Urgencies of Virtual Court System in Present and Post-COVID Period
Winston Churchill, the then Prime Minister of Great Britain once said, “Justice must prevail in the toughest times.” It is a matter of great grief, whenever a victim is left unjustified. Due to the recent COVID-19 Pandemic, the court system came to standstill. There was a great chance to increase chaos and anxiety due to the absence of justice. To avoid such a situation, Virtual Courts were introduced to the judicial system of Bangladesh on 12 May 2020.
It is necessary to know about virtual court before further discussion. According to the Law Insider:
“The Virtual Court means a virtual magistrates’ court created by video links between police custody suits and a magistrates’ court alongside an electronic document sharing system to which all relevant parties have access.”
Virtual Court System in Bangladesh:
Bangladesh court system first inaugurated the journey of virtual proceeding from 31st May till 15 June due to sudden outburst of the pandemic Till March 26, all the court proceedings were in a halt because of the outbreak. The government promulgated the ordinance named, “The Usage of Information and Technology in Court Ordinance-2020”. According to section-3 of the ordinance:
“any court can serve orders, judgments, holds trial, inquiry, appellate hearings, arguments, evidence placement after ensuring virtual presence of justice seeking groups or their lawyers and eyewitnesses through audio, video or any electronic medium.”
Which ensures the form of receiving the virtual evidence in order to ensure justice. On May 10, 2020, the Supreme Court of Bangladesh gave directives to the High Court Division, Appellate Division, Subordinate Courts, tribunals to continue virtual court procedures. Justice Syed Mahmud constituted 11 High Court benches to hold virtual hearing using digital information and communication technology. At the same time, more than 300 subordinate courts started their proceeding following the directives issued by the Supreme Court.
After the virtual proceeding started, the High Court Division in its first hearing over a writ petition gave the decision to stop the dolphin destruction in Halda River. With the help of this procedure about 21000 people were granted bail who were accused in various offences, among them 500 were children, otherwise who might have held in long time custody without any trial. The virtual court system put an end to this and provided much-needed relief for the time being.
Virtual Court System in Other Countries:
The UK has three distinctive legal jurisdictions, namely England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Most of the court hearing under these three jurisdictions have been replaced from physical to a virtual hearing to handle the pandemic situation. The lawyers and judges are conducting the proceedings and cross-examining the shreds of evidence through Skype, Zoom, etc. virtual platform.
An expert technology adviser reported to the Chief Justice of England and Wales (Wyatt):
“The supreme courts of Brazil, China, India, and Singapore are working similarly… the migration from physical courts to digital alternatives is taking place on five continents and in most advanced jurisdictions.”
In India, the virtual and online court system is not an entirely new implementation. In a case named “Krishna Veni Nagam vs Harish Nagam” the parties were ordered to participate in the dispute hearing through video conference using the virtual platform, due to the reason that, neither the plaintiff nor the defendant was located within the jurisdiction of the same court.
In India, during the pandemic outburst, both the High Court and the Supreme Court adopted the virtual procedures for the hearing. The Supreme Court passed a Suo Moto writ which mentioned the guidelines for court functioning through video conferencing. The Directions were passed by the Supreme Court on 6th April 2020
The Directions were as bellow:
- All High Courts shall ensure the functioning of the judicial system through the use of VC technologies.
- District Courts in every state shall adopt VC technologies prescribed by the appropriate High Court.
- Courts shall make VC facilities available for those litigants who do not have access to these facilities, including by appointment of advocates as “amicus curiae”.
- Till such time as the High Court frame rules in this regard, VC technologies shall primarily be used for hearing arguments. But evidence shall not be recorded using VC facilities except with the parties’ mutual consent.
- The directions shall remain in force until further orders are passed by the Supreme Court.
Many other countries are also implementing the technology to provide relief and provide justice.
Here are a few examples:
- Australia: civil matters are being handled by video conferencing.
- Brazil: Pre-recorded oral arguments are presented before Brazil’s Federal Supreme Court before scheduled sittings.
- China: Civil matters are handled in many regions virtually by the online dispute resolution.
- Papua New Guinea: Urgent cases are authorized to file using the judiciary’s online case management system.
- • Argentina: They are using modern technology for electronic case filing in order to operate them remotely.
Adoption of Virtual court in the eye of the Bangladesh Constitution.
In this modern era, the world is achieving technological advancement rapidly. Every working sector is now changing their manual activities to digital forms, to save time and expense. According to Article-31 of the Bangladesh Constitution:
“To enjoy the protection of the law, and to be treated in accordance with the law…is the inalienable right of every citizen.”
Also, Article-27 of the Constitution says:
“All citizens are equal before the law and are entitled to equal protection of the law.”
The constitution itself declared the right to get the protection of the law and the right to justice as the fundamental rights of the citizen. No matter how difficult the situations are, the people of the country have the absolute right to obtain justice. The judiciary has taken a splendid step ahead by passing the ordinance regarding virtual court proceedings. The decision was a crying need not only during the pandemic but also for the post-pandemic period. Minister Anisul Haque clearly declared the government’s concern to convert the temporary virtual court ordinance into permanent law.
“We intend to convert the temporary ordinance on the virtual court into a permanent law that will operate post-Covid-19. We discussed the urgency of this law at our cabinet meeting and plan to enact it very shortly.”
This would be the most time wisely decision for the present situation. Because there is always an apprehension of similar inconveniences as COVID pandemic in the future.
The reason behind the urgency of Virtual Courts
Probability of Future Pandemic
The proverb “Better safe than sorry”, can be the whole summary of the discussion for the very reason that, it is wise to take precautions against the future risk than rather be careless. If any other unfortunate occurrence takes place we will be able to provide a judicial remedy to the sufferer without any unreasonable delay.
Reduction of Case Backlog
In Bangladesh, there is a huge backlog of pending cases which may result in frustration. According to Article- 35(5) of the Bangladesh Constitution
“Every person accused of a criminal offense shall have the right to have a speedy and fair trial by an independent and impartial court established by law.”
So, to implement a speedy trial virtual court and e-evidence system is one of the most crucial methods for the Judiciary.
The solution to Insufficient Courtroom
There are insufficient courtrooms for Bangladesh Judiciary. But if all the courtrooms are transferred into digital courtrooms, then the courtroom crisis will come to an end.
Speedy Trial and Court Activity
All the traditional court procedure for filing a suit is rather too long to provide an immediate remedy. Where in a virtual court system there will be an option to file suits through a virtual platform and can easily provide evidence and testimonial through audio files and video conferencing. According to Dhaka Tribune, Deputy Attorney General AKM Amin Uddin, said:
“Nobody knows how long the Covid-19 situation will continue. For scanning necessary files and documents, there are mobile apps such as CamScanner, so things are not as difficult as many of our lawyers are thinking. We, the lawyers, have to gradually adjust to the newly introduced system. The Bar Council or Lawyer’s Association can arrange training for lawyers.”
Virtual Court System can reduce corruption, and save the ignorant litigants from the trap of touts. According to Dhaka Tribune, an anonymous judge said,
“We are publishing hearing dates (cause list) and orders on our website. This way, there is no chance for other people to misguide justice seekers. About 90% of corruption can be reduced with an e-judiciary.”
Affordable for Litigants
The virtual court procedures are citizen-friendly and the expenses can be deducted on large scale by these digitalized court procedures. The litigants can save their transport expenses and can join proceedings from their respective accommodations.
Easy Access to Justice
Access to justice would be much easier for both the litigants and the lawyers. Lawyers will be able to attend numerous hearings through virtual courts, as it is a lot more fast and easy way. Also transferring some particular type of cases to the virtual courts will reduce the case pending.
Due to virtual hearing procedure is enforced, the hearing dates and orders are being published by the respective court authorities on their websites. As a result touts and other people with negative intentions cannot misguide the justice seekers. According to the judges’ opinion, about 90% of corruption can be reduced by the virtual court system.
The Virtual Judiciary System has already been established by the revolutionary ordinance that is passed in 2020. Previously in the 2019-2020 budget speech, the Finance Minister stated that
“Steps have been taken to bring all courts of the country within ICT network through a judiciary process to accelerate the disposal of cases.”
Also, an e-judiciary project of 2096 crore taka, has been undertaken by the Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs which will work on recording virtual evidence, recording testimonial through video conferencing. The Judiciary system will be much more prominent after successfully adopting the virtual court system.
- Dr. Md. Mahboob Murshed, “Virtual Courts in Bangladesh: Prospects and Challenges”, The Daily Star;
https://www.thedailystar.net/law-our-rights/news/virtual-courts-bangladesh-prospects-and-challenges-1903678 Last Modified: May 18,2020
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