Using online platforms for conferences has become a necessity due to the current COVID-19 pandemic. Webinars provide a great opportunity to connect with people across different jurisdictions which was otherwise difficult due to the costs involved in travelling and accommodation. These platforms can help litigation and arbitration to pick up the pace during COVID-19.
On 3rd May 2020, the Young Arbitration Group (YAG) of the Centre for International Investment and Commercial Arbitration (CIICA), Pakistan’s first international arbitration center organised a webinar, titled “Transformation of Dispute Resolution in Pakistan: Digital Litigation and Arbitration for the Post-COVID 19 World”.
This webinar was a first in a series of webinars being organised by CIICA’s YAG, to discuss current and emerging topics related to the resolution of commercial and investment disputes.
Digital litigation and arbitration in times of COVID-19
The webinar was aimed at changing the perception of digital litigation and arbitration in Pakistan and to help develop a deeper understanding of the transformative impact of digitisation on dispute resolution in Pakistan.
Number of pending cases in different courts. Figures obtained by Dawn from Law and Justice Commission of Pakistan. pic.twitter.com/mEngNV10UM
— Umar Cheema (@UmarCheema1) December 20, 2016
The roster of eminent speakers included Dr. Zafar Sherwani, a retired Judge of the Sindh High Court, Professor Douglas Jones AO, one of the world’s leading arbitrators and international arbitration counsel, Ms. Antonia Birt, a member of CIICA YAG’s global advisory board, Mr. Hamza Nizam Kazi, Head of Legal at Multinet Pakistan, and Mr Ijaz Ahmed, senior partner at Ijaz Ahmed & Associates.
The webinar was moderated by Mr. Dimitris Katsikis, a member of YAG’s global advisory board and Mr. Sarmad Aziz, a member of YAG’s steering committee.
The webinar started with comments from Dr. Sherwani regarding the changes adopted by the judiciary to mitigate the impact of the current pandemic on court proceedings. Expressing his dismay over the current situation, Dr. Sherwani shared that the High Court of Sindh has not taken any initiative to proceed with online hearings.
It is only the district courts which are recording evidence over online platforms and are doing a great job with it. Dr. Sherwani highlighted the main problem to be the lack of infrastructure with regards to the implementation of an online system for virtual proceedings.
Online court proceedings: still a long way to go
He suggested for trainings and technical assistance for the judges and reforms in the legislation; making it compulsory for the judges and lawyers to proceed with cases virtually.
The webinar then proceeded with a view of Mr. Ahmed. Mr. Ahmed where he noted that very few parts of case management have been digitised such as cause lists but a lot more is needed with respect to what dispensation of justice requires.
He pointed out that post-pandemic, the administrative tribunals have allowed virtual proceedings over platforms such as Skype and Zoom. However, he acknowledged that there will be difficulties in shifting to an online system owing to a lack of process in place.
The main concerns for Mr. Ahmed were with respect to lack of human and logistical capacity to cater to the modern requirements.
Further useful insight on the topic was provided by Ms. Birt who is a partner at Curtis Mallet-Prevost Colt & Mosle and a member of CIICA YAG’s global advisory board.
She stated various advantages associated with virtual arbitration proceedings such as being significantly cheaper and faster than in-person proceedings. Busy arbitrators are more likely to be available for hearings if they can avoid travelling.
Talking from an arbitrator’s perspective, Professor Jones, shared a very positive experience of online arbitration proceedings in his capacity as an arbitrator. He shared that he has so far conducted five virtual hearings very successfully and, in many instances, these included extensive evidence including witnesses that required translation.
He stressed on a lot of planning to take place because the process is unfamiliar. He added that his experience with remote mediations has been equally positive.
Adopting technology to make the process seamless
Finally, Mr. Kazi stressed the importance of acceptance of modern technology. He suggested for having a virtual dispute resolution database and moving towards artificial intelligence. The question lies that who will take the responsibility to educate the masses to embrace technology.
In my view, the solution lies in the legislature to mandate judges, lawyers and court staff for obtaining training to use online systems. Such training should ideally be arranged by bar councils so that courts in all different provinces can adopt similar measures.
Webinar series such as of CIICA YAG are playing an important role in spreading awareness of the urgent need for the dispute resolution proceedings to become digital due to the current pandemic.
Overall, the merits of virtual proceedings outweigh the difficulties associated with them. Hence, they should whole-heartedly be encouraged by the legal fraternity including judges, lawyers and arbitrators.
The writer is a lawyer based in Pakistan. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.