By M.T. Adekilekun, Ph.D.
Long before the global health emergency caused by the corona virus pandemic, the administration of justice in Africa was in deep trouble. Infrastructure inadequacies, dilapidated facilities, corruption, backlog of cases, lack of judicial independence, lack of judicial courage, poor budgetary allocations and lack of information technology (IT) skills especially on the part of judiciary staff among others have slowed down the justice delivery system. Overcoming the above mentioned problems facing the judiciary in Africa was almost becoming a mirage. Then comes the novel coronavirus which the World Health Organization declared a pandemic which has practically locked down access to justice in almost all African countries except those tagged ‘‘urgent matters.’’ The lack of uniformity as to what constitutes ‘‘urgent matters’’ has been left at the mercy and discretion of the heads of courts.
There have been global efforts to design a sustainable global solution to the lack of access to justice triggered by this pandemic. Central to these efforts is the decision of some African countries like Kenya, Nigeria and Uganda to adopt the virtual court proceedings method in order to dispose of their pending and new cases in courts and arbitral institutions. These efforts include filing of court processes, issuing of hearing notices, virtual court sittings, payment of filing fees, delivery of rulings and judgments.
However, inconsistencies in the legal framework, dilapidated state of infrastructure as well as inadequate infrastructure such as power, internet facilities and other necessary information technology equipment in some courts in many African continent will hinder the legal and judicial institutions’ efforts at effectively using remote court proceedings. Although, access to justice and the rule of law are some of the goals and priority areas of the African Union Agenda 2063.
The current challenges being faced by the justice sector are profound on women in light of the societal expectations where women are perpetually subjugated to gendered hierarchies in the scheme of things. In a bid to curb the spread of Covid-19, many countries ordered their citizens to stay at home. Women are at a heightened risk of intimate partner violence, domestic violence and other forms of sexual and gender based violence. Unfortunately, most gender related cases are not considered as part of urgent matters that can be heard expeditiously. It is imperative for the heads of courts to take into account, the gendered nature of the existing laws and administrative practices in all judicial administrative changes. It is intended that the drive for solutions in the justice sector will be inclusive in a way that gender mainstreaming will be appropriately taken care of.
Conclusively, the provision of constant power supply, training of judicial staff on how to deploy information technology (IT) for the use of the courts, upgrading and improving the courts’ infrastructural facilities and improved internet services are suggested ways to improve legal and judicial practices across Africa. The current pandemic should be an opportunity for deep reflection, institutional strategizing and digital planning on how to improve court processes and access to justice for all citizens.
Dr. MT. Adekilekun is a Senior Lecturer and Head of Department of Business Law, Faculty of Law, University of Ilorin, Ilorin-Nigeria Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The views expressed in this entry belong entirely to the author.