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May 29, 2019

Cyber justice


May 29, 2019

In keeping with moves towards a better, reformed justice system, a three-member bench – seated in Islamabad and headed by CJ Asif Saeed Khosa – heard from lawyers and officials at the SC Karachi registry on a case pertaining to pre-arrest bail for a murder suspect. The case had been pending in the Sindh High Court since 2016. This is the first e-case heard by the SC following a decision made by the full court in February this year to introduce the use of remote video links in the SC, making it cheaper, more efficient and easier for respondents, lawyers and others to have cases heard. The country’s judiciary hopes this revolutionary step can help the SC clear its backlog of 40,000 cases and enable the 1.8 million cases pending in various courts in Pakistan to be gradually cleared.

The video link facility at the principal seat of the SC in Islamabad and at its Karachi registry is the start. There have previously been some instances of video links being used in top courts, including in the Benazir Bhutto murder case, when a witness from the US spoke over Skype, but their use has been limited. The suggestion that it be widened has been in place since 2016. There is obviously immense potential in this. Many times, lawyers, witnesses, respondents and others involved in cases have had to return after making long journeys with nothing to show for their efforts because it proved impossible for the case to be heard on that day or because police failed to produce an accused person. This is a frequent occurrence in our courts. Facilitating courts with equipment that allows them to hear cases remotely could get past these hurdles.

There are other hurdles too which need to be kept in mind. Critics point out that a remote system makes it almost impossible for judges to control discourse during complex hearings or to determine if a witness is in any way being coerced or pressurised. There is also less room for cross-questioning by judges, given the nature of video links and also the fact that many lawyers in Pakistan will not be familiar with the process. The start, however, is an excellent one. There is much to be gained in the future if it can be turned into a success and taken on to the high court level and other courts as well. The delay in delivering justice in Pakistan is a major obstacle in giving people access to a basic right. Modern technology can help overcome this. The system is already in place in India, where it has been used since 2016, as well as in other countries. Pakistan has well to join the list and move forward into a new era of justice.

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