BY REUBEN NYAKUNDI
“Dysfunctional records management undermines legal and judicial reform” – Ann Thurston (founder of the International Record Management Trust)
Scholars have often opined that the integrity of a country’s judicial system is measured by how its structures, systems and processes facilitate fair, transparent and efficient administration of justice.
The Court Registry plays a very central role in the process of delivering justice because without proper, complete and easily accessible records, delivery of justice gets compromised.
However, the availability of proper, complete and easily accessible records has been one of the greatest challenges to the Judiciary as evidenced during meetings of Court Users Committees where the issue of inefficiency in Court Registry has often come out as a frequent point of complaint by court users.
Missing files, inaccurate information, disappearance of key documents from court files and inexplicable delays in rendering counter services are, unfortunately, still a common feature in Court Registries leading to inordinate delays in the delivery of justice.
There have been instances when an incomplete file is placed before a magistrate or judge and unfortunately the hearing of a matter cannot proceed without a complete file. This leads to delays, which prejudice the rights of the parties. Needless to say then, an inefficient registry is a major barrier for the delivery of justice.
Court registries are the first point of contact for litigants; this moment of interaction with the registry officials might be their only personal contact with the justice system. This puts the registry at the center of a complex set of responsibilities in the administration of justice.
To address the myriad problems in the registries such as missing files and opaque processes, the Judiciary is upgrading the registry with a proper system of appraisal and classification of files through the introduction of a Registry Manual, which seeks to streamline registry processes to enhance access to and expeditious delivery of justice.
The manual was developed out of a consultative process that included the Judiciary and other key stakeholders in the chain of justice such as lawyers, police, Director of Public Prosecution, Probation Department and the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) among others who identified records management as a critical component to the success of administration of justice in the courts.
The manual gives general guiding principles of common process and processes attendants to specific cases handled in the registries. The objective is to provide simplified and standardized procedures in all courts and to clearly define roles of staff in the registries and ensure accountability.
The registry operations manual sets standard procedures and requirements for Court registry processes, which are aimed at creating uniform customer experience across all courts.
This initiative is anchored on the Judiciary’s Transformation Framework’s “Key Result Area on Access to and Expeditious Delivery of Justice.”
To get things moving, court officials are in the process of auditing the records in the various High Court Divisions’ registries at Milimani Law Courts to establish a mechanism for file-tracking, easy retrieval and file accountability.
To harmonize the implementation of the manual, the Chief Registrar of the Judiciary, appointed a nine (9) member Task Force to spearhead its implementation. This is the team that has been tasked to eliminate ‘missing file’ syndrome in the country’s judicial system.
Emphasis will also be put on monitoring of statutory timelines for various processes in the registries related to filing and issuance of summons. This will ensure continuous progress of case files through the court system and stem backlog of cases.
Transforming records management in the Judiciary will lead to a more open and responsive Judiciary that is better placed to provide world-class services.
(Nyakundi is a Deputy Registrar of the High Court of Kenya and a member of the Court Users Committee, Milimani Law Courts)