Best Practices and Approaches to Judicial Digital Transformation: Zimbabwe IECMS Case Study
Originally published in VOLUME 15; FALL 2023 | The Court Administrator,
Official publication of the International Association for Court Administration
By: Shamiso Muserere and Adam Watson
The introduction of the Integrated Electronic Case Management (IECMS) for the Judiciary of Zimbabwe has been a transformational journey. The Judicial Services Commission (JSC) faced immediate challenges in the design and development phase, as interaction with the developers had to be done entirely remotely due to the pandemic. However, the introduction of the system and early launch of online hearings was well received by both the Judiciary and the Law Society. The change management process to promote system adoption was driven by a concerted effort to apply lessons learned from similar projects, specifically in Rwanda. As a result, the IECMS has improved access to justice by allowing judicial proceedings to continue when they would have otherwise been interrupted. The Judiciary is now more accessible, efficient, and resilient against future shocks, and is eager to contribute to the growing international body of knowledge on justice sector change management and court automation.
Preparation for Digital Transformation
Prior to the IECMS, case tracking for the Judiciary of Zimbabwe was predominantly manual and paper based. There was a legacy case tracking system for scanning and attaching case files post-factum, but the system did not support automation and was never rolled out nationally. Without e-filing functionality, litigants were still required to file documents, attend hearings, and pay fees in-person. Documents could easily be lost, and a single report could take a week to prepare. Compounding these challenges were pandemic closures and the corresponding backlogs. Inmates and prisoners’ cases had to be remanded, and lawyers were stuck at home and could not work for several months.
The National Development Strategy 2021-2025 (NDS1) and the Judicial Service Commission Strategic Plan (2021-2025) both included a goal to automate the justice sector by 2025. The Chief Justice and JSC Secretary demonstrated strong political will and ownership in driving the design and procurement of the new system. While officially opening the 2021 legal year, Zimbabwe’s Chief Justice Hon. Luke Malaba noted that, “Courts could not afford to lag behind in harnessing the potential of ICT in ensuring that access to justice is not disrupted.”
The overall objective of the IECMS project was to implement a software solution that would integrate the Constitutional Court, Supreme Court, Commercial Court, High Court, Labor Court, Administrative Court, Magistrates Court, and Sheriff of the High Court under one IT umbrella and automate and track all aspects of a case life cycle from initial filing through disposition and appeal. The IECMS software vendor, Synergy International Systems, Inc. was selected because of the flexibility of their eCase platform and the company’s extensive regional experience, including national level systems in Rwanda and Uganda. This experience included the critical best practices and lessons learned from rolling out similar systems in both countries, which were eagerly applied by the JSC.