In Haiti, obtaining judicial records is a daunting task. In one jurisdiction, a prosecutor may need a case file essential for a trial but be unable to find the documents due to inconsistent filing systems. Elsewhere, a clerk may charge illegal fees to retrieve otherwise “lost” case files, thereby reducing trust in the legal process. In another jurisdiction, supervisors may not have a way of accurately determining the caseloads and case processing times of judges who are due to have performance reviews, which help to hold judges accountable for doing their jobs effectively and fairly.
To better manage case data and restore public confidence in the judicial system, the Haitian government worked with USAID’s Haiti Justice Sector Strengthening Program (JSSP) and Chemonics International to form the Case Management Information System (CMIS).
The Judicial Paper Chase
Until recently, Haiti’s judicial system relied exclusively on paper-based filing, but the stockpile of court documents sat in file folders without a logical order. The paper registers’ disorganization precluded court leadership from monitoring judges and prosecutors’ caseloads and processing times. By hampering court leadership’s ability to oversee case management, this disorganization allowed for corruption and contributed to prolonged pretrial detention. In turn, the Haitian government lacked an effective means to manage criminal cases and judicial operations.
For the past 20 years, the rate of pretrial detention in Haiti has remained steady at 75 percent. Some detainees have awaited trial or become lost in the system for years in filthy, overcrowded prisons, a serious violation of their human rights. All these challenges diminish Haitian citizens’ faith in the legal system, leading some to resort to violence to resolve conflicts, further contributing to the country’s insecurity.
From File Folders to Digital Data
Beginning in September 2016, JSSP introduced four overarching objectives to assist Haiti’s justice system: 1) improving the legal, policy, and regulatory framework; 2) strengthening the judiciary as an independent, credible, and effective authority; 3) improving access to justice and the protection of rights; and 4) strengthening civil society constituencies for reform.
As a part of the effort to meet these objectives, the JSSP team introduced the CMIS to streamline court processes and collect and monitor data for sectoral improvement. The CMIS includes digital dashboards for judges and prosecutors that provide critical data — for example, the number of cases per judge and prosecutor and related case-processing times.
“Prior to the CMIS, it wasn’t possible to quickly obtain information on the number of cases per prosecutor, or on the time it actually takes to process a case,” said Maxime Augustin, chief prosecutor within the Croix-des-Bouquets Jurisdiction. “I now can more easily combat prolonged pretrial detention.”
A flag system further helps identify cases that require immediate action to mitigate prolonged pretrial detention. This system, housed in the cloud, allows for remote access. Remote access is essential for a country such as Haiti, where courts may be partially or completely closed due to political crises, natural disasters, and pandemics — including COVID-19.
Sonel Jean-Francois, director of the Judicial Inspection Unit, part of the Higher Council of Judiciary Power (CSPJ), noted that the CMIS is transforming the unit’s work. “We can track judges’ performance remotely and access data that aren’t available in the traditional paper registry system,” he said. “We also save time and money as we don’t have to visit courts as often. I’m a click away from even the most isolated courts.”
That level of accessibility is also a timesaver, as the chief prosecutor’s observation suggests, earlier in the case management process. Rather than spending precious hours searching for paper case files, she can access the documents from her phone, allowing her to focus her energies elsewhere.
Initially, USAID implemented the CMIS in five pilot jurisdictions: Saint-Marc, Cap-Haitian, Fort-Liberté, Port-au-Prince, and Croix-des-Bouquets. In August 2019, USAID established the CMIS in three others: Hinche, Mirebalais, and Grande-Riviere-du-Nord. Expansion proceeded in three additional courts — Gonaïves, Petit-Goâve, and Saint-Marc — completing all 11 jurisdictions as part of JSSP’s contract. There are currently 41,232 cases entered into the system.
From an infrastructure standpoint, JSSP’s system design requires little equipment — just six computers per court. The cost is so affordable (approximately $15,000 per court) that the minister of justice told JSSP that the Haitian government wants to pay to install the system in the seven remaining courts. The CMIS is currently based on open-source software, which minimizes recurrent expenses.
This level of efficiency and accessible, streamlined case information decrease opportunities for misconduct, abuse of power, and corruption. The hypothetical clerk, for example, cannot charge illegal fees to retrieve case files.