Digital justice: online access to legal services

Tuesday July 30 2019

Access to legal services has been simplified

Access to legal services has been simplified through an online application available to users of smartphones. PHOTO I FILE 

By Devotha John

Just as the smartphone brought computing to the cyber-challenged community, it is putting justice into the hands of some who may need it most, Sheria Kiganjani project director, Nabir Jumanne says.

Sheria Kinganjani loosely translated as legal service at your finger tips, is an online digital platform which enables an individual, student lawyer or a group of people to access legal information regardless of wherever they are.

“Tanzania is estimated to have a population of 55 million people, at the same time the country has over 8000 lawyers including those who practice as private advocates, state attornies and legal officers, by these statistics the proportion of lawyers in service in our country leaves a vacuum in provision of legal services ,” he says.

To add to the prevailing situation, majority of these lawyers are found in urban areas, thus preventing community members in remote areas from accessing legal services.

Sheria Kiganjani is a boon to people living in rural areas who have been in the recent past forced to travel long distances in search of a rightful legal course.

Advocate Nabir says the application is one of its kind in Tanzania, where an individual can obtain various legal material at the palm of their hands, legal documents such as news reports, cases, Acts, are all available online and can help them to address their legal challenges.

“Anyone with a smartphone can access our services from their home, offices, farms and any other location with good network,” says Nabir, adding that for those who don’t have online service, plans are afoot to establish a call centre number where legal queries will be directed and attended to in a fresh bid to address all legal challenges.”

The uses

Talking about the uses of Sheria Kiganjani, the app’s head of Information Musa Kisena, says the platform enables chatting with lawyers, accessing legal news and reported access. It also provides an opportunity for people to ask questions that are instantly responded to.

“We have a library for students and legal practitioners who will be directly connected to nearby lawyers,” says Kisena.

He says with this development the legal platform is now accessible in most regions of the country. “We connect lawyers countrywide through Whatsap, and regular phone numbers which are available 24/7 throughout the year,” notes Kisena.

“If you are in one of the regions where the app operates, there is no need to physically visit our office. You simply log on to the app and identify nearby legal aid services,” he adds.

The app provides more than just legal services, it further educates citizens on various legal matters; primal to all is the understanding that ignorance of the law can never be used as an excuse in any legal matter.

“Enhancing convenience of access to legal help is also an added advantage. People do not need to queue in courts of law or legal offices to access legal services. All they need to do is log into the app and they will have their problem solved instantly,” says Kisena.

Challenges

Talking about the challenges, the head of information says it was hard for members of the community to accept and adapt to the new application, noting that people were used to face-to-face interaction with lawyers.

“Perception aside, another problem we’ve encountered is law literacy levels. It was a bit hard to educate people whose readership skills have not been developed. However, with time, they began to slowly understand the usefulness of the app,” he says. According to him, Tanzania needs to adapt very fast if it is to stay in line with technological changs and developments.

Not only regular citizens, but even those in the public law enforcement field such as the police have been greatly helped by using the application.

Since they deal with the law on a daily basis, it is imperative that they gain quick access to different Acts and regulations.

Success

Advocate Neema Magimba, head of legal services, says it has been a year since they established Sheria Kiganjani app, expounding that they now boast off 10,000 subscribers.

“It is a significant stride, indeed. We are also glad to have employed seven and about 50 people who are not permanent workers. Last year we also received a number of awards from The Tanganyika Law Society (TLS), including the one that recognised our management for applying technology to address legal challenges,” she says.

She adds that in 2018 they received an innovation award sponsored by Master Card, and were also awarded with certificates of excellence from Selcom Master Pass/hackathon.

Advice to the Youth

Neema calls on the youth to make use of the available technology and shy away from the mundane mode of doing things, hinting that moving at the same pace with changes is inevitable in the digital world. “Innovation is a key to improving livelihood. Through technology lawyers can establish their own virtual offices instead of scrambling for the slim employment opportunities from government and private sectors,” she says.

Advice to the government

Advocate Nabir says the government has been doing all in its powers to empower the young tech savvy, thanks to industrialisation drive.

The advocate, however, calls on the government to keep on empowering young innovators by reducing red tape in all sectors, a move that will motivate many experts in the field to come up.

“There are some offices that still have bureaucracy. This habit should stop. We need to be more flexible by adapting innovative ideas,” says Jabir. We need to take a leaf off of companies like Google. the US online service company which has created millions of jobs. We can be as effective here in Tanzania,” he says.

Meanwhile, commenting about the new technology, Aika Athanas, 32, says having the app at hand makes it easier to address legal challenges.

“I used to spend a lot of time perusing through a number of physical documents to search for specific legal details but currently I use the Sheria Kiganjani app to access any legal content. Women face legal challenges, especially ones related to private matters between individuals - specifically lovers. All these issues can now be easily solved with the new app,” she says.

Frank Msemwa, a businessman from Dodoma, says the application is a real help to people who were not used to digital technology in addressing legal technicalities.

“I was illegally terminated by my employee. I sought advice from quack lawyers whose assistance was not fruitful, thanks to Sheria Kiganjani app, my case was easily solved. I used the app to see the angle I could bank on to corner my former employer,” he says.

Access to the app is through mobiles and other gadgets. You simply download the app through online store.

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