Senior lawyers said lawyers should also be trained as judges have to use the e-justice procedure
Though the country's apex court has adopted the e-justice procedure amid the coronavirus outbreak, lawyers in the lower courts have been giving vent to their state of confusion over virtual court proceedings.
According to the lawyers, most of them are not comfortable with IT use, and do not know much about the system. However, the law minister and the attorney general said this is just the beginning of the new system and it will take some time for people to get accustomed to it.
The e-justice procedure was set in motion in the country through the submission of petitions on Monday after Chief Justice Syed Mahmud Hossain issued directives on court proceedings being conducted virtually on Sunday.
The High Court instructed the government to take measures to save the dolphins in the Halda River in Chattogram in its first virtual order.
Lawyers, however, have come up with mixed reactions to the e-justice system. They have announced a boycott of the system in many districts, citing a lack of training. Many lawyers even in the capital are in doubt over the outcome of the process.
Some of them believe the e-justice procedure will speed up judicial proceedings while many others think that the system will not do much good.
Former law minister Barrister Shafique Ahmed told The Business Standard that there are no major issues for lawyers in the virtual court system as the other sections of the court have most of the clerical work.
The barrister said the newly introduced virtual court system consists of both manual and digital systems.
He said, "For example, a Vakalatnama has to be purchased, and the accused has to sign it from jail. This will take at least a day. Then, trials require applications, and these have to be submitted physically in different sections of the court."
The entire process has to be carried out by maintaining social distancing. "Video conferencing only ensures distancing from the judge, while other processes of a trial are still manual," added Barrister Shafique.
The ex-law minister said many lawyers therefore are not satisfied with the mixed proceedings. He commented that they will welcome it if the entire system goes digital.
"Has the virtual court system been introduced only for the safety of judges," questioned a Supreme Court lawyer. On condition of anonymity, the lawyer said, "It seems that the lives of advocates and clerks are dispensable."
The lawyer demanded a resumption of normal court activities.
When contacted, Chattogram District Bar Association General Secretary HM Zia Uddin said the association welcomed the e-justice procedure.
"We will closely monitor the situation until the upcoming Eid. Then we will decide on our next course of action," he noted with a note of caution.
HM Zia said the virtual court is slow because so far it has not been able to hold more than four bail hearings per day, while normal courts are used to conducting 30 to 40 hearings daily.
However, Law Minister Anisul Huq believes any newly introduced system naturally takes more time.
"Once lawyers become accustomed to the e-justice procedure, these issues will be resolved automatically," he told The Business Standard.
Agreeing with the minister, Attorney General Mahbubey Alam said, "This is just the beginning of the virtual court system. It may take some time for it to operate smoothly."
The video conferencing of virtual courts employs software like Zoom and Team. In some districts, Facebook messenger is also being used for bail hearings.
On Tuesday, Bangladesh's lower courts granted bail to 144 suspects after hearing more than 150 petitions via video conference.
A good number of suspects obtained bail on Wednesday too. The Supreme Court intends to continue the e-justice procedure even after the pandemic comes to an end.
Supreme Court Bar Association President KM Amin claimed the Supreme Court lawyers have adopted the new system as a normal process. He, however, agreed that there are some issues at district level courts in light of the introduction of the new system.
It may be mentioned that lawyers in many districts boycotted the system on Tuesday and continued their demonstrations on Wednesday too. Lawyers in at least 11 districts, including Rajshahi, Barishal, Pabna, Patuakhali and Tangail, refused to follow the system as they are not comfortable with IT use.
Giving his views on the issue, Supreme Court senior lawyer ZI Khan Panna said that only judges have been trained for the virtual court, whereas there should be similar training or manuals for lawyers as well.
Earlier, the High Court on Sunday formed three separate benches for hearing urgent cases virtually during the ongoing public holidays aimed at tackling the spread of coronavirus.
It also directed subordinate courts to hear cases related to emergency bail through virtual presence by using technology during the pandemic crisis.