AN AGGRIEVED Zimbabwean woman is suing the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) over its decision compelling litigants to exclusively use its newly introduced Integrated Electronic Case Management System (IECMS), for filing of court processes and conducting hearings in the country’s superior courts.
In the application, which was filed on 18 October 2023 at the Harare High Court, the woman, who is represented by Shadreck Masike of Shomwe and Partners Attorneys, in a matter supported by Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, wants the High Court to declare that the mandatory and exclusive use of the IECMS platform in all superior courts in Zimbabwe for filing pleadings and conducting hearings, violates fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution, which include the right to a fair hearing, the right to access to justice and the right to equal benefit and protection of the law.
In September, JSC advised its stakeholders that all litigation in superior courts will now be done on the IECMS platform and to use this, litigants or users needed gadgets such as laptops, computers, tablets smartphones, adequate and stable internet connectivity and need to be registered on the IECMS platform and to be trained on how to use the IECMS.
The woman, resorted to take legal action against JSC after she failed to institute summons for a decree of divorce at Harare High Court in a matter in which she was a self-actor meaning that she would effectively be kept in a legal marriage which she has lost interest in.
The aggrieved woman was advised by the Registrar of the High Court that all superior courts in Zimbabwe including the High Court no longer accept the physical filling of hardcopy pleadings and instead all filings and hearings were now being done electronically on the IECMS platform.
The woman was told that as a self-actor, she should cause the summons to be issued out through logging onto the IECMS platform, which requires not only a compatible electronic device but a steady access to and connection of internet service as well.
To this end, the woman was directed to the IECMS hub to be assisted, only to experience a crowd of people waiting to be assisted including legal practitioners, whom she was told take precedence and this forced her to leave the High Court without getting the opportunity to be assisted.
Because of this experience at the High Court, the woman argues in her application that she was hamstrung to institute her divorce summons because she does not own a compatible device nor does she have funds to secure a steady supply and connection of internet to pursue her matter to its completion including not being conversant with manoeuvring the IECMS platform.
She argued that her fundamental rights such as the right to a fair hearing enshrined in section 69(2) of the Constitution, the right to access to justice guaranteed in section 69(3) of the Constitution and the right to equal protection and benefit of the law provided in section 56(1) of the Constitution, will be violated if she is forced to make use of a system that appears complicated, expensive and onerous to use.
The woman contended that the exclusive use of the IECMS platform discriminates on who accesses the court on the basis of class and social or economic status, which means that the less privileged and marginalised members of society will find it extremely difficult to access the courts through the JSC’s new system.
She further argued that a virtual court session is not a public trial or hearing and hence falls foul to the provisions of the Constitution.
The Harare woman wants Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Hon. Ziyambi Ziyambi, who together with JSC are cited as respondents in the court application, to be ordered to reinstate the traditional physical filing of pleadings and physical hearings so that it co-exists with the IECMS platform in a manner that will not infringe fundamental human rights.
She also wants the High Court to declare the exclusive use of the IECMS platform in all court processes in the country’s superior courts as unconstitutional as it violates section 69 of the Constitution which guarantees the right to a public trial and public hearing among other fundamental rights.
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights
No. 103 Sam Nujoma Street, Harare, Zimbabwe
Phone: (+263 8677005347, +263 242 764085/705370/708118
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