A High Court justice said it is the senior lawyers who are struggling to adjust to the virtual court system as they are not used to technology
After about a month since the virtual court system was introduced in Bangladesh due to the Covid-19 pandemic, lawyers and judges have suggested more technical support and training is needed so the system may function more effectively.
The Supreme Court gave directives on May 10, to conduct virtual court proceedings in the Appellate Division, High Court Division, and the subordinate courts and tribunals. Up until May 28, virtual hearings were held for 33,247 cases and 20,938 people were granted bail.
Advocate Tanvir Ahmed, who has experience filing writs on virtual court, said virtual courts are adequate during an emergency but they should not replace the regular systems, as physically appearing before the court is important in itself.
“Virtual courts can continue, but necessary resources are still not available as the system is developing. I hope the problem is solved in the near future,” he added.
Supreme Court lawyer Advocate JR Khan Robin said: "We are not against the virtual court, but the Supreme Court administration should have given us time for preparation and training before introducing it. Very few lawyers have access to facilities necessary to file cases with the virtual court. Access to justice would be more effective through the virtual court if we had training.
“Many lawyers, including myself, do not have enough technological support to conduct virtual court procedures,” the lawyer added.
State Lawyer for the High Court, 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.”
In the future, amendments to relevant laws may allow for video conferencing to help record witness statements, and not just for virtual courts. If the e-judiciary is introduced properly, pending cases can be completed quickly, the state lawyer added.
Asking to remain anonymous, a High Court justice said it is the senior lawyers who are struggling to adjust to the virtual court system as they are not used to technology. Younger and junior lawyers are taking to the system very well.
“The software needs to be easier for users. The technology was not developed specifically for virtual courts, and there have been many technological errors,” the justice added.
Those who do not have android phones or other technological facilities cannot engage in virtual courts. The virtual court is definitely better during emergencies, but the facility needs to be accessible for everyone, the justice said.
Barrister Ruhul Kuddus Kajal, secretary of the Supreme Court Bar Association, said: “The virtual court is not supplementary or contemporary to the regular court system. There has been a constitutional vacuum in our judiciary due to nonfunctioning of the judiciary in total. So far, less than 1% of lawyers are getting the chance to avail this opportunity of a virtual court in the Supreme Court.
“There are three benches for hearing bail applications, but none for anticipatory bail. In legal practices, anticipatory bail is one of the foremost elements. People who are seeking anticipatory bail are being deprived of their legal right to go to court for remedy,” he added.
Advocate Mahbubbul Bari Aslam, secretary of the Barguna District Bar Association, said: “Our bar has 279 members. Many of them do not have android phones, so they have to go to shops to avail internet and computer facilities. In shops, many lawyers are using the same headphones to join virtual hearings. How can we maintain social distancing and other measures to prevent spreading of the coronavirus?
“Moreover, the virtual court can never play an effective role until uninterrupted power supply and an integrated network are ensured,” he added.
The lawyer also said the bar is not able to help its members financially. At the district level, many lawyers are living in hardship as they have no income. He suggested the regular court be reopened with strict health guidelines and measures.
Asking to remain anonymous, a judge in Chittagong division who is conducting virtual court told Dhaka Tribune: “In the beginning, a few senior members discussed with the president of the bar association about their uneasiness. We requested lawyer leaders to cooperate with their members to help them get used to technology.
“If all other sectors of the state are enjoying digitalization, then why not digitize the judicial system? For case backlogs, two major groups of official witnesses- police and doctors – are the main culprits responsible for delaying trails. Virtual court provides a very quick solution to the problem,” the judge added.
He also 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.”