Plans to take South Africa’s courts and legal services online

 ·18 May 2022

The Department of Justice and Correctional Services says it is rolling out four digital pilot projects nationally this year – with four additional projects in the pipeline to digitise and modernise South Africa’s judiciary.

Addressing parliament in his budget vote on Wednesday (18 May), justice minister Ronald Lamola said that four online justice services projects that were piloted over the last year proved to be successful, with the intent now to roll them out nationally in the current financial year.

The projects include:

  • The Maintenance Online Services were piloted at the Family Court in Point Durban.
  • The Trusts Online Services solution enables the online registration and submission of documents in respect of new Trusts applications. This solution was piloted at the Masters’ Office: Pretoria, with identified, trusted agents that utilised the online portal.
  • Deceased Estates Online Services, which enables the online registration and submission of documents in respect of new Deceased Estates, at the Masters’ Office: Pretoria. Phase 1 of this solution will be rolled out nationally during this financial year by the Office of the Master.
  • The State Attorneys Management System entails features that will include the case management component of the solution to enable the end-to-end management and tracking of state attorney cases and files.

“All these will be rolled out nationally during this financial year,” Lamola said.

In addition to these services, the minister said that his department will be working to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the South African criminal justice process through the Integrated Justice System, which has four more modernisation initiatives planned for the year.

  • Criminal Justice System e-Documents and Forms (Justice Forms)

This initiative focuses on reviewing processes to eliminate forms that are made redundant by the electronic exchange of information between Criminal Justice System departments, as well as the digitisation of all documents and certificates that remain necessary.

  • Phase 2 of the Court Audio Visual Solution for case participants

This will be a video conferencing and video-ID verification facility to be used for witnesses/victims’ interviews and testimony in cases where direct contact is not feasible or very expensive, as well as in cases where expert witnesses are required in court.

In cases where the public cannot afford the cost of data or does not have the smart devices needed to connect to the Court Dial-in facility, these services will be made available at local government offices for use based on the arrangement.

  • E-Scheduling and Messaging for Courts

This is a court information management and sharing system that allows for the tracking of court dates, court process start times, arrival and checking-in of witnesses, victims, the accused, defence lawyers and prosecutors.

This system will facilitate the scheduling and communication of court decisions (e.g., postponements and new dates). The solution was developed and tested and subsequently rolled into production. The pilot commenced at the Bronkhorstspruit and Cullinan magistrates’ courts.

  • Integrated Bail Payment Processing and Release Management (Pay-Bail-Anywhere)

The Integrated Bail Payment Processing and Release Management solution will, once it is fully developed and operational, enable lawyers/ family members of the accused to “pay bail anywhere”.

Lamola said that the department will also focus on bringing legislation up to date to meet more modern standards.

“In this financial year, we will be working on 18 bills that will transform our policy trajectory. This includes the RICA bill that will provide additional oversight mechanisms and bring it up to date with the latest technological advancement,” he said.

The Regulation of Interception of Communications and Provision of Communication-Related Information Act (RICA) was found by the Constitutional Court to be unconstitutional in 2021. The court said that the legislation was unconstitutional in that it fails to provide adequate safeguards to ‘protect the right to privacy, as buttressed by the rights to freedom of expression and the media, access to courts and a fair trial’.

The ruling came after journalist Sam Sole – who had been the subject of state surveillance – and the Amabhungane Centre for Investigate Journalism applied to challenge the Act’s constitutionality.

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