Pakistan faces a great challenge of delayed justice. In 2010, there were 1.5 million pending cases and 2.6 million new cases filed in the courts. By 2021, there was already over 3 million pending cases and about 40 million new cases instituted by then. About 5,000 judges help make this process efficient but what else can be done to bring about justice? Legal tech has the power to offer us a solution with its efficiency-driven algorithms.
Justice Shah, the judge of Supreme Court of Pakistan, points out that “traditional closed architecture of our courts” can’t address the issue of delay. He adds that there has to be a time when technology is brought forth to run our “courthouse.”
Large parts of the judiciary are delayed because there is poor case management, lack of technology to monitor case progress, strikes, and no unified communication between judges. In order for the judiciary to be regulated, automation systems with SMS text notification and mobile app use were employed in Punjab. For example, an app allows lawyers to track their cases; a database helps them keep track of the status and progress of their cases; an SMS service communicates important information about cases.
The manual system did little to change the effectiveness of the justice system. Although the automation system was supposed to reduce the workload for lawyers, it had limited success because it lacked intelligence. There was no tool that could easily sort cases out based on priorities, so cases about elderly women, children, disabled persons, prisoners, students, or those with a direct effect on rights and the economy have to wait for years without any indication as to when they will come up for review. There is no sense of urgency in this system because there is no more way than just randomly picking people out of a long list of names- which can lead to massive lawsuits and conflict. Without technology tools to look at case processing in an effective manner, our justice system cannot perform satisfactorily.
Justice Shah highlighted the need to go beyond automation and move towards transformation of this sector, at which point we’ll see a shift away from bail/injunction granting to processes that fully complete a trial. Trials should happen for just 1 year or less so cases have time to be resolved.
Shah proposes a policy with regards to all animals.
The concept of ‘access to justice’ should be redefined to mean not only being able to approach the courts, but with cases being done from there to the Supreme Court. It will help promote the rule of law and an effective system of accountability in society.
This will reduce the workload on courts and delay in justice by establishing mediation centers for cases that are beyond the scope of courts. The domestic arbitration law should be revised to minimize the court’s interference in the arbitration proceedings. This will facilitate the transition from an adversarial legal system to mediation and arbitration.
First, e-filings should be created for documents such as pleadings or applications for adjournments. Subsequently, a hospital would upload the certificate to court electronically. Additionally, the proceedings of all case types would move through an electronic system. Facility fees could then be automatically calculated by an inbuilt system. Furthermore, the service of summons and notices can be affected by a GPS-enabled e-portal.
Fourth, the system of “synchronized hearing” of cases requires a paradigm shift. The physical presence of parties and their lawyers may be dispensed with. Lawyers can file written submissions or send skeleton arguments through audio or video link. It will allow judges to decide cases quickly. One should deposit security to confirm an appearance on a fixed date of hearing if a personal hearing is necessary for doing complete justice.
In order to track the progress of cases, five data rooms should be established. In divisions and provinces, superior courts can’t analyze what’s happening with cases in a district or province on a daily basis. They won’t know how many cases are fixed. It’s not possible for them to find out on any given day how many cases have been decided as well as why cases have been adjourned or not moved closer to resolution. As such, there is an urgent need for an intelligent case management system among our superior courts.
This would be hugely beneficial for lawyers and judges working in remote districts and subdistricts. With smart online research centers such as Grammarly, the legal fraternity can improve the quality of their writing skills. Six is one digit fewer than seven – neat!
Justice Mansoor Ali Shah asserts that we must use legal tech, such as machine learning and computer code, to make the justice system more efficient. The past few years have taught us how important legally-driven tech is for the welfare of the population.
The upcoming Global Legal Tech Report indicates that legal operations, document automation, and virtual law firms are increasingly used in the 21st century. Other topics discussed include big data, e-filing of court documents, machine learning, data mining and cloud computing.
With the help of technology, law will no longer be an ivory tower for the privileged few. Lawyers themselves need to be willing to adapt and embrace legal tech. Without legislative and technological assistance, progress cannot take place. The bar councils should find ways to support the judiciary in reforming our justice system so that it is less corrupt and more efficient in order to protect constitutional rights in Pakistan.
It is high time the justice system was re-imagined and reformed. Only by significant structural and institutional reforms will we reduce the delays in justice, providing a boost to our economy overall. Our justice system should be accessible, efficient, flexible and intelligent.