Getting Disputes Resolved Online by Utatuzi Center!
Utatuzi Center is a legal-tech startup in Kenya that champions for the use of legal technologies to create sustainable avenues for access to justice with a focus on dispute resolution and legal aid. Technology being a new reality dawning in the legal field has been met with resistance, hesitation and skepticism. Access to justice is considered a basic principle of the rule of law. This means that all persons should obtain fair, effective, efficient, impartial and transparent redress of their issues in both formal and informal systems of justice. As Utatuzi Center our vision is to create sustainable avenues for access to justice through practicality, innovation and co-operation.
Utatuzi Center was launched in the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, where the Kenyan courts were subject to closure which means that there was a gross delay in the administration of justice. Moreover, this also impacted ongoing Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) processes, with parties being forced to quickly adapt to technology, which was a less than a smooth transition. Also, the Kenyan Justice System has been marred by inefficiencies as illustrated by the Justice Needs and Satisfaction in Kenya Survey (2017) showing that 10% of Kenyans resolved their disputes through the formal court system. This means that a vast majority of Kenyans have resorted to use traditional, informal, and other processes to resolve their disputes, which are outside the court system.
Utatuzi Center’s approach was to leverage advanced but user-friendly technologies and integrate them into existing Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) processes. The branch of Alternative Dispute Resolution provides means through which individuals can obtain legal redress in a swift, affordable, convenient and confidential manner, without going through the formal court system.
This ensures that disputes are resolved expeditiously, confidentially, and cost-effectively. We believe that the extensive adoption of Alternative Dispute Resolution in mainstream society will ensure the accessibility of legal solutions to all persons including vulnerable, disadvantaged and minority communities. Utatuzi Center offers the following services.
Online Dispute Resolution: This is conducted through an online web-based platform. The platform contains secure and encrypted personalized accounts for the parties allowing for tracking of disputes through instant notification and cost management systems with an in-built video conferencing tool providing convenience, security, and ease for the dispute resolution process This has reduced the timelines for assigning a dispute from 2–3 weeks to less than 48 hrs. This platform is linked to an Application Program Interface (API) and Ethereum-based blockchain, which ensures the automated recording, tracking and notification of disputes guaranteeing a permanent and immutable trail of the resolution process.
Virtual Legal Aid: We noted that the availability of Legal Aid Clinics are limited since the COVID-19 pandemic thus reducing access to legal and dispute resolution services by vulnerable, and marginalized groups. This online platform allows for the real-time filing of legal issues which automatically notifies the team who respond within 24 hours of lodging the issue. Once legal advice is given, the client may opt to escalate the matter for dispute resolution through our dispute resolution platform.
There is a highly demonstrated need for online alternative dispute resolution mechanisms to facilitate swift and continuity in access to justice and reduce litigation and backlog plaguing the Kenyan court system. By doing so, we will advance people-centered justice through creating awareness and enabling meaningful participation of individuals in the justice system. At Utatuzi Center, we strive to promote the provision of access to justice, in accordance with Goal 16 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). As an enterprise, we use a three-pronged approach:
i. Awareness: by providing understandable information regarding legal rights, Alternative Dispute Resolution and educating the end user about the technology;
ii. Affordability: by providing cost-effective legal services including legal advice and dispute resolution; and
iii. Availability: by providing 24/7 access to technology (including technical support) which addresses barriers to accessing legal services (referred to as the 3A’s).
We have removed the various bottlenecks experienced in the formal justice system such as lengthy periods, high costs, the cumbersome and highly procedural process thus saving parties time, resources and safeguarding their confidentiality. At Utatuzi Center, a dispute is resolved in 2–3 sessions reducing time and costs by 70% and 65% respectively. Furthermore, our vision is to put the end-user at the forefront of the dispute resolution process by providing visibility and transparency of the milestones as well as costs. Our digital platform, therefore, assists the advancement of people-centered justice through creating awareness and enabling meaningful participation of individuals in the justice system, regardless of social status and geographical location.
Article by Josephine Wairimu