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November 19, 2023

Technology and the Courts: ABA ROLI Attends the Southern and Eastern African Chief Justices’ Forum Annual Conference and General Meeting

Group photo of moderators and speakers from the Southern and Eastern African Chief Justices’ Forum Annual Conference.

Group photo of moderators and speakers from the Southern and Eastern African Chief Justices’ Forum Annual Conference.

November 2023.

From October 23—26, 2023, the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative’s (ABA ROLI) Deputy Chief of Party (DCOP) for its Advancing Rights in Southern Africa (ARISA) program, Dr. Makanatsa Makonese, attended the Southern and Eastern African Chief Justices’ Forum (SEACJF) Annual Conference and General Meeting in Arusha, Tanzania. Held under the theme “The Role of National Judiciaries in Dispute Resolution Under the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA): Application of Modern Technologies for High Efficiency in Justice Dispensation,” the Annual Conference and General Meeting was attended by Chief Justices and senior judges of the high and superior courts from Southern and Eastern Africa. 

Since 2018, ABA ROLI's regional work under ARISA has improved the recognition, awareness, and enforcement of human rights across the Southern Africa Development Community region. It has also promoted the protection of the region’s most vulnerable and marginalized groups. The ABA is part of a four-member PROGRESS consortium made up of Freedom House, the Internews, and PACT. This USAID supported program focuses on the following thematic issues: women’s customary land rights; rights of indigenous populations; media freedoms and digital rights; and the rights of human rights defenders as a cross-cutting theme.

At the conference, Dr. Makonese presented during a session on “The Role of Modern Technologies in Dispute Resolution in National Courts, Tribunals, and Other Regional Courts.” She noted the increased uptake and utilization of technology by judiciaries in Southern Africa as part of efforts to modernize court operations. Dr. Makonese also emphasized that while technology has become a necessity to improve efficiency and streamline operations in both national and regional courts, its adoption should not alienate the vulnerable and marginalized from the justice delivery system. Though the narrowing mobile internet gender gap globally could improve technology-facilitated participation of women and other vulnerable groups in justice systems, these developments are not as evident in Southern and Eastern Africa where women, indigenous communities, and people living in rural areas and on the social and economic margins in urban areas still struggle to access internet and other relevant technology due to poverty and discrimination. 

To address some of these challenges, Dr. Makonese made the following proposals to the Chief Justices and Senior Judges:

  • The Southern and Eastern African judiciaries should focus on identifying self-represented individuals who are unfamiliar or uncomfortable with technology and provide them with court-annexed assistance. Court appointed intermediaries should be availed to assist litigants in the use of the technology ahead of and during hearings, and in filing court papers; and

  • To ensure the decentralization of services, judiciaries should establish community centers to provide basic guidance on legal procedures and legal technology to communities. In addition, the use of lower-level courts such as Magistrates’ Courts and community (customary/traditional) courts as hubs for accessing technology, connectivity and filing of court process should be encouraged.

In essence, while the adoption of technology by the courts is inevitable, the courts must ensure that no one is left behind and that access to justice as a fundamental right is not compromised. 

Dr. Makonese’s invitation was likely related to ABA ROLI’s extensive work on digital rights and media freedoms as part of the five-year ARISA program. Highlights include the development of an Alternative SADC Model Law on Computer Crime and Cybercrime, a judicial symposium on internet governance, a litigation surgery on media freedoms and digital rights, and the production of a Bench Book on Computer Crimes and Cybercrimes.

The session Dr. Makonese participated in was chaired by the Chief Justice of the Republic of Mozambique Hon. Justice Adelino Manuel Muchanga. The other panellists were Hon. Justice Said M. Kalunde, Judge of the High Court of Tanzania, Dr. Tabani Moyo, Regional Director (Southern Africa) for the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), and Dr. Justice Alfred Mavedzenge, Law Lecturer at University of Cape Town and Senior Legal Advisor at Africa Judges and Jurists Forum (AJJF).

The materials contained herein represent the opinions of the authors and editors and should not be construed to be those of either the American Bar Association unless adopted pursuant to the bylaws of the Association. Nothing contained herein is to be considered as the rendering of legal advice for specific cases, and readers are responsible for obtaining such advice from their own legal counsel. These materials and any forms and agreements herein are intended for educational and informational purposes only.

Learn more about ABA ROLI’s work across Africa.