The use of technology could be one of the answers to many questions that continue to rise on the working of the judicial institution of the country. Brushing aside the politically motivated outbursts, there have been some valuable suggestions. These contemplations would need serious consideration for eliminating the human element and erroneous exercise of discretion in service delivery. Thereby challenges faced would provide an opportunity to excel.
One such suggestion is the use of technology. People either out of lack of knowledge or sheer ignorance have an opinion that the legal system in Pakistan has not made effective use of technology as a tool for promoting efficiency.
With the introduction of computers, the working in the courts transformed. From the court of initial competence to the highest court of law the daily tasks became not only systematic but are now easier to perform on click of a button. Gradually technology became an integral part of the institution. It was expanded to various subsectors. The Government institutions have taken a giant leap. But the question remains whether it had any impact on the ordinary litigant’s life.
The topic in hand has been very close to my heart from the inception of my career. During the initial days of the introduction of computers, we in our own humble ways used it for automated cause list, file numbering “parcha yadshat” (date of hearing given to the parties as per High Court rules and orders), the process of the court, etc. Before that, all these were done manually and required more human resources and time. Later on, it became useful in judgment writing also.
With the introduction of Keypunch operators, the use of the machine became indispensable and it replaced the typewriters as a tool.
This passion continued with the different postings. A new chapter began with my posting as Dean Faculty in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Judicial Academy. Being in charge of academics, use of technology like the Promethean board was made use of for presentations. Likewise, in Teachings, assessments, Feedback, and evaluation methodology use of technology were made. As a result, the working of the institution was streamlined and increased its efficiency. Consequently, the academy conducted the highest number of training ever in a calendar year.
My passion received a boost with the assignment as registrar of the Peshawar High Court, Peshawar. The real challenges faced in relevance with the technology in the justice sector were, minimizing the human element and misuse of discretion. Real-time data collection, further improvement in CFMIS (Case flow management information system), swift movement and tracking of daily files, increase in the efficiency to minimize the influx of people in the buildings/courts, research-based policy decisions, (data analysis), smart use of the limited space available, ensure continuous dispensation of justice despite security and pandemic challenge, delay reduction, quick disposal, above all integration of technology as an integral part of the system of justice. The basic intention was to provide relief to the ordinary litigants of the country.
Streamlining the case management was the first priority. In this respect, the High Court was already functioning under an arrangement called Case flow management information system. The scheme envisaged that the cases were not only filed digitally but also in hard form so that a swift operation is ensured. Interalia the parties and the counsels were informed of the dates of the hearing on the mobile numbers etc. It also made certain that new cases record was maintained digitally and in hard form. This methodology was extended to seven major districts of the province. This meant real-time connectivity with the districts to ensure that service delivery is improved at the level of districts also. It ensured systematic mechanisms for case management which ultimately resulted in improvement in the disposal. It at the same time established a system to monitor the disposal of the district courts. A few steps in this direction were introducing an annual performance year, five years disposal plan, point quantification scheme (PQS), the electronic calling of cases, equal playing ground (EPG) as a judicial performance tool, etc. The concept of dairy management was explored to the maximum. As a result of steps like red cause list, implementation branch, manageable diary produced good results.
Different courts like gender-based violence courts, child courts, and most importantly virtual courts were established. The concept of both these courts gained significance in view of the challenges faced. The use of video linkage-to name a few advantages enabled children to be connected with the court without having to face the accused, which is essential to avoid secondary victimization and trauma in case of violence against children.
History was made when one child court was established in erstwhile FATA’s agency (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) now district Mohmand. It would not be out of place to mention that almost all the regular courts in erstwhile FATA are automated and their working was streamlined. To ward off any untoward incident audio/video conference system for ATC’s (Anti-Terrorism Courts) and jails was operationalized.
The concept of virtual court envisaged that an advocate could argue his case from his home station before the High court. The first virtual court was inaugurated by the then Honorable Chief justice of Pakistan Mr. Justice Asif Saeed Khoosa. The response of the legal fraternity was so phenomenal that these virtual courts extended to six later. Initially, virtual benches were established at Kohat and Mardan. These were later on extended to other stations as well. Simultaneously the new technology not only helped in reducing paper consumption, proved to be more environment friendly and carried more value for money: less people, more productivity and proved to be less expensive. It also helped in reducing delays for the lack of availability of the lawyers who otherwise had to travel to the High court. It made justice more affordable for the litigants as they would not have to travel long distances. Due to public response, 29 remote points were created in the district judiciary.
A landmark judgment of the Peshawar high court was a historic one. It is reported in PLD 2021 Peshawar 105. It, interalia laid down a comprehensive criterion for recording statements through video links. It also issued directions to the concerned agencies in the matter. As a result of its implementation, statements of overseas Pakistanis’ were recorded by the district courts. This received appreciation all over the country. The British high commission in Pakistan sent an appreciation letter to the Peshawar High Court admiring prompt action.
In this respect, the next step was the establishment of an Information Kiosk or E kiosk, as we call it. This was a simple mobile application with a big screen installed in the periphery of the main building. This was the first of its own kind in the province. Through this application which could be used as simple mobile, basic information relating to cases was made available as the dates of hearing and the concerned bench, etc. It was also inaugurated by the Honorable Chief Justice of Pakistan Mr. Justice Asif Saeed Khoosa. Before that, we conducted a survey which showed us that the daily influx of litigants in the Peshawar High court was from four to five thousand people per day, the majority for petty issues. More people coming in the chances of human element/error, corruption and misuse of authority or discretion were always there. Plus, to facilitate the ordinary litigants and to streamline the working this E kiosk was installed.
With the setting up of the first mobile application daily influx of litigants decreased substantially. In the context of COVID-16 pandemic, such solutions seemed apt to sustain the dispensation of justice and yet decrease risk of contamination via human crowds.
Requests came pouring in from the legal fraternity to increase e- kiosks. Later on, these were increased to three in the Peshawar High court. This practice is being replicated at the district level.
The second biggest challenge was the record room. All around the province record rooms were in a bad shape. Tons of files have been consigned over the years. Due to space constraints, prompt action was inevitable all over the province.
A multi Phased operation was launched. Classification of records into prescribed parts was ensured. A strategy for digitization was developed and implemented. The process of scanning old cases is making significant progress and is likely to be completed in the coming years. Likewise, the disposal of records that had completed its life span was initiated and streamlined.
The high court’s institution and copying branches were installed at the level of the district. It made information communication Swift and the life of Ordinary litigants comparatively easier. Online provision of copies is also available to those who want to avail it sitting in their own districts.
The test in this regard was the inculcation of the fact that technology can be made use of effectively by all the stakeholders. Once that realization was set in, the involvement in the process became more and more and the acceptability increased. It would be not fair if credit is not given to the bar for joining hands.
The use of technology can do wonders. These steps were imitated at the level of the district so that the litigation process could be made swifter and more effective in the true sense of the word. Creation of branch registries in districts by extension of Peshawar High Court CFMIS to the districts through VPN (Virtual Private Network) was done.
It was followed by the development of a monitoring and analytics dashboard for the district judiciary and it was integrated with the CFMIS. It resulted in real-time data collection and made the job of the data analysis wing more effective.
The data analysis wing was a unique idea which meant that the policies of the authority were based on real-time data and the concept of artificial intelligence is being made use of for better analysis.
EDSR or Electronic Daily Situation Report was established for enhanced communication with the district judiciary and swift operation whenever required. With the ever-increasing strength of institutions, the smart utilization of human resources was done on scientific lines.
Another feather in the cap was the establishment of the E protocol service which ensured systematic working of the protocol wing. Concept of biometric verifications of different documents and the affidavit was introduced which is in its final stages.
Office management procedures were made more efficient and effective. The entire record in the High court was scanned including the old record thereby eliminating the chance of the human element. The concept of a fire tracking system was introduced to monitor the movement of files from one Desk to another electronically, thereby minimizing the chances of delay.
The complaint of redressal Mechanism was improved through software; the backup data of the complaint record was made available through scanning.
A lot of money of the public exchequer was saved by regularly holding zoom orientation and training on different topics with the district judiciary including human resource management, financial management, and improved implementation of CFMIS and other matters of policy. The use of this methodology ensured that hazards of rapidly commuting were done away with.
Automation was used as a tool for profiling judicial officers. It was a project which was introduced for decision making which would be free from the human element.
The technology was also made use of in continuous surveillance of the building through electronic gadgets including DVR, CCTV cameras. It helped to avoid any untoward incident despite regular threats.
These ultimately benefited the ordinary litigant of Pakistan. It increased the efficiency of courts to get maximum quality and quantity in the disposal. Needless to add that, measures to improve individual capacity were also taken.
My long experience in the justice sector coupled with a few listed achievements relevant to the topic; make me believe that the answer to the outburst lies in automation.