Saturday March 02, 2024

Reforms for justice : Part - II

October 21, 2022

The legal profession is rapidly changing – but not in Pakistan. The Fourth Industrial Revolution is going to impact the legal sector. In other countries international lawyers and law firms, as well as the judiciary, recognize the importance of technology and ‘lawtech’. However, Pakistan’s legal sector has shown little interest.

New technologies are revolutionizing the legal system: cloud computing and data security, Big Data analysis, computable contracts, legal help webs, document automation, AI-based outcome prediction, legal analytics, virtual law firms, online dispute resolution (including electronic courts and document e-filing), and block-chain money transfers are transforming the way legal work is done. Who will prosper and who will be left behind will depend on who adapts best to these revolutionary changes.

AI is already used to scan and predict documents relevant to a particular case. Some firms use AI to review contracts, conduct due diligence, and undertake legal research. Now e-discovery software can analyze millions of documents in a short space of time for very little cost. An e-discovery provider in Silicon Valley, for example, can help analyze 1.5 million documents for less than $100,000.

Some AI programmes have the ability to extract relevant concepts at lightning speed. In one competition, an AI program developed to measure legal intelligence had an accuracy rate of 86.6 per cent, compared with 66.3 per cent for human lawyers. E-courtrooms already operate in some countries.

For example, the Federal Court of Australia uses e-courts to assist in matters such as ex-parte applications for substituted service in bankruptcy proceedings.

Digitization often improves swiftness, accuracy, and above all access. Olive Communications, a managed cloud communications provider in the UK, conducted research on 500 law firms and 1,000 clients in the UK, finding that 34 per cent of clients would like to receive digital services through video conferencing and instant messaging (IM) from their lawyers, but around 66 per cent stated that they had not been provided such services. Realizing this gap, the UK government launched digital reforms including the automated filing of financial claims for disputes up to $10,000, a digital divorce application service, and an online system for appealing tax bills. Again, technology often helps reduce delays whilst improving access to justice.

We need to upgrade our justice system and push our courts into the digital age with intensive education and training in legal IT. A few developments regarding the adoption of technology in the justice sector merit appreciation.

First, the SC has made good use of video links to decide cases, facilitating the progress of proceedings. Second, the National Judicial (Policy Making) Committee has approved a national judicial automation unit to develop a national online dashboard for creating an integrated information system for all of the courts in the country. Third, the Federal Judicial Academy is going to launch an online campus to conduct training sessions.

Moving forward, three areas may be prioritized. First, many procedures and hearings can be digitized. Second, court processes and procedures can be simplified with a uniform procedural code for civil cases and a common procedure for criminal cases. (The Code of Civil Procedure, 1908, and the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898, should be revised to move towards digital justice.) Third, procedures for both offline and online alternative dispute resolution should be framed to reduce the workload of courts and delay in justice.

During the judicial conference in Islamabad, the honourable chief justice of Pakistan stressed that “rule of law reigns supreme if courts are made equally accessible to people irrespective of gender, religion, race and economic status”.

Inter alia, he noted that “the judiciary should make extensive use of the advancement in technology to streamline litigation” and “the judiciary and bar must enhance their capacity, legal knowledge and performance in particular with IT and technology solutions,” adding that “performance audits for all courts should be mandatory to assess gaps in legal knowledge and provide training to judges.”

Pakistan deserves a justice system that is accessible, convenient, transparent, and non-discriminatory. It is time our policymakers, lawyers, and judges imagined and reformed our justice system. Only with collective resolution can we strengthen our justice system and improve our economy. All stakeholders need to come together to improve the quality and delivery of justice to the people.


The writer is an advocate of the Supreme Court.