In all areas of human endeavor, we must always ask ourselves if there is a better way to do things. As the digital space offers more and more opportunities for efficiency, justice systems should not be left behind in using smart and innovative tools to deliver more efficient justice services. For decades, expensive and inefficient manual systems have been used to classify cases and maintain records in the justice sector. Now, the opportunity to harness the potential of digital tools as part of a broader process of transforming Liberia’s justice system is a reality.
In partnership with UNDP, the Judiciary of Liberia has launched an online Case Management Information System (CMIS) that offers a significant opportunity for systemic change and transformation of the administration of justice. CMIS improves the collection, analysis and use of data, providing fast facts and summary of case information anywhere, anytime.
The system will allow the judiciary to track criminal and civil cases online in real time and measure the case settlement rate. This in turn will enable the judiciary to take appropriate action by assigning additional judicial officers to areas with high caseloads in court cases, high rates of pre-trial detention and prison overcrowding. Additionally, the ability to keep track of all cases will minimize the number of people whose cases slip through the cracks, causing them to be forgotten in jail. The CMIS will eventually guarantee faster processing of applications. A similar system has already been deployed to the Liberian National Police and is operational.
This innovative leap relies on free and adaptable open source software to develop secure platforms aimed at improving the quality and efficiency of service delivery. While harnessing the power of digital technologies, the development and deployment of CMIS considered and sought to overcome the challenges associated with scaling and sustainability in five key aspects.
First, CMIS is country specific and is a good example of leveraging the low cost and adaptability of open source technology solutions to create a system tailored to the needs of the judiciary. In this regard, cases can be downloaded offline, thus ensuring uninterrupted use of the system in remote areas with poor internet connectivity. Offline uploaded cases become active and updated on the system as soon as internet is available. This ensures the use of digital infrastructure at minimal costs, thereby ensuring affordability and accessibility for a low-income country like Liberia.
Second, the system is homemade. It was developed by a Liberian ICT specialist who also knows the local legal terrain and culture. The system developer worked closely with end users to customize CMIS to meet their needs. This means that end users know their systems in detail and can therefore maintain and upgrade them in the future to meet their ever-changing needs. The developer then trained selected court personnel who are rolling out the training to other personnel. In this regard, the judiciary has a modern digital information management system that it can truly call its own.
Third, the development and deployment of CMIS has been incremental and iterative. The process began with the development and deployment of the police system in 2021. Therefore, periodic sessions will be held to learn from each stage of the deployment and improvements made as the implementation progresses. The ultimate goal is to integrate the systems and establish a harmonized case management system for the entire judicial chain.
Fourth, given that new systems often meet resistance, a period of change management must be infused into the implementation to allow staff adaptation. During this period, staff will be encouraged and constantly coached to move from manual applications to digital applications.
Fifth, the system has a monitoring framework that will actively provide feedback to ensure goals are met.
In terms of implications, it can be said that the CMIS will position the judiciary to provide better services to citizens. The CMIS will increase the efficiency of case resolution, reduce the court backlog and process pre-trial detention. In addition, the system will serve to ensure that the judiciary upholds Liberia’s human rights obligations, such as the right to personal liberty and the right to trial within a reasonable time.
CMIS will enable the judiciary to identify the causes and trends of case delays. In this way, all relevant actors, including judicial officers, prosecutors, lawyers, litigants and the police will be held accountable for delays. This will ensure fewer bottlenecks in the processing of cases, thereby reducing the time defendants spend in detention.
As the system is deployed, litigants will be able to access it to monitor their cases, thus improving the accessibility and transparency of justice. This transformation represents an important step as justice seeks to embrace and adapt to the use of digital. technology as a key lever to achieve SDG 16, thus contributing to strong and effective governance and institutional capacity in the justice sector.
Rowland Cole, UNDP Liberia Senior Technical Advisor on Rule of Law