17 July 2017

Rwanda's Electronic Case Management System and SDG

opinion

On July 11, 2017, Rwanda was ranked among top 10 countries in sub-Saharan Africa that are on progress towards attaining the UN-backed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030 while, on July 13, 2017, the country received the 'Top Ten Tech Solutions Award' for innovation of Integrated Electronic Case Management System (IECMS).

As posted on the Ministry of Justice website, this award is typically given to a high-performing court that engages many tools, especially ICT, to operate efficiently and effectively in conducting the business of the judiciary.

The IECMS is a single system conceived, designed, developed and deployed by the Ministry of Justice between 2014 and 2016 to enable automated integration between law enforcement agencies.

This system is part of e-Government milestone. In particular, IECMS is E-justice, which is defined as the use of technology, information and communication to improve access by citizens to justice and effective judicial action, which consists of dispute settlement or the imposition of criminal sanctions.

As noted previously in this column, the use of IECMS is a paradigm shift from classic way of instituting lawsuits as well as making submissions without being physically at the seat of the Court. Using information communication technologies in the judicial system embraces the value of quick service delivery highly desirable in a digital society.

Turning to the said ranking in the implementation of the SDGs, they provide a report card for tracking SDG progress and ensuring accountability. Of course, Rwanda's path to SDGs could be seen in a number of aspects, but this time I want to relate it to the use of IECMS that is well aligned with SDG 16.

It requires to "promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels".

This goal is surely at the very heart of the quest for sustainable and inclusive growth. IECMS easily enables access to effective forms of justice if citizens are blocked from obtaining an education, discriminated against at work, or deprived of their right to health care, or any other forms of human rights violations.

Undoubtedly, justice systems are there to protect the vulnerable from abuse and exploitation, resolve disputes, and foster participation in just societies.

Broadly speaking, SDG 16 encompasses four aspects: articulates the important link between achieving access to justice and improvements in inclusive economic growth; highlights good examples of how countries are implementing access to justice policies; garners support for innovative policies to achieve SDG target through effective national access to justice strategies; and access to justice as a driver of inclusive growth and development.

Improved justice service delivery is critical for inclusive growth and reducing inequality. Effective access to justice spurs economic development by helping create equal opportunities for all.

The use of technology in access to justice, as well as being a central element of SDG 16, is crucial to implementing many of the other SDGs. Access to justice without integrating ICT remains traditional and cumbersome in terms of costs and time-wasting.

Today, effective access isn't measured in the classic way of doling out justice, but in a way that is contemporaneous with modern era [internet age]. So effective access to justice services, that are integrated in ICT, is a crucial determinant of inclusive growth, citizen well-being and sound public administration.

Equally, the rule of law, security and justice influence economic performance, and business and investment climate can only be improved by harnessing digitalisation. The use of technology in justice increases the quantity and quality of legal services available. And such services can be administered and accessed remotely.

Technology isn't, however, a guiding principle to determine the case but is a means to expedite the process.

It is also essential to realise that the use of technology in justice provides solutions to improve not just access to justice, but also the appropriateness and neutrality of substantive outcomes. It is critical that legal work be done thoughtfully and comprehensively and that litigants are encouraged to get additional help to understand concepts and review their documents prior to submitting them to court.

In general, however, SDGs aren't legally binding, but rather they are principles that reflect determination and will of states in shaping their behaviours towards global common ends.

So, promoting peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, providing access to justice for all and building effective, accountable and inclusive institutions are all levels is indeed at the core of the Agenda 2030.

IECMS isn't the only yardstick to measure promising progress in the implementation of SDGs, but there're numerous e-Government initiatives. In Rwanda's context, the goal of e-Government Master Plan Project was designed to ensure the efficiency and effectiveness of government-to-government (G2G), government-to-citizen (G2C) as well as government-to-business (G2B) processes.

It is important to stress that digital transformation is a driving force of global, innovative, inclusive and sustainable growth and can contribute to reducing inequality and achieving the goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. To this end, Rwanda must strive to bridge digital divides along multiple dimensions, including income, access to justice, age, geography and gender.

The writer is an international law expert.

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