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ISLAMABAD: A three-member bench headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan Asif Saeed Khosa hearing cases through video link on Monday as the e-court system of the Supreme Court becomes functional.—White Star
ISLAMABAD: A three-member bench headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan Asif Saeed Khosa hearing cases through video link on Monday as the e-court system of the Supreme Court becomes functional.—White Star

ISLAMABAD: The dream of using modern technology for prompt dispensation of justice was finally realised when a Supreme Court bench, headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan Asif Saeed Khosa, on Monday started hearing cases through the first-ever ‘e-court system’ in the judicial history of Pakistan.

The bench that also comprised Justice Sardar Tariq Masood and Justice Mazhar Alam Khan Miankhel took up and decided four cases — mainly bail matters — through a video link with the Karachi branch registry.

“Through the e-court system, we have saved between Rs2 million and Rs2.5 million in one day alone that otherwise had to be borne by the litigants,” said a visibly calm and composed chief justice.

Taking up the first case through the new technology, the chief justice remarked that a big milestone had been achieved with cases being heard through the latest technology.

“This facility will benefit lawyers and litigants by saving their time and money,” the chief justice observed, while appreciating the SC’s IT committee, headed by Justice Mushir Alam, for its untiring efforts that made this project successful. The body includes Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah and officials of National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra).

E-court system to benefit lawyers, litigants by saving time and money, says CJP

The entire court proceedings went off smoothly without any technological glitch with clear voice of senior counsel including Yousuf Leghari as well as president of the Supreme Court Bar Association Amanullah Kanrani at the Karachi registry. The lawyers could be seen by the litigants in Islamabad on two large LED screens in the courtroom as well as by judges and court staff on two separate TV screens.

The SC bench, headed by the chief justice, will continue hearing cases this week through the video link. During the hearing, the chief justice also hinted at establishing the same facility for the Quetta registry in the next phase.

Interestingly when a review petition of PTCL’s divisional engineer Saeed Soomro was taken up by the apex court against an accountability court verdict, the chief justice pointing towards the rostrum and wondered why the petitioner had not come. At that time the petitioner was visible on the TV screens standing in the courtroom at Karachi registry. The chief justice immediately corrected himself stating: “Soon we will get accustomed to the new system.”

The e-court system introduction was first discussed by Chief Justice Khosa during his speech at the full-court reference hosted in honour of former chief justice Mian Saqib Nisar to bid him farewell on Jan 17.

CJP Khosa had observed that for the facilitation of the counsel and in order to minimise the chances of adjournment, modern technology would be utilised and a possibility would be explored for establishing video links between the branch registries of the apex court and its principal seat in Islamabad. Through this system, he had said, arguments advanced by lawyers in the courtrooms of the branch registries would be heard at by the relevant bench at the principal seat in real time to decide cases.

“Such innovation may reduce inconvenience and huge expense on the part of all concerned besides dimi­nishing delays caused by non-availability of benches at the branch registries of the court,” the chief justice had stated.

A number of lawyers who witnessed Monday’s proceedings appreciated the electronic system but dubbed the development as a loss to the lawyers since seeking adjournments will become difficult in the days to come.

Senior Pakistan Bar Council member Barrister Raheel Kamran Sheikh, however, observed that the use of the video link by the apex court for hearing cases was a commendable move as it would make justice more accessible, efficient and less expensive.

There might be some teething problems initially but surely those won’t last for long and we look forward to having this arrangement extended to other registries of the Supreme Court soon, he said.

Barrister Sheikh also recalled a resolution adopted by PBC’s human rights committee on May 21, 2016 when it had asked for an adequate arrangement for expeditious hearing of cases at the branch registries of different high courts duly connected with the principal seat through a video link.

Highlighting benefits of introducing the video link system, the senior member, who also moved a similar petition before the SC, said it would reduce cost of litigants attributable to travelling, lodging etc by making it more affordable for and accessible to them.

The system would also reduce time consumed in the litigation thus enabling the parties and their counsel to utilize the same elsewhere and manage their affairs more efficiently, he said, adding that they would be able to engage local counsel for litigation for relatively lesser fee, thereby making the access to justice more affordable and accessible.

Besides, the video link would promote decentralisation and reduce burden of migration to urban centres like Lahore, Rawalpindi and Multan and would also help promote equality of opportunity to grow for the lawyers practising in Faisalabad, Gujranwala, Dera Ghazi Khan, Sargodha and Sahiwal, he said.

Published in Dawn, May 28th, 2019