CASTRIES, St Lucia — The Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court’s (ECSC) objective for creating and implementing an e-Litigation portal is to provide an efficient, cost-effective, transparent and reliable platform for submitting and processing court documents electronically.
Our stakeholders needed a convenient way to interact with the courts without always having to come to the clerk’s counter, and they needed to do so without the time restrictions placed by filing counters.
The ECSC needed to improve efficiency and reduce the use of paper and provide citizens with improved access to the court system while reducing costs.
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) defines ‘access to justice’ as “the ability of people to seek and obtain a remedy through formal or informal institutions of justice, and in conformity with human rights standards”. The ECSC’s thrust of providing equal access to justice for all is in line with the UNDP’s definition as such, in strengthening access to justice, the ECSC when considering the development and implementation of the current e-Litigation portal, took every citizen in the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean (OECS) into consideration.
Moreover, the poor, marginalized and unrepresented litigants were given special consideration based on their current realities. Hence, the introduction and implementation of a Service Bureau, manned by a member of staff from the court office, which has been designed to assist and maintain access to the portal.
An unrepresented litigant or any citizen or resident of Saint Lucia, the Territory of the Virgin Islands or Anguilla who wishes to file a matter can visit the court office and consult the Service Bureau for assistance with the creation of cases and the management of the filings. The Service Bureau cannot provide legal advice but operates in accordance with the “Electronic Litigation Filing and Service Procedure Rules” and the processes of the court.
It must be noted that these range of features were not previously experienced or available to the poor, marginalized and unrepresented litigant.
The Judiciary is committed to applying technology that affords everyone, access to our justice system, regardless of their means. Indeed, the court has received requests from litigants on the basis of lack of means for the use of the electronic system as a measure for reducing their costs associated with records and service.
With the implementation of the e-Litigation portal, the OECS sub-region now boasts an e-Judiciary in line with strides being made among other courts in the region and beyond.
The ECSC e-Litigation portal will create more efficient and effective use of taxpayer dollars through intuitive processes and procedures.
E-filing makes courts more efficient, shortens waiting times at counters, allows courts to redeploy staff to other tasks, reduces costs for paper, and frees up space used for storing paper records.
Electronic filing of documents creates a tipping point for the courts to eliminate paper from the court system and become more efficient.
Introduction of the system will lead to fewer physical case files and fewer situations of case files being misplaced in our Courts thereby causing delays with the progress of the matter. All documents are stored on online servers, backed-up, replicated and synchronized on others. The online storage of case files as done with the e-Litigation portal also provides the opportunity to recover much more quickly from a disaster
The e-Litigation portal will provide a platform for effective networking and collaboration to enhance legal aid service delivery and access to justice for the most vulnerable and marginalized people.
The services that the poor and marginalized now experience, in the current manual system will not change with the rollout of the e-litigation portal for civil matters in Saint Lucia on July 1, 2019, as the portal is only to be used by legal practitioners and court office staff. Additionally, fee waivers for filing and portal fees are in place for government agencies and also persons who are eligible for legal aid and exempted from the payment of filing fees.
The implementation of the technology will allow the ECSC to provide improved services to our most vulnerable members of society in a more structured manner. Moreover, the technology allows for accountability and transparency as the portal will make provision for audit trails and reports.
The e-Litigation portal is designed to be as easy to use as possible. It represents a product based on familiar court processes, documents and systems, and has been specifically designed to suit the needs of our court through multiple consultations conducted with and obtaining feedback from members of the judiciary, courts staff and the legal practitioners.
Upholding the rule of law and providing equal access to justice is the fiber that the ECSC was built on and so is the ECSC e-Litigation portal.
Further, the judiciary and the ECSC play an important role in ensuring that the social and economic fabric of the court’s member States and territories remains reliable and protected through the rule of law. Equality before the Law is fundamental to a well-ordered and civilized society and the ECSC will continue to uphold this and contribute to the continued growth and development of the OECS sub-region for many decades to come.