Liberia’s Court System Needs to Adopt the New Normal

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The coronavirus pandemic, which began in the city of Wuhan (China) quickly spread throughout the entire world leaving one million dead, and a further eighty million infected.

These numbers are rising daily with devasting effects, not only in terms of people’s health but also with regards to the economy, the state of democracy, and the rule of law.

On March 16, 2020, health authorities in Liberia informed President George Weah that the country recorded its first case of the coronavirus disease, otherwise known as COVID-19.

The head of the Environmental Protection Agency Nathaniel Blama was named patient zero.

In response to the rising number of cases, the government tightened her measures by announcing a state of emergency and a subsequent lockdown.

Like every sector, the court too is having its own fair share of the effects of the corona virus outbreak.

While the judiciary remains open, a regulation was quickly put into place so as to keep the Court safe as it carries out its function.  

Notwithstanding the regulations, it’s even clearer, that this unprecedented public health emergency caused by COVID-19 is poising a serious threat to the dispense of Justice.

Even before the outbreak hit, justice actors were already facing a huge gap between demand and supply of justice services. The courts across the country are barely functioning and jury trial has been suspended.

It is an undeniable fact, COVID-19 will leave a lasting effect on the political, economic and legal spectrums which may also force institutional reforms to confront future challenges, opening the door to new opportunities.

Those reforms may include e-lawyering, electronic filing, use of social media for live streaming in court rooms and etc. so as to avoid too many interactions and lessen the gathering of crowds in the courts.

In more advanced societies, the infrastructure for virtual court sittings came in handy to keep the judicial process going but sadly, our story is the direct opposite.

We have not learnt our lessons in the Justice Delivery System in Liberia and as the second wave of Corona Virus beckons, the Judicial Sector is in for another avoidable partial shutdown.

In the Liberian Judiciary, the use of technology is rarely an option in the Court system, filing before the court is as ancient as the origin of the Common Law Practice.

It requires the lawyer’s presence, which is time consuming, a commodity that is scarce in the legal profession.

A simple process that could be done in a minute takes days because of too many human to human interaction.

The use of technology will help eliminate barriers that could change public perception that the legal system is burdensome and time consuming.

Liberia has had two outbreaks: Ebola and Coronavirus. As such, our institutions including the Judiciary must adopt new ideas for future challenges.  

The use of social media, live streaming of courtroom and electronic filing should be encouraged by our courts, this is more than just adopting to the new normal of coronavirus but catching up with this century.

The E-Filing System will only be effective if we have a good case file Management System which presupposes that all Court documents should be online and accessible virtually.

This article argues for the introduction of this System in all Courts in Liberia to reduce or even eliminate physical contact in the Filing Process.

The Supreme Court has already taken proactive steps by live streaming the opening of the October term of court, as such it shouldn’t be limited to a particular case or based on the choosing of the Supreme Court, rather it should be an option available to the public and lawyers.

New ideas should be encouraged so as to enhance the practice of the legal profession.

For example, law students years back took countless hours looking for cases in books that are rarely available but with the introduction of an online legal education platform that host cases from the Supreme Court, learning law is a bit easier and convenient. 

Truth be told, the gamut of equipment and Infrastructure required to fully integrate virtual conferencing in our court system is huge considering the financial implications of same.

It will be foolhardy for us to think that these propositions are achievable without adequate fundings.

Despite this challenge, our Judiciary enjoys financial autonomy and is generating funds from those who interact with the Court, all that is required is the will power to get things started.

For example, a small fee could be paid by lawyers for maintaining an online filing and case management system which is less expensive and presents an adequate use of time.

International organizations with interest in improving the legal system might step in, all that is required is the readiness to catch up with realities of today’s world. 

Once there is a desire to improve the Court system, funding sources can be solicited to unclog the wheel of progress towards a virtual court system. A better Liberia is possible….

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