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Digital Justice: Historical day for Pakistan’s SC

Supreme Court began hearing cases through an e-court system from Monday. The courts in Islamabad and Karachi were connected through an application of the latest video-link connectivity. The court hopes that the system would save time, money and make the judicial system more responsive.

Digital Justice

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Supreme Court made history on Monday as it started hearing cases through video link for the first time in the judicial history of Pakistan. A three-member bench headed by the Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Justice Asif Saeed Khosa began hearing cases through the e-court system on Monday.

While implementing the system, lawyers presented their arguments from SC Karachi registry through video link while the judges heard the same in the principal seat in Islamabad. CJP Khosa remarked that the e-court system would be instrumental in dispensing swift justice at a low cost.

Digital Justice: SC aims to use e-court system for first time in judicial history of Pakistan

On May 24, the Supreme Court had announced that it was set to change the course of judicial history by hearing cases through video link facility from May 27 (Monday).

Lack of state protection to witnesses often resulted in leaving them vulnerable to being bought off, exploited, intimidated or even killed.

“Supreme Court of Pakistan will start e-Court system from next week on Monday, i.e. 27.05.2019. It is for the first time in the judicial history of Pakistan that courts will be connected through application of latest video-link connectivity,” read the statement issued by the top court on Thursday.

According to the statement, the system aims to facilitate speedy disposal of outstanding legal matters pertaining to organizations and individuals in the provinces. It added that the facility would initially be utilized to connect the Supreme Court’s principal seat in Islamabad and the Supreme Court Karachi Branch Registry.

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The country’s top court believes that the system would benefit the lawyers and litigants as they would be able to pursue their cases while staying in their cities instead of heading to the capital for every hearing. The court has hoped that the system would save time, money and make the judicial system more responsive.

Robert Radley records statement through video link in Avenfield Apartments reference

Though the Supreme Court started hearing the cases through video link from Monday for the first time, the technology has earlier been put in use by subordinate courts.

The Supreme Court had announced that it was set to change the course of judicial history by hearing cases through video link facility from May 27

In February 2018, an accountability court had allowed two witnesses of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to give testimonies via video link in a supplementary reference against the former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his family members with regard to their London Avenfield Apartments.

Judge Muhammad Bashir had accepted NAB’s application requesting the court to allow the witnesses – Robert W Radley, the principal at the Radley Forensic Document Laboratory and Akhtar Raja, the principal at the Quist Solicitors and nephew of JIT head Wajid Zia – to give their statements through video link at the Pakistan High Commission in London. The prosecutor had argued that the witnesses could not come to Pakistan due to security reasons and ‘heavy engagements.’

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The court while accepting the request had ordered to make arrangements by installing devices in the court for recording witnesses’ evidence. Sharif’s daughter Maryam Nawaz was completely caught up in the fallout from the leaked Panama Papers over the use of Calibri font in trust deeds. Her husband Captain (retd) Safdar was a witness of the documents.

Though the Supreme Court started hearing the cases through video link from Monday for the first time, the technology has earlier been put in use by subordinate courts.

Radley, being a forensic examiner, had revealed that the type font used in trust deeds of two companies was Calibri which was not commercially available before January 31, 2007, while the documents were prepared and signed on an earlier date. However, during the cross-examination, he had admitted that the facility of Calibri font was available in 2005, but on a limited scale.

Read more: Provision of speedy justice: CJP unimpressed with parliament’s role

Video link facility in witness protection programs

Moreover, lack of state protection to witnesses often resulted in leaving them vulnerable to being bought off, exploited, intimidated or even killed. To overcome the issue, the Punjab Witness Protection Act, 2018 and The Sindh Witness Protection Act, 2013, were passed by the provincial assemblies.

Apart from safe lodging, financial assistance, security arrangements and concealment or change of identity, the laws had ensured that the witnesses would be able to record testimony through video link. However, the legal experts said, laws are utterly irrelevant if not backed by a commitment to swift implementation, as is evident in both the provinces.