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May date for digital case filing at the commercial court

Chief Justice David Maraga is expected to launch the e-filing system next month. FILE PHOTO | NMG
Chief Justice David Maraga is expected to launch the e-filing system next month. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Kenyan litigants will soon start filing their cases in court digitally in an operational shift that is expected to improve the efficiency of the judicial system, enhance accountability and prevent revenue leakage.

Piloting of e-filing platform is underway at Nairobi’s Milimani Courts — the commercial division of the High Court – and it is expected to be ready for official launch in May.

Lawyers filing fresh suits at the division are now required to submit documents through the e-system alongside the physical papers at the registry.

Justice Fredrick Ochieng, who heads the Commercial Division, last week told the lawyers that e-filing is expected to make it easier for all parties to deliver their mandates, and encouraged them to support it.

“We have started piloting (of e-fling) at the commercial division. There are some things that require amendment to the law and rules and we are working on that in consultation with your representatives,” Justice Ochieng said.

Cases are currently filed through delivery of printed documents to the registry for assessment by the court clerks before the required fees are paid at the bank and slips attached to the suit documents for actual filing at the registry.

The Law Society of Kenya (LSK) chairman, Allen Gichuhi, said lawyers are fully behind the digitisation of the court process, noting that the society would partner with the Judiciary to train its members once the programme is officially launched.

Justice Ochieng said the process was at an advanced stage and would take Kenya closer to countries like Rwanda where the courts are fully digitised.

Chief Justice David Maraga is expected to launch the e-filing system next month.

LSK’s position on digitisation of the courts is markedly different from the society’s recent opposition to the digitisation of Land Registry.

Stephen Heleng, the Judiciary’s acting director of ICT, told the Business Daily that the system will allow law firms or individual litigants to create an account they will use to access the system whenever they wanted to file a new document.

The system has a field where a law firm or an individual must fill in their details such as office location, email address, phone number and other details.

Once signed into the system, the user can then upload documents, which are then processed through an inbuilt mechanism that automatically calculates the filing fees that can be paid through the mobile money platform M-Pesa.

When the payment goes through to the Judiciary account at the bank, the system sends a short text message (SMS) to the parties and to the Judiciary cashier indicating that the fee has been paid.

Once the payment is settled, the system then records it and assigns a case number in the event a new case is filed before issuing an electronic receipt.
The registry will also be informed that a new case has been filed.

The system is programmed to eliminate issuing of manual receipts to prevent rogue Judiciary staff from robbing the State of revenue.

Under the current manual filing system, rogue court clerks have issued receipts indicating that a payment has been made when in actual sense nothing has been received.

Last year the Judiciary collected Sh1.972 billion from fines imposed on offenders and fees for various services, down from Sh2.3 billion in 2016, according to the annual State of the Judiciary and Administration of Justice Report 2016/2017.

The Judiciary has gradually embraced digital payment platforms such as M-Pesa, agency and direct banking to eliminate cash transactions, a move that has improved revenue collection and accountability.

Mr Heleng, however, said a number of challenges remain on the road to full digitisation – including amendment of relevant laws and regulations to align them with the new mode of operation.

For example, the law currently only provides for manual service of court documents and no mention of digital service – save for reference to ‘use of appropriate technology’.
Mr Gichuhi said the proposed changes are already before the Rules committee.

Digital service is also complicated by the fact that in most instances parties filing a case have no contacts of the respondents to effect service of the court documents.

Mr Heleng said several options are being explored, including integration of accredited court process servers in the system to serve the respondents.

The system must also be built to allow the public access to court papers, which are by law public documents.

Mr Heleng said in the long term members of the public will access the court documents through the system after signing up, likening it to how the e-citizen platform works but that might involve waiving perusal fees where the standard fees as at now per file is Sh50.

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