Gauteng High Courts on a journey to go paperless

October 21st, 2019
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Judge President of the Gauteng Division of the High Court, Dunstan Mlambo, briefing legal practitioners in Gauteng about the CaseLines platform in Johannesburg on 27 September.

By Kgomotso Ramotsho

Judge President of the Gauteng Division of the High Court, Dunstan Mlambo, invited legal practitioners in Gauteng for a briefing session in Johannesburg on 27 September. At the briefing, Judge President Mlambo told legal practitioners about the plans the judiciary has embarked on to include the use of digital platforms in the High Courts. He introduced CaseLines, which he explained will be in use from the fourth term and added that the Gauteng High Courts will be using the system to work on opposed motions, unopposed motions, special motions and third court motions.

Judge President Mlambo said the South African judiciary still uses manual systems on cases. He pointed out that the manual system was time consuming and there are a number of other challenges faced in the courts – on a daily basis – due to the manual systems. He mentioned that some challenges included long queues in the office of the registrar where legal practitioners are looking for files that they are going to use. He said that on a daily basis the court precinct is crowded and that is why the judiciary has decided to embrace the fourth industrial revolution, by going digital in their High Courts.

Judge President Mlambo said that another challenge with the manual system was that files sometimes disappeared and that there were also instances of fraud taking place. He said: ‘Files will be able to be traced online, the system will also alert us to what happened to the file or who was responsible for the disappearing file’. He pointed out that the aim of CaseLines is to enable the efficiency and effectiveness of court administration by adding value through evidence management in High Courts across South Africa (SA). Judge President Mlambo said they came across CaseLines when it had just been implemented in the United Kingdom. Together, with his team, they looked at the South African environment and decided it would work in SA.

Judge President Mlambo said for CaseLines to work, it is going to take the involvement of the registrars of the court, law firms, legal practitioners and judges. For a case to be heard a legal practitioner will have to apply to the registry and they will then be given a case number. The registrar will create the case on the system, once it has been registered an automated e-mail will be sent to the legal practitioner. The legal practitioner will then have access to their file and will be able to see who is working on the same matter. Legal practitioners can – among themselves – invite one another to work on the case when it is on the system. An opposing legal practitioner can be invited by their colleague or the registrar to view the files. Both legal practitioners will have access to the same case. However, the fact that they are registered on the system does not mean that they will have access to everything in the system.

Judge President Mlambo added that implementing CaseLines, will be adding value by enabling all key role players within the court process to experience similar proceedings and high-quality customer service. ‘We want to ensure quality archiving and record management,’ Judge President Mlambo said. He pointed out that files will be stored on a secure and appropriate cloud storage system. ‘Key to it is that you can create a case on the system, or the registrar will create the case, but we want the legal practitioners to assist us in uploading the cases on the system, it is a very easy process,’ said Judge President Mlambo.

Judge President Mlambo noted that once a case is at the close of pleadings, the judges will be invited to view the case. He added that the digitisation of cases will be implemented in two phases, namely by CaseLines and e-filing. ‘However, we have decided that with our current infrastructure, we should defer from the e-filing component and start with what we currently have. We have a lot of cases on our systems and if we go through the e-filing component, we will be forced to work through two platforms, namely, digital and manual, and that is not user friendly,’ Judge President Mlambo added.

Judge President Mlambo said the judiciary have used a pilot process in Gauteng. In special motion matters some of the judges went on training to hear matters on the CaseLines platform. He added that legal practitioners who took part in this process, embraced it when they realised how easy it was to use CaseLines. He said on that day legal practitioners went to court without carrying files and only relied on their laptops. ‘We have piloted for opposed and unopposed motions and did one Full Court appeal because we want to implement this system in the Supreme Court of Appeal just to see how the system will embrace appeals,’ Judge President Mlambo added.

Judge President Mlambo noted that the pilot results showed that the judiciary can go ahead and implement the system. He said that the pilot process of CaseLines also exposed some gaps that needed to be addressed. ‘In the fourth term we are aiming for the expanded roll out of CaseLines in Gauteng. We want all opposed motions, all special motions, third court motions to be handled through CaseLines. New and current pleading trial matters will continue as usual until the e-filing component is ready in the next three or four months, so that we go fully paperless,’ he said. Judge President Mlambo added that legal practitioners are the key component to CaseLines being successful.

Kgomotso Ramotsho Cert Journ (Boston) Cert Photography (Vega) is the news reporter at De Rebus.