Court digitisation – the future is here

April 1st, 2021
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At the beginning of 2020, the Gauteng Division and Gauteng Local Division of the High Court, Pretoria and Johannesburg implemented a digital/electronic case management and litigation system, named CaseLines. The aim of the case management system is to enable litigants to file and upload pleadings and other documents electronically and to present their case and argument during court proceedings. The implementation of the system was apt and timely as the world was hit by a pandemic that insisted on limited human contact (see Mapula Sedutla ‘CaseLines: Electronic case management system implemented’ 2020 (Jan/Feb) DR 3).

I spoke to Executive Committee member of the Johannesburg Attorneys Association, attorney Yusuf Wadee, about how legal practitioners have been finding their feet using the electronic case management system.

Mapula Sedutla (MS): Did CaseLines help during the hard lockdown period?

Yusuf Wadee (YW): In terms of preparing for trials, our firm was able to prepare for High Court trials, Judicial Case Management together with our opponents and experts, by following the practice directive. All the documents were uploaded to CaseLines prior to the hard lockdown, and parties were in a position to continue having virtual pretrial conferences. The preparation for trial by both parties was facilitated by CaseLines, and the ease by which it could be accessed online.

We managed to prepare summons during the hard lockdown, we were able to issue it on 5 May 2020 via CaseLines, and it was sent to the Sheriff for urgent service. Our opponents were invited to CaseLines, and a notice of intention to defend was served electronically, and filed via CaseLines.

Working remotely during the hard lockdown, CaseLines afforded legal practitioners direct access to court files and the information therein, without the need for having their physical files present. This allowed legal practitioners to have virtual consultations with clients, witnesses, experts and counsel.

MS: Was this a great move by the Gauteng Division to implement a digital case management system, considering the direction the world is going digitally?

YW: The advent of CaseLines had changed the face of litigation in 2020. Prior to CaseLines, legal practitioners had to ensure that files were in the correct office before hearings. Legal practitioners are always faced with the possibility of court files not being before the judge, or in the incorrect court. Legal practitioners would spend hours searching for court files to have matters set down, and in some instances where court files could not be obtained, had to search for files on five separate days and once the search failed, were only then entitled to apply for duplicate files to be opened.

These challenges became a thing of the past, as all parties including the judiciary have electronic access to the court file. A digital case management platform in South Africa is much needed, and the implementation of CaseLines has saved legal practitioners time spent at court searching for files, obtaining court orders and filing documents. There are no longer any files that are misplaced, as all parties are immediately notified of any additions, alterations and if any court orders are uploaded.

With the pandemic, CaseLines has proved to be an extremely useful system. It is an efficient system of filing documents and is an easy online tool to utilise.

MS: What challenges have attorneys encountered while using the system?

YW: Training was offered on CaseLines, and the legal practitioners who had attended such training did not experience much difficulty. Attorneys’ associations have received various feedback from their members, who had had teething problems (due to lack of training or misunderstanding the CaseLines system), which included –

  • invitations to CaseLines by the Registrar (this was resolved);
  • creation of new cases;
  • network problems at court;
  • invitation to the correct Registrars;
  • invitation to the judges’ secretaries;
  • legal practitioners not receiving notes by Registrars; and
  • delays in obtaining court dates.

These issues were then resolved by allowing plaintiffs and applicants the power to create their own case on the CaseLines platform.

MS: In your view, what improvements can be made on the system?

YW: The implementation of CaseLines is all thanks to the vision of Judge President Dunstan Mlambo. Judge President Mlambo has been at the forefront with the profession (attorneys’ associations and advocate groups) in resolving any problems that legal practitioners faced. He ensured that all legal practitioners’ problems were resolved either via CaseLines or practice directives. This added to the efficiency of the courts and case flow management. This became invaluable during the pandemic and the courts in Gauteng, were efficient under these difficult circumstances. In my view, this protected the safety of legal practitioners, the judiciary, Registrars and court staff. The system is working well and at this stage does not need any further improvements.

CaseLines is only one module of the soon to be implemented envisaged digital system, an end-to-end e-filing, digital case management and evidence management system has since been developed to replace the paper-based system. For an overview of the system, refer to www.LSSA.org.za.

During 2019, the Office of the Chief Justice (OCJ) approached the Law Society of South Africa (LSSA) to discuss a joint venture between the two organisations that would assist in educating practitioners on the court e-filing (Court Online) project. During a meeting between the LSSA and the OCJ, on 5 March 2021, the OCJ explained that the launch of the Court Online platform is drawing near and that legal practitioners are an integral part of the platform. For more information on the Court Online project see: www.judiciary.org.za.

The Uniform Rules of Court do not make provision for Court Online. However, the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development had been developing rules, which the Rules Board for Courts of Law has invited legal practitioners to comment on. The links to the proposed rules are as follows –

Comments must be submitted on or before Friday, 14 May 2021 and may be delivered to the Secretariat of the Rules Board in any of the following ways –

  • by hand delivery to the offices of the Secretariat, 2nd Floor, East Tower, Centre Walk, 266 Pretorius Street, Pretoria;
  • by e-mail to Ms C Kemp at ChKemp@justice.gov.za; or
  • by post to PO Box 13106, The Tramshed 0126.

Inquiries may also be directed to Ms Kemp at (012) 326 8014.

This article was first published in De Rebus in 2021 (April) DR 3.

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