformation provides an important opportunity to drive and accelerate inclusive change.  Judiciaries around the world should not be left behind and e-justice has become a tool for enhanced service delivery. As e-courts gain momentum as a modern tool to streamline judicial service delivery, UNDP and the Judiciary of Malawi entered into a strategic partnership to modernize and make the justice system more accessible to people who rely on it when they are most vulnerable. Gone are the days when court rooms are confined to conventional spaces. E-courts provide digital spaces to facilitate court hearings, the filing of documents, scheduling of hearings, and communication between parties involved in a case. This increases access to justice especially for persons in remote areas. E-courts can significantly improve efficiency, accessibility, and transparency in the justice system of Malawi. For instance, a similar UNDP partnership on digital transformation in Rwanda has created meaningful impact in the justice system in that country. In this regard, the establishment of e-courts in Rwandan has contributed to increased transparency and the reduction of case backlog, with the court disposing of 624 cases in 2022 alone.

One of the most significant advantages of e-courts is the potential for cost savings. By eliminating paperwork and physical court appearances, especially in bail hearings, pre-trial conferences, civil litigation, contract disputes, family law cases, administrative hearings and warrant renewals, e-courts can drastically reduce the time and resources spent on traditional court proceedings and save money for both the courts and the appellants but also accelerates the resolution of cases, leading to a more timely and efficient justice system. The replacement of paperwork with digital spaces is also environmentally friendly.

It is important to note that the e-court will provide survivors of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence with a more private and secure environment to share their experiences and participate in court proceedings. Through virtual proceedings, survivors of sexual violence do not have to face their assailants in a court room which can be quire intimidating. This helps to protect survivors from potential re-victimisation and ensures their safety during the legal process. 

Additionally, e-courts can increase accessibility to justice for individuals who may have disability and mobility challenges. The system will also make justice services accessible to remote areas.  For instance, those travelling from Nthalire to attend court in Chitipa, a seven-hour journey will now be able to join proceedings remotely. By enabling remote participation in court proceedings, e-courts can ensure that all individuals have equal access to the legal system, regardless of their circumstances and location.

Moreover, the e-courts can bolster transparency and accountability in the judicial process. By digitising court records and making them readily available online, e-courts can foster increased public scrutiny of court proceedings and decisions. This can play a pivotal role in enhancing trust in the justice system and ensure that judges and other court officials are held accountable for their actions, ultimately benefiting the public.

Of course, we cannot underestimate the challenges and concerns of implementing e-courts, such as data security and privacy issues, digital divide concerns, and the potential for technical glitches. However, with proper safeguards and protocols in place, these challenges can be overcome, and the benefits of e-courts can be fully realised.  UNDP is committed to work with the Government of Malawi to help ensure that these systems are in place.

The Judiciary of Malawi and UNDP have a long history of collaboration and partnership. UNDP is poised to continue providing technical expertise and support to help the Judiciary implement the e-court. By embracing technology and modernising court procedures, we can establish a more efficient, accessible, and transparent justice system that caters to the needs of all individuals. It's high time we embraced the digital transformation of our courts and bring justice closer to the people of Malawi. In this vein, we wish to echo the need for other development partners to join in this worth while partnership as we seek to transform justices in Malawi.