Like the saying goes, justice delayed is justice denied, fair, speedy trials are essential for individuals and enterprises embroiled in disputes.
If business disputes take months or even years for courts to resolve, small firms might not have the financial strength to stay in business for a long time, regardless of trial outcomes.
The government of Rwanda in trying to effectively improve efficiency in its judicial system, has introduced a new electronic justice (e-justice) experience called the Integrated Electronic Case Management System (IECMS) system.
The e-justice experience is just one module of what IECMS has to offer.
It is a sector wide system integrating all the five institutions of the Justice sector that include the Rwanda National Police, National Public Prosecution Authority, Judiciary, Civil Litigation, Rwanda Correctional services, the bar association and all citizens who interface with justice institutions.
With the system being the first case management system that integrates all justice sector institutions, the system will allow companies, individuals and other institutions in Rwanda to electronically file criminal, civil, commercial, administrative and social cases.
The E-court model of the E-justice solution will mainly encompass features to help judges, facilitate the filing of cases for litigants and inform litigants about case processes.
The IT business analyst for the judiciary at Supreme Court Niceson Karungi, notes the system that begun operating this year will see all commercial cases and almost half of civil and criminal cases filed electronically.
Savings from the implementation of e-court systems will be substantial and will be a as a result of reduction in the use of paper, transport costs, time spent in court, the need for storage space, as well as easier archiving of documents and general streamlining of processes and services.
According to Karungi, the new system is a suite of services that entails minimum use of paper from the moment a case is filed until its disposal.
With e-courts, information is captured and passed on digitally, data exchange is not fragmented and case histories are complete and ready on demand, case management is automated, correspondence is exchanged electronically, fee payments are dealt with through dedicated websites and forms that simplify and streamline court proceedings are available to court users online.
“Through IECMS, attorneys and litigants can file lawsuits electronically. Lawsuits are automatically registered through the electronic case filing system, registrars can organize and schedule cases and start processing claims. These claims are later assigned to judges who can access the corresponding files, Before introducing this system, judges have been facing challenges such as accessing documents from lower courts, from police and prosecution as well as writing judgments by hand and otherwise dealing with a paper-based system,” she explains.
The Ministry of Justice decided to start streamlining court processes through computerization for efficient processes, increased transparency and better accessibility sought to increase public trust in the judiciary.
This platform will enable internal court users such as clerks and judges to search all cases in the database.
Though it may not be easy to convince court users to change from how they currently work to using the new syste, the new system is efficient, user friendly and has the potential to help judges deal with their caseloads more efficiently.
With the creation of this system, it’s evident that case management will expand and shift from the old paper system to a web-based system (accessible through a web browser), on a computer, tablet and phone.
In addition, electronic signatures and digital certificates (for safety and ease of work) will be added to the system thanks to a nationwide information network immediate national data on court activities will became available, allowing for better resource allocation in courts.
According to data collected for Doing Business 2014, Rwanda and Tanzania are top performers in Sub-Saharan Africa in the ease of enforcing contracts ranking. Contract enforcement is faster in economies with e-filing.
To further streamline procedures, the new system will facilitate payment of all court fees electronically using mobile money or banks at the time of filing.
In addition, users are notified by e-mail or text message of any submission of additional documents by the opposing party.
And after the judge has been assigned cases, the designated judge and the attorneys can view all their cases online at each stage of the case, including PDFs of all documents filed in a given lawsuit.
The public will be able to get fast answers on questions about a judicial case and its processes. One of the most important components of the system is the self-represented litigation homepage on the IECMS, which provides information and templates needed to file a case and respond to claims of counterparties without the help of a certified lawyer.
The system has a home page where litigants can file cases without the help of a lawyer. It has a user manual that shows how to file and follow up cases and how to use the system.
However, on the judiciary website (www.judiciary.gov.rw), there are step by step of how to file a case using IECMS.
TO THE CHIEF REGESTRAR
With the new system, the chief registrar will be able to make follow ups on registrar tasks and automatically make case schedules such as pre-trial, hearing, pronouncements schedule as well as their adjournments.
Also the system has a module similar to an electronic office where by appointments, tasks and follow up of tasks as well as court schedules are done automatically with an online calendar and notifications about the progress of tasks are given. This makes case assignments easier like proposing a judge or assigning a registrar
In addition, all summons and orders are automatically generated and litigants can view them through the system. This means no more need to manually create summons or send them to litigants physically. All court staff can create reports hence no more need to transfer report manually because they are accessible to everyone.
The case management system allows judges to organize their work based on the status of procedures and to separately manage cases for which special measures are needed. The system allows judges to track cases they have disposed and to make informed final determination of the cases.
It also has a scheduling system to organize cases by day, week or month that is integrated with the court registry plus a writing support system with features such as automatic document writing, formatting, and collaborative decision writing of cases. This system automatically creates a draft of the summary of judgment after the relevant case and desired template have been selected.
BENEFITS TO THE COURT STAFF
The system will allow creation and manipulation of Personal tasks, appointments and to do lists and will also work as a reminder of pending tasks.
Again the system will be able to send notifications on proceedings of cases and to create and make report in form of lists, report, bubbles, cascades and charts that can be viewable in one window for easy analysis.
The system makes it easy to share information between justice sector institutions, litigants and court staff.
Furthermore, due to the dynamic nature of the system, it will be easy to set user rights to the system and system administrators can easily add modules in case of change in procedure.
Last but not least, authenticity of data is an added advantage that comes with the system.
TO THE COURTS
E-filing is superior to paper-based filing. IECMS incorporates e-court services that make claim processing faster, more reliable and convenient, minimize courthouse visits and reduce record storage and reproduction costs.
The implementation of Rwanda’s IECMS will result in savings per e-filing. These savings result from a reduction in the use of paper, the time spent in court, cheaper service of process, lower transportation costs, easier transfer and archiving of documents, and easier payment of fees.
Also given that courthouses are expensive storage spaces, eliminating several miles of archives can save a lot of money. A courthouse can cost a lot of money per square foot to construct, and maintenance of many filing cabinets, with the floor space required can be expensive to.
E-filing minimizes the costs of these risks, especially because paper documents can be misfiled, lost or stolen.
Electronic storage reduces these risks. For instance, an e-filing system can improve file security and confidentiality by making it easier to restrict access to case files or documents sealed by court order. In addition, electronic information can be encrypted, providing additional security.
IECMS will also enhance transparency through accurate reporting on authentic real time information. By making judicial decisions more transparent, more trade and investment is likely hence fostering economic growth.
IMPROVING COURT EFFICIENCY
The system allows attorneys and court users to better understand case law and increases legal predictability. Making decisions available to the public online also helps make judges more accountable because anyone can comment on and assess the quality of decisions.
With this system, case information, including docket sheets and filed documents, are provided online for viewing and downloading by attorneys any time and the public can also view judged cases through the judicial website from any locations other than the courthouse.
The E-filing systems can also fight corruption. If formal procedures are streamlined and attorneys are no longer required to file claims in person, there is less traffic in courthouses.
Doing business reforms at the One Stop Center at City of Kigali
So as small and big business emerge and grow, as the service sector attracts investors and taking a better shape, as small-scale industries take on an increasingly important role in the economy, the Rwandan government, through its development arm- Rwanda Development Board (RDB), has positioned itself to make as many reforms as possible where doing business is concerned.
According to Karim Tushabe, the Head of Doing Business unit at RDB, the reforms were done in order to attract more investors as Rwanda drives towards becoming an investment hub in the region.
Opening and starting a business in Rwanda has been made easy because online registration of companies became mandatory and is free of charge.
Today, entrepreneurs submit the company documents and obtain electronic copy of the registration certificate on line.
The dossier is subsequently transferred to RRA and all relevant entities representatives to assign the new company with the identification numbers.
To make doing business easier, the requirement to obtain a TIN certificate from Rwanda Revenue Authority (RRA) and to have a bank account at the time of VAT registration was eliminated.
The resulting impact has been that the procedure to open a business has reduced from 8 to 5 and the time to start a business has reduced from 6.5 to 3.5 days.
Another fundamental reform according to Karim Tushabe, is dealing with Construction Permits whereby the city council has removed the cost of survey plans making the construction permit procedures were reduced from 10 to 5 days
Late last year, a ministerial order establishing a new building code and urban planning code was published in official gazette with the building code and urban planning code as annexes.
The office of the city engineer was created to oversee some of the activities of the OSC. So in order to effectively carry out its duties, engineers and architects at the OSC were accredited by the relevant authorities.
The Director of urban planning and construction at One Stop Center (OSC) at City of Kigali Fred Mugisha, while discussing the streamlined procedures said that all that is needed is to submit an online merged application for construction permit, utilities and EIA to the One Stop Center after which, you request and receive a foundation inspection. This is done is during construction period.
According to Mugisha, the procedures in getting a construction permit were reduced from ten to five in order to promote investment and ease business transactions in the construction industry.
“This has been simplified further that when one requests online and receives a joint and final inspection by relevant authorities coordinated by OSC, the authorities immediately issue you with an occupation permit” he says.
Another advantage is that one can now request and receive water connection, an occupation permit and freehold title using online facility.
Investors can now enjoy the efficient reforms of doing business with the introduction of digital signature on building plans at One Stop Center.
“It no longer requires the client to physically come to our office to get final papers stamped. The process can be done online which will help investors to transact and process the required documents from the convenience of their offices”.
Obtaining occupation permits and freehold titles has reduced from 30 days to only 3 and the permits come free of charge cost as a result of the online filing while the number of days to obtain water connection has reduced from 30 days to 15 days.
There has been a significant reduction in time taken to obtain permits due to streamlined procedures; the total number of days has reduced from 77 to 27 based on the risk category of the project.
Another important and visible accomplishment in the reforms is the reduction in cost by $500 as the survey plan has been removed as a requirement.
“The price of getting a construction permit has been reduced and now ranges between Rwf 20,000 and 60,000 depending on the size of the land and the money is payable via Mobile Money, Airtel Money or Tigo Cash.”
Also the introduction of digital signatures has resulted in the removal of the procedure to obtain physical stamping on building plans at One Stop Center.
Mugisha also insists that there is a notable improvement in the quality of building standards and enhanced efficiency in the OSC.
The codes have put in place clear guidelines for carrying out the construction activities and will contribute greatly to creating efficiency, improved standards and diligence in the construction industry.
“We have established quality controls at different stages of construction by assigning liability to professionals for structural defects in complete buildings and also providing requirements and timelines for obtaining construction permits” he explains
The office of the City engineer which now oversees the activities of One Stop Center will enhance accountability and efficiency in OSC by ensuring the staff reviewing and approving applications and inspections do their work diligently.
The accreditation of OSC staff further enhances construction standards as all approvals will now be done by qualified and professional staff.
Other major reforms that have been established include registering property, getting credit, paying taxes and trading across borders and resolving insolvency.
The introduction of a one day registration of commercial and industrial property in Kigali city has also made doing business easy. The one day registration and obtaining of property transfer has resulted in a reduction of registration time from 28 days to just one day.
A credit scoring product by the private credit reference bureau was implemented from 13th May 2015 and it is accessible online making both Public and Private credit registries increase their coverage.
The credit score system will provide a guide, indicating which clients are low or high risk, a development that will enable lenders to extend loans to borrowers depending on their risk profile. The credit rating will therefore, help banks make informed decisions concerning borrowers and bank clients to bargain for lower loan interest rates.
The result has been that within two weeks after implementation, 152 financial institutions accessed the credit scores. Making the total number of credit scores accessed to 12,359.
Also with implementation of this system on the Credit coverage, the number of individuals and corporates listed in the private credit bureau increased from 1,480,403 in December 2014 to 1,528,611 in May 2015 and the coverage improved from 22.6% in December 2014 to 23.06% in May (28th) 2015.
Paying of taxes has been made easier and more efficient for both the tax payers and the Rwanda Revenue Authority.
E-payment (including mobile payment) is now used by majority of taxpayers to pay taxes and as a result, payment of taxes now takes only one day. This facility has made the tax payment easy in terms of reduction of time and costs involved where the tax payer would take 20 hours for corporate tax, 50 hours for social contribution and 51 hours for VAT filing and paying.
Trading across borders
For cross border trade, the introduction of Single Customs territory is now operational on both Central and Northern corridors and has made doing business a lot easier.
This has resulted in reduction of time and cost of trading across borders. Transit time from Dar es Salaam to Kigali is 86.6 hours approximately 3.6 days on both import and export. Time has been reduced from 26 days to only 3.6 days due to single customs territory initiative.
The law was amended to clearly state restructuring as the preferred outcome of insolvency proceedings and to define the role of the administrator in resolving insolvency. Due to efficiency in court proceedings, the time to resolve insolvency cases has reduced from 230 to less than 100 days
Since then, there has been an increase in number of Insolvency cases undergoing insolvency proceeding, in particular for reorganization, in court.
The amended law will ensure that more companies are reorganized, thereby ensuring higher recovery for creditors and the revival of distressed companies.
Also creditors will manage to recover their debts using the foreclosure process which is a considerably shorter and more flexible process than the judicial recovery proceedings.