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The technological transformation of the court system By Kashif Mirza


May 6, 2022

The writer is an

economist, anchor,

analyst and the

President of All

 Pakistan Private

Schools’ Federation



According to the World Justice Project Rule of Law Index 2020-21, Pakistan’s worst score in the world, and worldwide is 130 out of 139. Unfortunately, there are many reasons for this performance but one of the most important reasons is the Pakistani Justice System for this long-standing trend. Fifty-three thousand cases are pending in the Supreme Court, about 300,000 pending cases are in the five high courts, and about 2.2 million cases are pending in the subordinate courts and judges in less than four provinces and the state capital, according to the Pakistan Law and Justice Commission. Our  justice system was not designed to make things easy for regular people. The complex language, the behavioral protocols and even the design of courthouses themselves all seem as if they were intentionally configured to put up barriers between judges and lawyers and the rest of us. The problem of access to justice had already reached critical proportions with low-income receiving inadequate or no professional legal help for 96% of the civil legal problems they faced. Over the last few years, technology has increasingly been pitched as a solution to that problem. The widespread accessibility of video conferencing has made it so that people do not necessarily have to take time off work to participate in a hearing or a trial, while the growth of alternative dispute resolution tools, e-filing and digital evidence platforms all have shown the potential to transform the courtroom. The most important stakeholders in the justice system are the citizens, and ensuring that they have access to justice is the most important challenge that needs to be overcome. In the status quo, we see that accessing justice in the first place is the problem. Police and other law-enforcement agencies are seen as hostile, especially for the majority of the underprivileged population. For women, accessing justice is all the more challenging. Character shaming, incredulity, bribery are major challenges that citizens face when dealing with the law-enforcement and justice system. Perhaps technology can empower citizens to hold the law-enforcement system accountable.

Every child has a right to respect and dignity. This is not only because they are future adults, but also that they are human beings.

The legal system in Pakistan still heavily relies on traditional methods of working and the major one is paperwork. It is of utmost importance that the Court House is made efficient, affordable, intelligent and smart through technology. Technological and scientific developments are generating huge opportunities for tackling societal challenges. However, the benefits of technology and innovation are unequally distributed, and they tend to cause economic and political disruptions in our societies that widen inequalities. The introduction of e-courts by the Supreme Court of Pakistan where cases can be heard via video link is a welcome addition to the current setup where complainants and witnesses have to bear the cost of travel and stay for hearings, something that otherwise deters them from using the justice system. Similar arrangements for recording witness statements via video will also help the cause of justice. Whereas technology can be an important enabler in accessing and dispensing justice, it is essential that the limitations of technology be kept in mind when glamorising it or relying on it too much. Whereas it would be helpful for judges, as announced by the Supreme Court of Pakistan, to use artificial intelligence to access previous precedents and case law on specific cases, letting AI make a decision based on computed facts may be a bit of a stretch. 

Mobile phone applications that connect lawyers with citizens in search of a lawyer were unveiled. However, it is important to consider how those who cannot read or write and spend money on lawyers can be connected to pro bono lawyers without being taken advantage of. This is what innovators should be spending most of their time thinking about. Another major issue that citizens in this country face is the inefficiency of state prosecutors and the court system. Using technology for the attendance record of public prosecutors will go a long way, as the absence of state prosecutors in cases that are cognisable and non-compoundable which requires the state to be a party causes delays. Digitisation of investigation files and court records is another important area in which the justice system can be made efficient through the use of technology. No citizen should have to endure so many struggles, especially if they are the aggrieved party. Further, setting up of independent forensic laboratories for investigation of data is also very important, as the current high volume dealt by a just a handful of forensic labs causes unnecessary delays in the dispensation of justice. 

As technology outside the justice system continues to advance rapidly in use and availability, the need for change within the system is becoming unavoidable.  However, it took a pandemic for such technology to become commonplace. In the months following the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, as courtrooms around the world shut their doors and already high case backlogs started growing even more rapidly, some pioneering court systems that had been experimenting with technology prior to the pandemic saw an opportunity to solve a problem and modernize their courtrooms. Along the way, they have made significant progress on access to justice and learned a lot about how technology can be leveraged to make the justice system more equitable in the post-pandemic world. Throughout the pandemic and since, court systems that implemented digital solutions have made been able to make progress on their backlog of cases as judges, lawyers and litigants all started to interact more efficiently. The widespread technological transformation of the nation’s court system is going to require a concerted effort to develop technologies that are purpose-built for legal workflows; resilient enough to respond to endless combinations of use cases; and user-friendly enough for judges, clerks, attorneys and individuals to manage effectively. 

To foster a technological convergence among countries, and to aspire to a smart world society, the G-20 should have a central role connecting the 2030 SDG goals which include innovation, technology, justice and equality. More specifically, the policies to apply in developing countries must pursue aims such as the open diffusion of knowledge, improving digital education, producing innovations for local consumption, the reduction of their energy deficits, and the technological empowerment of women. Implementing such policies in a context of international cooperation would make public-private partnerships a key instrument for funding infrastructures, joint ventures, incubators, start-ups and any other of entity with a significant capacity for technology transfer. Major changes and challenges like automation, digitalization, 3D printing, Artificial Intelligence, retail through the web, etc. are currently underway and, in the years ahead, more change will come from technological and scientific developments. There is a dialectic relationship between technology and society: technology is both part of the solution to societal challenges and part of the problem, and this deepens social inequalities. The concept of technological justice can reconcile these two faces, connecting technology, a critical factor in human development, with our aspirations for social justice and greater equality between economies. 

We propose to develop the concept of technological justice, along with relevant policies. The concept of technological justice requires a rethinking of how-both in the developing and the developed world-to encourage and nurture technological innovation that has social value and is environmentally sustainable. There is a need for a renewed focus on reform of national and international innovation systems and R&D policies, in an attempt to create a new consensus on how public-private partnerships can contribute to a more open and sustainable use of technology. More open source access for technologies should be sought. It is essential to assure an open diffusion of knowledge, innovations and technologies in the design of development policies. Development policies should support redistributive systems and incentives for successful application of new technologies. Legal frameworks should be promoted to enable innovation and the use of new technologies. Improve the education of the left-behind countries through global schemes. Technological justice should be linked to the SDG Agenda. As a result, the timeframe for proposals should coincide with the 2030 horizon.

The judiciary, the legal community and civil society have come together with a shared vision for a Digital Legal Pakistan. They say that justice delayed is justice denied, hopefully, with the intervention of legal-tech, we will be able to change that. It is important that the laws are fair and respect fundamental constitutional rights, and that they provide sufficient protections to citizens rather than demonising their use of technology to exercise rights. Moreover, the laws must not be abused by the state against dissidents and whistleblowers. We are at a pivotal moment in the development of the court system; we have an opportunity to truly raise the game and modernize arcane processes that have been creating unnecessary barriers to justice for far too long. We are talking about the independence of the judiciary and the strengthening of the administration of justice in order to provide justice and freedom for citizens. Only an effective and efficient justice system can ensure the enjoyment of basic rights by the average person.

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