29 June 2021 - NW1644
Msimang, Prof CT to ask the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services
Given current successes on the implementation of virtual courts and the opportunities offered by technological advancements in enhancing access to justice through a hybrid system of courts involving physical and virtual courts, what support does the Government intend to offer the judiciary, within the lawful bounds of the separation of powers, in enhancing its modernisation to cater for virtual courts in a post-pandemic era?
The Department is in a process of finalising technical integration designs and procuring a court audio visual solution that will be used for court participant’s interviews and testimony in cases where direct contact is not feasible or very expensive, as well as in cases where expert witnesses are required in court. This will also allow victims and witnesses to easily get in touch and communicate with the CJS practitioners that are responsible for their case. This includes Interpreters, Witnesses, SAPS & DHA Laboratory Experts, Sexual Offence Facilitation and External Experts. This is initially related to virtual court appearances integrating to court recording solution for the court record, however it will be expanded to cater for virtual courts eliminating the physical appearance of all parties in courts and the adjudication of the case online.
The current Annual Performance Plan target for the Court Audio Visual Solution is the implementation of 45 identified sites for the current financial year.
a) As part of the digital transformation of courts and court processes, the Office of the Chief Justice (OCJ) in the spirit of the modernization approach has leveraged digital and virtual opportunities to ensure efficiency and continuity in court services and led by the Judiciary is in the process of developing and implementing Court Online, an advanced cloud-based collaboration solution aimed at providing a platform for the filing of court documents electronically (E-Filing) over the Internet from anywhere. Court Online is an E-Filing, Digital Case Management and Evidence Management system for the High Courts of South Africa. It provides Law Practitioners with the opportunity to file documentation electronically online anywhere and anytime without being physically present at court. It also affords Law Practitioners the ease of managing their court appearance diaries and court evidence instantaneously online.
Within the court room and chambers, Judges shall make use of the Court Online system to adjudicate disputes electronically. Office of the Chief Justice has partially implemented the Court Online system in the Gauteng Division of the High Court. Case-Lines as a stand-alone solution for evidence management was successfully piloted in these courts. The aim is to roll-out this electronic platform to other service centres during the Medium Term Strategic Framework (MTSF) period.
b) Provision for virtual hearings have further been made in the Directives issued by the Heads of Court/Judges President in line with the Superior Courts Act, 2013.
c) The Draft Court Online (E-Filing) Court Rules, drafted by the Judiciary and supported by the Office of the Chief Justice, are currently before the Rules Board. These rules will institutionalize Court Online (E-Filing) and are a major step in the digital transformation of courts and court processes.
d) The Office of the Chief Justice has further provided Judges and officials with ICT solutions to enable the courts to operate virtually. Amongst others, these measures included the provision of enhanced end user equipment, increased bandwidth for internet as well as increased data access.
e) Licenses have been provided for modern enterprise video communications/video conferencing platforms such as MS Teams or Zoom, along with concomitant storage space for the recording of proceedings, to enable virtual hearings to be conducted at the Superior Courts.
f) To improve network access, Wi-Fi was expanded at all Superior Courts.
g) All Constitutional Court hearings are currently livestreamed on the Judiciary YouTube channels.
h) In order to assist with readiness for digital transformation and improved service delivery, the Office of the Chief Justice is implementing the ICT Infrastructure Refresh Project, which would focus on the replacement of old hardware infrastructure. It is further supported by the recently installed Uninterrupted Power Supply (UPS) systems which ensures continuous availability of ICT systems and virtual platforms during power interruptions.