The African legal system is a complicated affair. Of course, first of all, there are 54 countries and the systems vary across all of them. Secondly, often there are also traditional legal systems running alongside a system the resembles European systems, with laws made by parliaments and judged over in court. Traditional law remains relevant in local communities, and often Chiefs hold judgement over minor local cases. Those cases could be anything from disagreements to inter family problems, which would could take up the precious time of the courts. Some would disagree that cases should be dealt with by a traditional ruler, but many rulers would tell you, that they deal with cases to make sure the best outcome for both parties, which isn’t often the case with the common law system. Sometimes, common sense is not given a chance when confined to strict regulation.

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Traditional court in French West Africa

The legal system is not immune to Africa technological innovations and there are some changes beginning to occur. Many in Africa and the world do not have access to legal representation. This can run hand in hand with corruption and ignorance of human rights. The Hague Institute for Innovation Law (HiiL) estimates four billion people fit into this category, but tech is now paving the way for people to have access. In order to promote this change HiiL held a bootcamp in Johannesburg, in which startups were invited to pitch their legal ideas.

One of the pitchers was Business M+  (if anyone has a link to their services please let us know!) who are attempting to help female entrepreneurs positioned in the informal sectors with difficulties, such as registering their small business. Starting a business can be a complicated affair for anyone, and small informal business owners in Africa are often not given the advice. Navigating yourself through the process, and dealing with all the bureaucracy, and being passed from person to person and possibly coming up against corruption, can be a daunting challenge. Getting informal workers through this challenge and to the formal sector needs the assistance of startups like Business M+.

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Business M + empowering women with legal advice

Ufulu Wanga is another project that pitched at the event. Following the lead of many SMS based services they will offer a SMS to Web service which enables people to anonymously  report human rights violations such as domestic violence, child custody information requests or even requests on separation or divorce procedures. The web portal will provide information which is broken down into to easily readable and comprehendible sections.

Another great innovation is the African Law Library. This has been created by the African Innovation Foundation, who are based in Switzerland and founded by Jean Claude Bastos de Morais. (They also run the Innovation Prize for Africa) They had a vision to promote access to law, social justice and good governance across Africa, and the law library is one of the ways they are using to achieve this. The library draws together a collation of laws from most countries across the continent to enable people from business, government and civil society to have “innovative access” to it. With over 20,000 users signed up and 36 partners in 20 African countries, the library is a big success. This library of legislation is of great benefit to investors and potential investors from within and out of Africa, but apart from businesses, this should enable the ordinary citizen to be aware of their rights within their country of residence, which is invaluable!

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Mission of the African Law Library

Uganda 1 lawyer for roughly every 19,000 people. A problem that plagues the entire continent. Out of his experience of the general lack of knowledge of law from people in Uganda. BarefootLaw was born from the personal experience of Gerald Abila. His experience of an evicted hotel owner that had to ask a second year law student for legal advice to a man that had to defend himself in court and was not able to adequately cross examine. They started by trying to use Facebook to offer free access to justice. They then started an app in which people can freely get in touch with a lawyer, as well as download the constitution and other legal legislation. They followed this app by offering Skype consultancy to those in rural area that still needed face to face advice, which according to Abila has been successful in solving many disputes. Finally, they have another plan to create areas where people can have access to free legal services in certain specific locations. They will be able to use their phone to access a network and therefore the services.

Having access to legal services and advice is something that everyone, no matter what sector of society, has a right to. By using technology to bring Africa nearer to affordable legal services can assist in putting an end to corruption and protecting human rights. Do you have any examples of legal innovations, maybe involving the traditional legal setting? Let us know. Please also share the blog on Twitter and Facebook

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