Values and technology justice
: An Exploration of Blockchain’s Transformative Potential for Case Management in Kenya

  • Njahira Karanja

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctorate in Policy Research and Practice (DPRP)

Abstract

This research is motivated by the systemic failures experienced in Kenya’s justice sector, which historically stem from the absence, or poor enforcement of institutional values, and from entrusting largely opaque centralized entities to serve unchecked, as the custodians of all the levers of justice. As a result, inefficiency and corruption became entrenched, and reliable data which serves as a useful indicator of the performance of the sector’s individual entities, and as a whole, is either skewed or absent. The outcome of such inefficiency and corruption is experienced by the everyday court user, and in particular justice seekers, as a failure in the delivery of justice.

The thesis examines how the values enshrined in Kenya’s ground-breaking 2010 Constitution and virtually all justice sector strategies and blueprints, can intersect with technology to mitigate against some of the operational and ethical gaps described above. It will be seen that the 2010 Constitution has been pivotal in ushering-in the reforms necessary to transform Kenya into an equitable society founded on open and accessible institutions.

The thesis proposes that technology such as blockchain-based case management systems can be imbued with values in the design process, to enhance transparency, accountability, stakeholder participation, coordination and efficiency in the administration of justice. It is however acknowledged that for this objective to be met, it is equally imperative for parallel efforts to be made in ensuring the integrity of offline or off-chain processes and procedures. These include the provision of an enabling regulatory framework, as well as base infrastructural amenities such as connectivity, human resource capacity and other essential resources.

This thesis therefore interrogates the claim that blockchain, can be viewed as a new institutional technology of governance that competes with traditional institutions such as, the firm, markets or government. Therefore, the role of blockchain in mitigating justice sector “transaction costs”, or, the non-pecuniary costs of accessing, obtaining and enforcing justice is examined. The thesis does not argue that governments, or justice sector institutions, should be replaced by technology in their governance role. It however does argue that some of the coordination or enforcement roles vested in the State may be transferred to computational functions spread across a permissioned blockchain, for better and more efficient justice outcomes for court users.

The examination of blockchain is inspired by the express goal of criminal justice actors within the sector to “harness technology as an enabler of justice”. Blockchain is therefore examined as a viable “trustless, or trust-by-computation” solution for “opening” Kenya’s justice sector, grounded on a framework of constitutional values. This inquiry is undertaken through the lens of New Institutional Economics, which is the dominant theory on governance and institutions, in economics.

The thesis however refrains from presenting any technology, least of all cutting-edge or emerging technology such as blockchain, as a panacea to all problems in any industry, or as a substitute for the State, as indeed some see blockchain. However, the potential for values-oriented technology to accelerate institutional, sectoral and therefore societal change in Kenya, is rigorously explored.

Date of Award28 Jun 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorJulian Padget (Supervisor) & Sarah Moore (Supervisor)

Cite this

'