“From humble beginnings” aptly describes the electronic case management system (ECMS) now operational at Defence Legal Service Division (DLSD).
Its origins go back to October 2018 when preliminary meetings and presentations to determine the feasibility of a legal advice and litigation programme on the information technology service management (ITSM) system in use by the national defence force were held. At the same time attention was given to expanding an existing programme designed for Directorate: Military Judicial Reviews (DMJR) with DLSD to accommodate the entire military justice process, Colonel John Yarrow, SSO Administration of Military Justice, writes in SA Soldier.
“This small programme was scheduled for launch on the Department of Defence (DoD) intranet in 2019. The Review Counsel Solution programme captured main details and steps of cases reviewed and processed by judicial review counsel as per the Military Discipline Supplementary Act and Rules of Procedure.
“Then, matters moved quickly starting with a user requirement statement and specifications (URSs), target architecture, costing, user flow stream as well as an information requirement analysis. All were completed by the end of January.
“A provisional design for the military justice system encompassing pre-trial and investigative phases, culminating in final prosecution decision and certification of trial readiness was concluded in the second quarter of 2020. The concept included fields for capturing process of cases resulting in applications not to prosecute as well as those referred to civilian courts.”
A training programme involving the majority of military law practitioners in mid-2020 provided “a wealth of suggestions and improvements for further refinement of ECMS, as the system was now called”.
As with much else in South Africa, the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting containment regulations put a hold on further ECMS development. The easing of regulations saw “rapid progress” with a detailed trial phase and expanded judicial review phase to replace the existing review counsel solution, produced.
“The scope of ECMS,” Yarrow writes,” is extremely broad and designed to capture all military cases from first registration of offences by the six legal satellite offices to review of completed trials, including proceedings at the Court of Military Appeals”.
ECMS is sufficiently sophisticated to register cases involving multiple accused charged with multiple offences, even when charges “follow divergent paths to conclusion”. This includes preliminary investigation, trial and conviction or acquittal, referral to a civilian court, applications and decisions not to prosecute and “varied outcomes of the review process”.
ECMS is simple to operate but access is restricted to military legal practitioners (MLPs) with “read only” access available to key non-MLP personnel. On this list are chiefs of services and divisions, officers commanding level 3 and 4 force structure elements (FSEs) and domain staff officers.
In June, Adjutant General, Major General (Dr) Eric Mnisi, who championed ECMS from the word go, signed acceptance of the new military justice tool with activation on the DoD intranet (on the DLSD portal) following.
“ECMS displays and securely records all material case information in extreme detail with an over-arching view of how cases were managed,” Yarrow writes in the official SA National Defence Force (SANDF) publication.