ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court on Monday allowed cross-examination of singer Meera Shafi, popularly known as Meesha Shafi, by a trial court through videoconferencing from Canada.
The singer is embroiled in a defamation suit with popular celebrity Ali Zafar.
“The question that falls for our consideration is: whether the evidence of a witness who is not physically present in court can be recorded in a civil case by using the modern technology of video conferencing, within the existing legal framework,” observed Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah in a judgement he wrote adding her evidence was very much essential to just decision of the case, the 12-page judgement said.
A two-judge SC bench, headed by Justice Qazi Faez Isa, had taken up an appeal of Meesha Shafi against the May 18, 2022 Lahore High Court (LHC) order that disallowed a similar request.
Meesha Shafi won’t need to visit Pakistan embassy for the purpose, court rules
Meesha Shafi is the only defendant in the suit who lives in Canada since 2016 with her family, including two children, therefore, her evidence is very much essential to just decision of the case, the 12-page judgement added.
The singer comes to Pakistan only when there is a working schedule for her. Waiting for her such a schedule would certainly cause a delay in the decision of the suit, and forcing her to come to Pakistan from Canada by leaving her children there or carrying them with her would incur such expense and inconvenience which surely appears unreasonable under the circumstances of the case, the judgement explained.
The judgement also rejected requirement of the singer to go to the Pakistan embassy in Canada and to involve any officer of the embassy in the process of recording her remaining cross-examination through videoconferencing, saying there was no dispute as to the identity of the singer, nor was there any serious apprehension that the petitioner would be under the influence of or tutored by any other person in the course of recording her remaining cross-examination.
In the 21st century, the judgement said, technological advancement has reached an unprecedented speed. A technological change is thus often so radical that it could not have reasonably been perceived by the legislature and catered in the language of the statute, nor can the legislature promptly catch up with such changes by the formal legislative process, the verdict said.
In such a scenario, intersection of law and technology not only requires the law to regulate technology but also to employ technology to make laws more at home with the technology-savvy society.
While concluding, the judgement also expressed concern over unending, lengthy cross-examination of the singer. It noted that a 24-page cross-examination of the petitioner has been recorded, yet the parties were contesting on the mode of recording further cross-examination of the petitioner for past eight months. The purpose of cross-examination is to assist the court in bringing the truth to light by disclosing or clarifying matters which witnesses may wish to conceal or confuse from motives of partisanship.
There is, however, a regrettable practice to use the tool of prolonged cross-examination for the purpose of leading the witness into some error by exhausting him through unnecessary and irrelevant questioning, regretted the judgement.
This practice is designed not for the disclosure of truth but for the manipulation of error. In such a situation, the presiding officer of the court, the judge, should not remain a silent spectator but should act as a vigilant supervisor, for the right of cross-examination is neither unlimited nor unbridled. When the judge observes that the right of cross-examination is being abused by asking irrelevant questions which are intended to prolong the cross-examination with the object of manipulating error, or to scandalize, insult or annoy the witness, he should intervene and disallow such questions, the judgement concluded.
Published in Dawn, November 22nd, 2022