Opening Remarks by Evelyn Edroma, Policy Advisor, Access to Justice and Human Rights, UNDP Regional Service Centre in Johannesburg
On behalf of the UNDP Regional Office for Eastern and Southern Africa, I welcome you to South Africa. I hope that you had comfortable flights and are settled well in the hotel.
As you know, Africa has taken remarkable strides in promoting rule of law and enhancing access to justice and legal empowerment of citizens. However despite international, continental and national legal instruments which provide the normative basis for rule of law and access to justice, and the establishment of continental, regional and national judicial institutions a lot still has to be done to optimally dispense justice and legal security.
As African countries seek to accelerate economic growth and development, justice for, legal empowerment and security of citizens has become even more important. However the majority of the population is illiterate. Legal awareness is low; laws are often not made available or even simplified and translated for better understanding. Judgments are also not routinely written or published. This is compounded by poor law reporting and limited availability and inaccessibility of legal materials including primary legal information such as laws, judgments/ court decisions and secondary legal information such as legal articles and analysis.
The general public whose knowledge of rights and responsibilities under the law remains low have been adversely affected. Similarly affected are other stakeholders such as judicial officers, the legal profession, the academia, and students whose reliance on legal texts for various purposes is key to their effective functionality. The largely manual court system in which court proceedings and judgments are handwritten, and delays in publication of judgments often limits enforcement of decisions and creates uncertainty in society.
It is within context that rule of law, access to justice and legal empowerment are at the centre of the work of UNDP where the focus is on strengthening justice related policies, enacting laws, building legal and judicial institutional capacities and empowering people. More recently UNDP is embracing technology and ICT to increase knowledge of and access to law and judicial decisions which areessential to a modern legal and judicial system, and consequently constitute one of the basic tenets of the rule of law, an attribute of a transparent and functioning judicial system. It also is an essential element of legal security that encourages investment, which in turn affects overall functioning of investment and trade that is encouraging for inclusive and sustainable development.
As such, we welcome the establishment of AfricanLII and recognize the Southern Africa Litigation Centre as a strategic partner who can assist jurisdictions across Africa to build and sustain internet based law reporting portals. We are convinced that the expansion of AfricanLII is a significant opportunity to develop the capacities of AU and RECs organs and institutions to harness and disseminate the legal information they generate and to link them with national legal information institutes across the continent.
We hope that through our financial and technical support to this meeting, UNDP will facilitate the exchange and sharing of how to make free access to jurisprudence and information across the region. We look forward to the illustrated benefits from pilots in South Africa, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Lesotho, Seychelles and Swaziland, and to interest the AU and RECs institutions and organs such as the African Court, the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, the African Court, the SADC Tribunal, ECOWAS Court and the EAC Court of Justice can be interested in similar initiatives and further be linked to the national LIIs.
We are already aware that African Lii has brought about a “broad shift”- in demystifying law and making legal material instantly accessible online to judges, academia, and publishers. Students are increasingly using the legal materials to study freely through online sources and use of cell phones. The public are reported to be reading the law more and there is increased commentary by the journalists on court judgments.
We are keen for you to have a good understanding of how you can tap the potential of ICT and internet to strengthen your institutional legal information systems to produce and disseminate it freely to the benefit of Africans and beyond. Through UNDP’s regional governance program, we are committed to making the AfricanLII catalytic to strengthening access to regional legal information and to promote the respect for and effectiveness of the Africa legal and judicial system.
Of course there will be challenges. Judicial officers will need to reduce the time it takes them to write, present and publish judgments. Leadership of your institutions will need to pay more attention on how to make your systems more functional by tackling information and case management processes. Policy makers within your institutions will also need to change their biased mindsets and attitudes towards ICT and to embrace digitization of legal information sustainably. UNDP stands ready to support such initiatives which require massive expenditure.
We look forward to the outcome of this meeting and call for your commitment to strengthen your institutions through increased dissemination of legal information for their increased free access.
I wish you fruitful and candid discussions.