In the past few months, I have been doing some considerable thinking about the most useful role for connection technologies in getting better justice outcomes. I like the word “moju,” referring to “mobile justice,” mostly because I have this sense that we are on the verge of a judicial revolution the likes of mobile banking or mobile health, and “moju” gives it that kick in the pants that could really take it places.
When I think (more seriously) about how technologies can be useful, I see two main avenues: promoting access to justice andimproving the functioning of public judicial administration. In other words, tech can help regular citizens get connected to courts — or it can help courts work more efficiently and effectively.
Both avenues are incredibly important — and many good organizations are working to solve the access-to-justice problem. It is worth noting, however, the great value of the second, and perhaps more boring, leverage point: judicial administration. By this, I mean digitizing court processes, using basic tech tools (group bulk SMS, mobile calendar functions, etc) to share judicial information between court personnel, and posting court information online. In many places, it is not yet standard practice to read the law online or to file forms electronically — often because internet penetration is low or the national technological infrastructure is not yet present to make those activities relevant or even possible.
“Mobile justice” is the idea that mobile technologies, broadly defined, can be used to extend and improve access to justice. An emerging field, mobile justice includes initiatives such as virtual courts in Kenya, live-streamed court proceedings in Massachusetts, and SMS-sharing of legal judgments in Ghana. These innovations can be launched by judicial systems, government agencies, civil society groups, or even technology companies, and almost always require the strong collaboration of all of these stakeholders.
The human rights movement in the last 50 years has done an excellent job of criminalizing those acts that plague most poor people across the globe, including extortion, human trafficking, and child labor. What is classified as a crime, however, is not always punished as such. Often, this is because the judicial systems in developing nations do not have the capacity required to enact sanctions, due to infrastructure and geographical challenges. In addition, citizens are often poorly informed of their laws and rights, court procedures, and available dispute resolution channels.
I’ve been thinking about mobile justice for about a year now.
The notion, as I have come to understand it, is as follows: as in the examples of mobile health or mobile banking, perhaps mobile technologies could be harnessed to increase citizen access to justice and to improve the public administration of justice. It’s a topic that is both old (legal informatics practitioners have been using electronic case databases for years now, in many places) and new (virtual courts in Kenya use video teleconference technology to pipe in a judge, live and direct, to your locality). I can point to examples that use satellite video link, radio, SMS forms, and live web-streaming. I can come up with cases in India, Cambodia, the Philippines, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the United States. Taking into consideration the differences in objectives, geography, technology, and scope, these examples seem to form an emerging field of practice.