The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the use of technology in many justice systems around the world. Even in jurisdictions where the introduction of new technologies has been slow, the pandemic accelerated the discussion of how to apply digital tools. Technology can certainly help bridge gaps in access to justice, but it also poses risks. Building on ILAC’s expertise on rule of law in fragile contexts, including in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), this policy brief aims to highlight the risks of digitalizing justice in Iraq, Libya, Palestine, Syria, and Yemen—all considered “fragile” under the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development’s fragile states index—and to make recommendations for a gradual and risk-sensitive approach to the use of technology.
Any steps toward digitalization should take place after or commensurate with sustained efforts to ensure universal access to the Internet and should:
- Be preceded by the development of a set of rights-based standards to be applied to digitalization efforts.
- Be underpinned by a needs and a capacity assessment focusing on the state of digital technology, the degree of Internet penetration, Internet access for marginalized groups, and the functioning of the justice system in general.
- Begin with a focus on improving access to information, be it access to court procedures or case information, rather than focusing on conducting substantive proceedings on-line.
- Include concerted efforts on the part of justice system professionals to understand how digital technology works, including infrastructure requirements and security and privacy risks.
- Be accompanied by supplementary, not-necessarily-digital efforts to achieve the same goals, such as using TV, radio, flyers, and posters to communicate information as well as strengthening the legal aid system with a focus on improving marginalized peoples’ access to justice.