In his paper titled “Justice Delayed Is Justice Denied”, Anwar (Andy) N. Khan, a professor emeritus of Legal Studies at Canada’s Athabasca University, states that backlog of cases at various courts in India stood at a whopping 30 million in 2015. Timely dispensation of justice is a challenge faced by many countries. Pakistan is no exception. Till December 2016, around three million cases were pending hearings in courts across the country.
- Various projects to introduce use of computers at the Lahore High Court (LHC) date back to 1996. In 2011, the Punjab Information Technology Board took up the task of bringing the LHC’s systems at par with latest technology. A budget of PKR 197.5 million was allocated for the purpose.
- The Case Flow Management System project features auto assistance of cases and establishment of kiosks at court premises where case information can be checked on the spot. An important feature of the system will be online availability of cause-lists, comprising a schedule of cases to be heard by courts.
Like numerous other countries, Pakistan has also started adopting technology-based initiatives to counter this problem. One such initiative is the Case Flow Management System (CFMS) developed for the Lahore High Court (LHC).
The CFMS aims at streamlining and expediting hearing of cases. It has recently gone into live-testing phase.
“In Pakistan, the use of case flow management technique is uncommon. But, in other countries, it has played a vital role in clearing backlog of cases and reducing the period for disposition of cases,” observes Zafar Ahmed Khan Sherwani in his paper “Case Flow Management System and Court Automation”. He especially mentions the example of the U.S., where this technique has been in use since the beginning of the 20th century.
Sherwani’s paper is based on his experience with introduction of this system at the District & Sessions Court in Karachi-East, where he had served as a judge.
Automation efforts at the Lahore High Court
Efforts to promote use of computers at the LHC date back to 1996. In 2011, the Punjab Information Technology Board (PITB) took up the task of bringing the LHC’s systems at par with latest technology. A budget of PKR 197.5 million was allocated for the purpose.
Since then, the PITB and the LHC have been working toward devising tech-powered solutions to various issues faced by the court.
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Already having the distinction of being the first high court of Pakistan to develop its mobile-app, the LHC is now working to introduce the concept of automated courts, starting with a pilot project on e-filing of cases under the CFMS. This will help the court become a paper-free institution.
The objectives of the CFMS are to establish a faster and more reliable system where cases are processed under a no-adjournment culture and timely dispensation of justice is ensured. The automation efforts at the LHC will lead to improved data management and better accessibility of information.
“The use of information technology has become inevitable in almost every sector of life. The automated case management system will help the judiciary clear its backlog effortlessly,” Ans Ghazi, the secretary of the Lahore High Court Bar Association.
LHC Chief Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah has been leading the initiative to complete the automated case management system. Once implemented fully, the new system is set to transform the experience of litigants and lawyers in terms of their dealing with the courts.
The project is aimed at equipping the courts with essential IT infrastructure. It will also feature auto assistance of cases and establishment of kiosks at court premises where case information could be checked on the spot. An important feature of the system will be online availability of cause-lists, comprising a schedule of cases to be heard by courts. Other components of the system will be automation of case proceedings, docketing information, document circulation and tracking, document dispatch, calendaring, record of hearings, disposition, adjournments, post disposition compliance and execution, scheduling roster of sitting judges, management reporting, and dashboards.
The CFMS will enable stakeholders of the justice system to track progress of their cases at every stage of their due process before the courts. Alongside reduction in paper printing and storage costs, shifting from a paper-based system to an online system will reduce the risk of documents being misplaced, damaged or misfiled. Moreover, online digital files will be easily searchable and can be accessed and shared remotely as well.
The system will also enhance public experience of courts, as both parties involved in cases and the public will then have online access to required information. This enhanced accessibility will enable lawyers and litigants to be better prepared. They will be alerted to any changes the moment they are made.
Because the digital system will make information and documents accessible online, the litigants will no longer be dependent solely on their lawyers to get progress reports of their cases pending hearings before a court.
Before the launch of the automated system, cases were allocated to judges by the registrar’s office. This could have allowed for human bias. To counter this, an in-house app, Auto Marking, was developed to automatically allocate cases to judges based on an algorithm. Now, the LHC has discontinued the use of that app and shifted to a more streamlined and robust system provided by a Singaporean consulting firm, Hi-Soft. The android mobile-app under use at the LHC enables lawyers and litigants to stay informed on the progress of their cases. It has over 5,000 users so far.
Lawyers or their office assistants are no longer required to visit the court premises to check cause-lists of cases. These lists are updated daily on the LHC website: www.lhc.gov.pk. “I now check the status of our cases pending hearings in the court using my smartphone,” says Sheikh Latif, an office assistant working at the chambers of Advocate A.K. Dogar.
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Besides the cause-lists, the website and the mobile-app also provide information about the status of certified copies of court orders, roster of sitting judges, last hearing status of cases, and reported judgments.
Latif says that lawyers can also stay updated on their cases through SMS service provided by the LHC.
Moreover, the LHC has also established a multilingual telephone helpline (1134), making case information just a call away for lawyers, litigants, and the public. The helpline provides information about cases pending hearings at all four benches of the LHC – its principal seat in Lahore and benches in Multan, Rawalpindi, and Bahawalpur. The telephone helpline provides assistance in Urdu, English, Punjabi, and Seraiki languages. It caters to an average of around 250 inquiries every day.
Bar members believe that digitization of the record and automated case management was the need of the hour. It is critical to live up to public expectations of speedy dispensation of justice, they say.
“The use of information technology has become inevitable in almost every sector of life,” says Ans Ghazi, the secretary of the Lahore High Court Bar Association. He sees these efforts as a positive contribution toward modernization of justice system. “The automated case management system will help the judiciary clear its backlog effortlessly,” he adds.
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“Kudos to the PITB. I hope they achieve their goal of complete automation of records at the LHC. They have full support of the honorable judges and support wings of the court,” says Syeda Fatima Agha, additional registrar IT, LHC. “These efforts are sure to yield in revolutionary changes in the judicial system of Pakistan.”
Wajih Ahmed is a court reporter at Dawn newspaper, Lahore.