Virtual court hearings in Pakistan


The disastrous hit of the COVID-19 pandemic has crippled the mechanism of the courts and their hearings come to the standstill amid of the wide lockdown in Pakistan. The COVID-19 has upended the court operations, just as it has upended every other aspect of daily life. The brunt of the contagious outbreak and its formidable impact has raised demands by the members of legal fraternity to initiate the virtual court hearings in Pakistan.
In addition to, the courts are taking up the backlog of criminal matters and the petitions for habeas Corpus in urgency. All the under-trial prisoners are waiting for their hearings in the courts. Due to the epidemic hit of the covid and the lockdown, their hearings are to be shifted in another weeks and months. Besides, the late hearings are delaying the justice to aggrieved and alleviating the convictions for the guilty in an offence. It is the need of the hour, the Principal regulating body, of the provincial Bar Councils, the Pakistan Bar Council and the Supreme Court Bar Association collectively has to onset the Virtual Court hearings in the high courts and the district courts of all provinces throughout the Pakistan.
The Supreme Court of Pakistan has decided to proceed with the cases by adopting the precautionary steps. For instance, only the Counsels would appear for their parties in the proceedings before the court but the parties would not visit the court unless their attendance is required by the court in person and the screening system at the entrance gates of Supreme Court has been installed. On the other hand, other countries like UK, New York, Texas, and India are modernizing the court procedures rapidly and these all countries conduct virtual based hearings. All the cases are heard via Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Skype. Besides, Parties and their counsels would come appear for online hearing from the remote areas. All the proceedings and judgement would be made available on their website of the courts and footage of the hearing would be displayed to the parties on request.
Throughout the Pakistan it is strictly indispensable to meet the rule of Social Distancing, in the era of the COVID-19 pandemic, in the ambits of Supreme Court, High Courts and Sub-ordinate Courts. Nonetheless, the people breach the SOP’s (Standard Operating Procedures) and jam-packed the court rooms in the meantime of the proceedings.
Besides, The Courts in Pakistan need to execute the modus-operandi of advanced technologies of electronic courts and e-judicial system should be necessarily adopted. First, the trails and hearings should be conducted to record the cross-examination, evidences and confessions through video conferencing calls by using different applications as above mentioned in example of other countries. If hearings are online, the burden of travelling to court rooms, and concerns about the physical accessibility of the space, disappear. Many people will be able to access hearings from the comfort of their homes. If online hearings are recorded, there is the possibility that the public can access court proceedings at the time of their choosing. Second, you can online file the cases, pay the cost of the suit as well as court fee and to draw certified copies of the Applications, suits, orders and Judgements with the collaboration of separate website and mobile apps need to be constituted without checking the offices and judicial branch of the courts.
The Code of Civil Procedure, 1908, and the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898, should be amended to move towards digital justice. Subject-specific procedures may also be developed for special courts and tribunals such as family courts, commercial courts and tax tribunals, etc.
On the whole, online courts have potential of bringing long term benefits to our archaic system. If the virtual hearings implemented in Pakistan it could go a long way reforming the access to justice for those who live remotely and unable to reach the legal centers in the COVID-19 pandemic. The administration of the courts is to be maintained when the Supreme Court and the high courts with the collaboration of Pakistan Bar Council adopts virtual hearings for dispensing the speedy justice to the people at their homes by keep them apart from attending the courts in-person in the wake of widespread COVID-19 pandemic.