Tanzanian judges: nowhere to hide under-performance

A new electronic system intended to promote citizens’ rights to access justice and introduced in Tanzania a few months ago, will allow anyone to read decisions almost immediately after delivery. The country’s Chief Justice explained how the system worked to newly-appointed judges at the start of their induction training in Dar Es Salaam this week. In addition to e-filing, the new system will see judgments loaded onto TanzLII immediately they have been handed down.

Tanzania’s judicial leadership has found a new way of keeping up to date with decisions by all members of the bench. As part of a commitment to using technology for improving court efficiency, all judgments will be loaded into the Tanzania Legal Information Institute – TanzLII – section of Tanzania’s judiciary website, immediately they are delivered. That means decisions of Tanzania’s judges will be freely available to the public as well as to judicial leaders for performance appraisal, virtually as they are handed down.

The Chief Justice of Tanzania, Ibrahim Hamis Juma, explained this system at the start of a training programme for 12 new high court judges this week.

Performance

He said an electronic e-filing system had been launched earlier this year as part of Tanzania’s commitment to use technology for improving court efficiency, integrity, quality and access. A spin-off of the new system, begun nine months ago, is that judicial leaders are able to follow up on the performance of judges via the electronic ‘Judicial Statistical Dashboard System’, commonly referred to as JSDS2.

Chief Justice Juma said JSDS2 was a crucial working tool for members of the bench and it allowed ‘the status and trend of cases assigned to each one of you (to be) traced’.

No crevice to hide

Using JSDS2 and TanzLII leaders of the judiciary will be able to ‘keep up with your judicial activities and results of your judicial work’. They would have constant information about ‘what you should do, but … are not doing’ and could also easily access individual case information.

He added, ‘I would like to invite you to this judicial life of transparency, efficiency and under constant follow-ups and evaluations of performance. Under JSDS2 there will be no crevice to hide non-performance or under-performance.’

Improper influence

The CJ began by reminding his audience of the proper relationship between the three powers of the state and of the duty shared by the executive and legislature to defend the independence of the judiciary and ensure it is properly funded.

He also stressed the need for judicial independence and said judges are ‘expected to be imbued with strong consciences to guard against any improper influences.’ The judiciary could only be independent if its members were ‘fearlessly impartial’.

‘It will be (your) day to day duty to ensure that everyone, including the Executive and the Legislature, are subject to laws … are guided by the rule of law and respect for basic rights and fundamental freedoms.’

Families

‘You must remain free from the influence of bias or prejudice even from members of your families or even from your brother and sister judges.’

He took the audience through the principles of when recusal would or would not be appropriate – a problem area in a number of countries in the region – and referred them to decisions where they would find help in deciding whether they qualified to hear a matter or would need to stand down.

‘Personal factors should not interfere with your duty to maintain impartiality. Personal values, beliefs, personal motivations, must never be allowed to get into your proceedings and into the decisions you will make as judges. You must very quickly learn the subtle but effective ways to stave off pressures from others judge, from more senior judges or from your legal assistants.’

Hidden

‘Your personal albeit hidden political ideology, personal philosophy and career backgrounds must never make you partial.’

Crucial though these issues are, it was his introduction of the electronic system now used by the courts and the judiciary of Tanzania that set his comments apart.

Explaining the significance of the new system, he said it was part of a strategic plan, supported by the Tanzanian government and the World Bank, to ensure ‘citizen-centric justice delivery’. It enabled the judiciary to ensure that all Tanzanians, no matter how far from urban centres, could ‘get access to justice delivered by the courts.’

‘Access to effective legal rights and justice are a necessity for everyone, including the poor who live in squatter urban settlements, and the people who live in far off rural areas.’