Bangladesh government decided to run the judicial activities through virtual courts. For the smooth running of the court through video conferencing, the government has published a gazette on using information and technology ordinance in the courts 2020. The honorable President has given authority to the court to use information communication technology in the beginning of May 2020, and now courts are eligible to conduct judicial activities through digital means.
Moving the courts in the digital spacesis a time-bound step from the government to ensure rule of law in the country. Since 25 April 2020, the courts were adjourned until further due to the COVID19 crisis. Since then, many important matters remain pending, and everything was under lockdown. It was necessary to open up the courts, but considering the Coronavirus effects; the government kept the courts closed but the necessity of the courts has decreased but didn't go away. Though, there were limited activities of the judicial magistrates even during this time, but it was turning out to be insufficient and there was demand for opening up courts.
Considering the huge demand and necessity of the ordinary population government decided to move the courts partially to digital spaces. The proceedings of virtual courts have started since 11 May 2020, and only on 14 May 2020, there were hearing and disposal of 2434 applications for bail in the lower courts through the virtual system. In the lower courts, 1821 people secured bail through the virtual courts.Considering the necessity,the high court of the country have established virtual benches.
Those courts are accepting applications through emails. Considering their applications' importance some of them are being kept for hearing and some are being referred to the regular bench. And whenthe situation to become normal then regular bench will consider those applications.
According to our constitution, right to protection of the law, and access to justice is our fundamental rights. But the Coronavirus crisis has caused our courts to stop its functioning, and our rights are being violated but there is nothing we can do. Now these virtual courts can bring hope to those people who are in need. Many other countries have already started to move towards virtual courts and smart technologies. Some countries did it even before the COVID19 crisis erupted.
The virtual courtroom was a smart move by the Bangladesh government to establish these digital courts. The move to digitalization will stop the spread of COVID19 in the courts and ease the functionality of the judges. It will also make the procedure even cheaper and more efficient. If this can happen in reality, then the citizens of this country will understand the true meaning of protection of the law and access to justice.
As we know, 'it is easy to say but very difficult to do.' And in case of establishing virtual courts in Bangladesh, it is going to be more than challenging to do it. Because already, many district BAR associations have shown their ignorance, and even threaten to tap out from the virtual court system. Given this unstable situation, everyone is anxious is what is coming next. And most of the district level lawyers are not familiar with these virtual courts.
Furthermore, there is a tendency in Bangladesh that 'one size fits all' approach, and we don't see why there will be an exception in this case. We still lack proper infrastructure for video conferencing virtual courts. Until, and unless we can avail that physical infrastructure, we will not be able to take advantage of the virtual system.
Nonetheless, only directives without proper infrastructure from the government will not help the relevant stakeholders to understand the system. On the other hand, the sophisticated and advanced technology is expensive for ensuring dedicated services to virtual courtrooms. In this case,the government, along with the strategic development partners,needs to come forwards to bear the costs.
Another critical issue of cybersecurity of the confidential documents is the courtrooms. So far, we haven't seen any government agencies are concerned about cybersecurity. This is why many incidents of security breach has taken place in the government's digital space. But in the case of virtual courtrooms, confidentiality needs special care. We know the cost of disclosure of confidential information can be hefty.
Besides, the software the virtual courts will use needsto be sophisticated. Because we know many softwaresells data to third parties and can cause harm to the innocents. We see the case of Facebook's data breach. In this case, the government should go for a special agreement with software companies about the use of data generated in the virtual courtrooms.
If data security is not ensured, then it will be challenging to ensure the misuse of data produced in the virtual courtrooms. The bad people might hack into the system and steal the data and use it to their advantage. Even they can make it viral, and that might harm innocent people. Those who are developing the system should consider the general side effects of digital technology.
We understand that it is a very timely step forward to ensure the protection of the law and access to justice for the ordinary citizens of the country.However, without ensuringcybersecurity and proper physical infrastructure, the justice system of Bangladesh might not get the actual benefits of the introduction of virtual courtrooms.
It will surely help the judicial administration to help the needy for justice during this COVID19 crisis. Still, we should already think further becausethe Bangladesh government has already planned for bigger areas of virtual courtrooms. For this reason, the government has already prepared drafted new witness act for incorporating virtual witness.
It is essential to make sure the government learns from the mistakes of these limited virtual courtrooms, and then they can use it in the future of the virtual courtrooms. However, in this current situation, nothing can be done correctly, but it is vital to make sure they consider all the best possible existing options during these times. Nevertheless, training to the stakeholders is another essential thing to implement anything new in the public spaces in Bangladesh.
We think by providing training to the honorable judges, lawyers, and court staffs can bring a fruitful meaning to the virtual courtrooms. On the other hand, concerned departments should work dedicatedly for ensuring the security of the digital data produced in the actualcourtrooms. And by providing necessary physical infrastructure for virtual courtrooms, we can get our desired output in 'Digital Bangladesh.'
(We acknowledge different sources with gratitude)
The writer is Assistant Professor, Department of Public Administration, Comilla University, Bangladesh.
Email: [email protected]
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