The Judicial Database: A High-Tech Tool to Support the Congolese Justice System

Since 2013, ABA ROLI has been developing and implementing a judicial case management system in seven provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to strengthen judicial capacity, combat impunity, and restore public confidence in the rule of law.

Integrating and implementing new information and communication technologies (ICTs) in government services is a challenging exercise. Out of habit, government staff typically carries out their tasks in the same way they have for decades. It is no different for the justice sector in the DRC. As the world changes, public services should change as well. Integrating new technologies in the justice sector can ensure the delivery of fair, equitable, and impartial justice. This is all the more crucial in a country like the DRC where corruption in the public services, including in the justice system, is rife. 

Many have tried to integrate ICTs in the Congolese judicial sector to limited success, either because they only handed out computers without training the users; developed software that was not adapted to the country’s context; and or because they trained users without any long-term sustainable strategy.

ABA ROLI has been developing and implementing an electronic Judicial Database system since 2013 with the support of the U.S. State Department and the Congolese Government. This system is put at the disposal of courts and prosecutors’ offices throughout the DRC to channel the power of digital technology to benefit the justice system. Court records are scanned, monitored, and saved in the Judicial Database by trained judicial officials. Electronic court records and electronic data management are a guarantee of reliability, effectiveness and transparency compared to paper records which can easily get lost or misplaced. The Judicial Database was first put in place in the South Kivu province of the eastern DRC. Today, it is used in jurisdictions and offices of 11 out of the 26 Congolese provinces. Between 2016 and 2018, 37,000 cases were entered in the Judicial Database in the DRC.

A woman uses the Judicial Database in the Prosecutor's General Office of Gombe in Kinshasa, DRC.

Fitting courts with the Judicial Database presents a host of challenges. Many courts across the DRC do not have access to reliable electricity, so they must first be fitted with solar panels. ABA ROLI provides the courts with a computer, a printer-scanner, and one battery-powered scanner in case of electricity blackouts. Providing this equipment, however, is only the first step of the process. ABA ROLI staff must then ensure that the judicial officials are trained in using and maintaining these tools. This can also be challenging: some clerks have never used computers before. ABA ROLI must do regular follow-ups to ensure that the court records are in fact properly scanned and saved on the Judicial Database so that they can be used to monitor cases and that the courts’ personnel use these tools fully.

Prosecutor General’s Office in Mbuji-Mayi is fitted with solar panels in May 2019.

ABA ROLI is continuing to adapt, refine, and update the Judicial Database software to ensure that it best serves the needs of the Congolese justice system. One example has been to establish links between police officers and prosecutorial offices. When a police officer learns of an alleged sexual violence offence, they must inform the relevant public prosecutor’s office within 24 hours, according to the country’s laws. In a country the size of the DRC where the police officer may be dozens of kilometers on terrible roads away from the closest courthouse, meeting the legal deadlines is practically impossible. ABA ROLI has implemented an SMS Case Filing system which allows the police officer to send the required criminal information in a secure, encrypted way by text, and as a result, helps them meet this deadline. As soon as the text is sent, the information is automatically added to the Judicial Database of the relevant courthouse.

The courthouse of Lubumbashi is fitted with solar panels in April 2019.

The public prosecutor of the First Instance Court of Lubumbashi in the Haut-Katanga Province, Phanuel Mukoko Macaba, tells ABA ROLI that “the Judicial Database is a good system which allows for a new, more modern, way of administering, monitoring, and tracking the progress of legal cases.” He adds, however, that “efforts are needed when it comes to ensure its workability; judicial actors must appropriate this tool fully so it can live up to its potential.”

The First President of the Appeal Court’s of Mbuji-Mayi receives a solar panel kit in May 2019