The Covid-19 pandemic has hugely impacted the judicial sector in terms of disrupting courts and other sectors worldwide. The talk at the present time is about the integrated electronic justice system in the post-Corona era.
As the Corona crisis demonstrated that we must develop one or more mechanisms for exercising digital justice in order to facilitate the work of judges and lawyers and enhance the tools of the work to facilitate the judicial procedures and to ensure the restoration of rights in the easiest and fastest way.
Globalization, the emergence of practical needs produced by the development of economic life, the increase in the size of international trade, the conclusion of contracts and the completion of legal formalities and transactions through information technology and all the other related problems and difficulties have led the world to consider an alternative faster, less expensive, more efficient mechanisms for settling disputes that does not require the presence in person of the parties; thus, the world cannot continue to turn a blind eye on electronic or digital dispute settlement that is carried out through audio-visual manner via the Internet. In this regard, several regional economic organizations and professional associations have adopted electronic methods in settling international trade disputes, such as the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy adopted by the WIPO Arbitration and Mediation Center.
During the past period, Egypt has been striving towards spreading the digital society and establishing a unified technological judicial system that contributes in facilitating litigation procedures, all in accordance with the Egyptian 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which focuses on maximizing domestic and foreign investment opportunities and technology localization in Egypt.
As an important step towards facilitating and improving litigation process before the State's courts, on August 7, 2019, Egypt issued the Law No. 146 of 2019 amending the Economic Courts Law No. 120 of 2008 (the "Economic Courts Law") (the "Amended Law"). This Amended Law entails a set of important amendments in terms of expanding the jurisdiction of the Economic Courts to cover the litigations related to the Commercial Maritime Law and Civil Aviation Law among other laws, appointing judges, preparing special records for registering claims and requests, the methods of executing judgments, the competence of judges, the methods of preparing cases and the court's authority to end the dispute. Furthermore, the Amended Law introduced an electronic litigation system, whereby, enabling filing, registration and announcement of cases through electronic means (e.g. the litigants may now be notified via their e-mail addresses), in addition to appealing judgments and submitting memorandums, documents, and requests electronically through a dedicated website.
In this regard, the Amended Law allowed filing lawsuits or appeal a judgment of first instance before the Economic Court by submitting electronically a petition fixed with a certified e-signature on the website designated for the competent Economic Court.
In the same context, the Amended Law allowed also the litigants to submit memorandums and other documents, express defense and requests, and view the lawsuit papers online via the website of the Economic Court.
It should be noted that the Amended Law did not eradicate the traditional paper-based litigation system, but it merely introduced to the public a completely new electronic system to be used side by side with the traditional system, whereas, the Economic Court's secretary is still obliged to make a paper file for each case and make a copy of all the submitted documents and include them in a paper file.
Moreover, anyone can resort to the electronic litigation system, provided that they are registered in the electronic registrar prepared by the Economic Courts to record the data of the persons and entities stipulated in the Amended Law and their means of communication in order to enable the litigants to notify each other of the lawsuit, the interlocutory requests and/or the interlocutory judgments issued therein (the "Court's Electronic Registrar"). The Court's Electronic Registrar shall include the chosen electronic domicile of the litigants (e.g. the email address, phone number and/or any technological means such as fax).
This being said, the Amended Law stated that the Court's Electronic Registrar shall include the chosen electronic domicile (e.g. email address) of the state or any public legal person, Local and foreign companies or any private legal person and law firms. In addition, natural persons shall have the right to register themselves in the Court's Electronic Registrar. Nevertheless, the parties may agree on a different chosen electronic domicile, provided that that domicile can be saved and extracted.
The Amended Law regulated the process of announcement with regards to the electronic litigation, whereby, it stipulated that the parties shall be notified with the petitions, interlocutory requests and/or intervention petitions on their chosen electronic domiciles. And in the event that the above-mentioned mean of announcement is not possible, the Court's secretary shall – in conformity with the general provisions of the Civil and Commercial Procedure Law and within the next day at most – circulate a certified copy of the submitted document to the court bailiff in order for same to be served to the other party and then saved in the paper file.
Additionally, according to the Amended Law, the lawsuit shall be announced on the website of the Economic Court at least five (5) working days before the date of the hearing, the state shall be notified on the chosen electronic domicile of the competent branch of the State Lawsuit Authority and registered law firms shall also be notified if they are the chosen domicile of either party. It should be taken into consideration that the electronic announcement shall become effective whenever it is proven that it was sent.
Furthermore, the Amended Law confirmed the effectiveness of electronic announcement, whereby if the plaintiff did not attend the court hearings, the court shall have the right to apply the provisions of the Civil and Commercial Procedures Law stating that if the plaintiff or the defendant did not attend the hearing, the court shall issue a judgment thereon if the case is valid for judgment or otherwise dismissed. Also, the court shall issue a judgment if the plaintiff(s), or some of them did not attend before the court on the first hearing while the defendant attended.
In the same manner, pursuant to the Amended Law, the judgment shall be considered an adversary judgment if the defendant attended any hearing or uploaded any memorandum and/or documents be electronic means.
It is also worth noting that Egypt is currently preparing a draft law whereby amending the Civil and Commercial Procedure Law by adopting modern technological methods in all the stages of litigation procedures, starting from filing a lawsuit and depositing statements of claims, through the stage of notifying the other parties, and ending with the issuance of the judgments.
Finally, we hope if the concept of digital justice is expanded in the near future to include exempting the parties from appearing in court to file cases and/or submitting their claims and memoirs, paying the judicial expenses through electronic means, and linking law firms electronically to all courts and procuratorates to obtain procedural and administrative services by electronic signature and online payment.
Originally published June 5, 2020.
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