By Dr. Bakary Kante


Electronic justice or e-justice as we know it is a subset of e-government. E-government is intended for the efficient and effective delivery of government services to its citizens. In the case of e-justice, it is intended for the efficient and effective administration of law and access to justice

The use of e-justice begun with Singapore in the 1990s to cater for some of the country’s case backlogs. Since then numerous other countries around the world have adopting e-justice in their administration of the law and access to justice. The trend of justice institutions adopting the e-justice system was brought about by the significance and potential e-justice can offer in the realm of efficient and effective administration of the law and access to justice. We have witnessed the ever increasing value and significant role of e-justice in recent months during the COVID-19 pandemic where many justice institutions have been encouraged to use e-justice including, e-filing, virtual hearing, and other court related procedures.

A two-hour virtual conference of the Chief Justices of Africa focusing on e-justice was hosted by President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi of the Arab Republic of Egypt on 20 February 2021. The virtual meeting was a preparatory conference to the 5th High-level Conference of the Chief Justices of Africa to be held in Cairo in June 2021. Representation was from 40 countries in Africa. The participants shared experiences about the use of e-justice in their countries. Both positive experiences and challenges facing the countries in the use of e-justice were presented. The challenges will be addressed in much greater depth during the 5th High-level Conference in June 2021. In order to address the challenges of e-justice enabling environments must be created to ensure that the system delivers its intended purpose effectively. Governments, justice institutions, international development partners and other entities working in the realm of access to justice and administration of the law must collaborate to create enabling environments to address the existing challenges. Only then can e-justice have a greater impact.

Positive results of e-justice

As we saw above, Singapore moved into using the e-justice system to rectify the challenges of case backlogs. This resulted in the effective and efficient delivery justice. Other countries who have adopted the e-justice system in later years, for instance, Turkey, Italy and Mexico who shared their national experiences in a 2016 panel discussion organized by that United Nations in New York on the subject matter expressed similar positive results. They all alluded to the fact that e-justice has saved them money and time which contributed to the timely delivery of justice. The timely delivery of justice also means the lesser the case backlogs.

A second contribution of e-justice is that it can contribute to improved accountability and transparency and tends to minimize corruption.

A third contribution of e-justice is that it can be beneficial to the general public. E-justice allows the public to access information much easier thus contributing to the transparency of the judicial system. One can access information and monitor the progress of proceedings, legal databases and judgements which can be an opportunity for public awareness and scrutiny of the judicial system. A progressive and healthy system is one that is objective and open to scrutiny. Objectivity, openness and scrutiny of a system can in turn trigger improvement of the system.

Fourthly, some see the potential of e-justice in achieving social and economic development as expressed by Uganda’s Minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs, Hon. Prof. Ephraim Kamuntu, during an on-line dialogue on the future of e-justice hosted by UNDP in May 2020. He expressed that the transformation of the country and achievement of a middle class-income status are dependent upon a strong judiciary and competitive economy premised on ICTs and innovations.

Challenges faced by e-justice

While e-justice has proven to be beneficial in the administration of law and access to justice it possesses limitations. Those that have been using the system acknowledge that they face hurdles which require constant investment of time and resources for improvement.

A first challenge especially for the African region and many developing countries is the issue of digital divide. Many countries in Africa and the developing world possess inadequate information and communication technology (ICT) infrastructure that hinders citizens to access the e-justice system. E-justice is widely dispersed in the African region and the developing world. For example, figures released by World Internet Stats in March 2020 reveal that internet penetration in Africa varies largely from one country to another. Kenya ranks the top with 87.2% internet accessibility while South Sudan is at the bottom with 7.9 % internet accessibility. The rest of the countries are in between with most ranking below 50 % internet accessibility.

The accessibility challenge can be coupled with issue of ICT illiteracy. Furthermore, from an environmental justice perspective, ICTs and e-justice can be a luxury for many underprivileged and poor people/communities who cannot afford the technology meaning they will miss out on the e-justice system and consequently be denied access to justice. From interviews conducted by the Environmental Justice Project in EU in 2003 – 2004, 97 % of the practitioners and NGOs interviewed in England and Wales mentioned that there is no access to justice in civil cases. While this is true for access to justice in traditional court settings, one can imagine more challenges that can be brought about by the e-justice system when enabling environments are still far from reality.

Another challenge is cyber security issues, protection of information and data and privacy matters still remain challenges that are yet to be addressed when justice institutions move toward the use of e-justice to administer law and access to justice.

Investing in e-justice

During the preparatory virtual conference hosted by the government of Egypt the Chief Justices have come to understand the significance and urgency of the e-justice system. This is especially true during this time of the COVID-19 pandemic when the world is told to avoid physical contact and large gatherings. Some efforts in terms of time and resources have been invested in e-justice but more is yet to be done.

Governments and international development partners including UNDP, the World Bank, UNEP and others should invest in creating enabling environments to ensure that e-justice becomes more accessible, secure and user-friendly. All partners involved should make it a priority to invest time and resources in building e-justice infrastructure, training and building the capacity of administrators of the e-justice system as well as the general public.

UNEP is among those agencies singled out above because of its work generally on environmental rule of law and more specifically on access to information, public participation in decision making and access to justice in environmental matters. These procedural rights of access to information, public participation and access to justice, which UNEP addresses are enshrined in the general principles of law, both soft and hard law. A regional convention that speaks directly to this cause is the Aarush Convention of 1998 (UNECE Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters). The Aarush Convention addresses issues of accountability, transparency and responsiveness concerning environment matters. Furthermore, two soft law instruments, Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration of 1992 and UNEP Bali Guidelines of 2011 are dedicated to these procedural rights. Although soft law instruments are non-legally binding, they impose a very high moral standard on those it is intended for. In addition to its on-going work, it can perhaps consider adding a full programme to e-justice in environmental matters. This programme could be supported by its member states/governing body.