Newly-gazetted Magistrates (Civil) Courts Rules, which came into effect on February 1, now allow serving of court documents through electronic means in a move that embraces information communication technology.

Statutory Instrument 11 of 2019 simplifies the rules of the court in wide reforms that will promote access to, and the dispensation of justice, in an evolving environment.

Among other positive developments, the new rules provide for service by telegraph, telefacsimile or electronic mail.

Order 7 of the rules states that service by electronic means should be given the same weight with the usual physical service.

“Any process for service may be transmitted by telegraph, telefacsimile or electronic mail and a telegraphic, telefacsimile or electronic mail copy that is served in any of the ways prescribed in this Order shall be of the same effect as if the original had been so served,” reads part of the new rules.

Legal experts hailed the new development saying it made justice more accessible in the spirit of promoting ease of doing business.

Mr Wellington Pasipanodya of Manase & Manase Legal Practitioners welcomed the development.

He said the new technology will ensure cases are expeditiously dealt with.

“The new rules as well as this provision (electronic service) are a welcome development in line with the international standard of embracing ICT and the digital age.

“Further, this proviso also effectively deals with litigants who try to evade service of process, and those who employ delaying tactics in an effort to frustrate the other party.”

However, Mr Pasipanodya said those in rural communities where there is no access to Internet, may not fully benefit from the new provision.

“The downside is that of the rural folk and marginalised groups who have no access to data services. Some areas have poor transmission and people from such places can also witness a drastic increase in default judgments, which can have an adverse effect to the gains envisaged by this provisions,” he said.

Mr Gwinyai Shumba of Madotsa & Partners Legal Practitioners hailed the country’s justice system for moving with the times.

“Embracing technology has the advantage of expediting court process thereby ensuring access to justice in line with the 2013 Constitution,” he said.

Another legal expert Mrs Tambudzai Gonese-Manjonjo, who is based in South Africa, described the development as a progressive move.

However, Mrs Gonese-Manjonjo said measures must be put in place to avoid fraud in the service of the documents electronically.

“It is progressive and in line with emerging trends. They just have to make sure safeguards are in place to mitigate against fraud,” she said.

Meanwhile, the test-run on the feasibility of the introduction of the electronic case management system was a success and the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) is now working on the implementation of the system countrywide.

JSC will now implement the project to ensure every court station has an electronic system which tracks all the papers from the time of filing up to the completion of the case.

The tracking system also reduces cases of corruption and problems associated with disappearance of court records.

The JSC’s dream is to introduce a paperless filing system which is convenient to all litigants and other stakeholders in the justice delivery system.

Addressing legal practitioners and judicial officers at a recent Bar-Bench Colloquium in Victoria Falls, Chief Justice Luke Malaba, who is also JSC chairperson, said he would soon appoint a committee to oversee the implementation of the new system.

“Allow me to advise delegates that the first phase in the JSC’s efforts to introduce an Integrated Electronic case Management System is now complete.

“The committee which was spearheading that process recently submitted its report to me. I will shortly appoint another committee to oversee the implementation of the system,” he said.Herald