Justice: The way forward — Dana A. Wazani

JANUARY 17 —  The Judiciary is considered as an arm of government that coordinates the administration of justice through the court system which interprets the laws enacted by the parliament (legislature).

In its role as guardian-protector of the constitution and the fundamental rights of the people without external interference, the judiciary is considered the most critical and influential arm of government.

It is essential to note that the judiciary and its roles today are not what they were some 30 years ago. There are various changes and modifications that have taken place regarding, the approaches they take to ensure the provision of justice.

The approach of coordination to administration of justice by the judiciary has seen various improvements in the past years.  For instance, we have seen the implementation of E-Court System aimed at transforming the judicial system to be in parallel with today’s digital age. 

The Case Management System (CMS) was then introduced to complement the implementation of the E-Court system, where the idea was to go paperless, improve service efficiency and better handling of court cases.

When the E-filing and E-registration were added into the CMS features, practices of the past such as manual registration and filing of a heavy bundle of pleadings are now considered a history. These changes have improved transparency and quality of government service delivery.

The idea of going paperless comes with its own sets of challenges and with that in mind, it requires a sea of change that involves everyone including judges, judicial officers, and lawyers to be on board.

In the past, lawyers would appear in court just to get a mention or trial date. Taking this into account, the judiciary has taken big steps to be innovative and cost-saving in its approach to hearings by introducing E-review to save travelling time and money. This is because case management can be done from smartphones at any time and anywhere.

Technological changes have not only transformed the judiciary alone but the whole legal system.

In the olden days, judges were known to write copious notes, restricting their capacity to actively engage in the proceedings and observe the parties. Often times, court clerks and lawyers struggled to read the notes of proceedings.

In this era, handwritten notes of proceedings and written judgment are a thing of the past. Audio and video recording, and having real-time transcription allows all parties to see and make notes as it scrolls by enabling them to review recent evidence and get hold of that proceedings at the end of the day; saving time and money for all parties involved.

In hindsight, lawyers and judges are able to pay more attention to the proceedings rather than wasting time taking notes.

Sabah and Sarawak are regions that are geographically a mixture of mountainous regions and tropical forest. As a result, road transportation can be limited.  Accessing these two states using the road has been a major problem, even though it is the most common means of transport. This leaves air transport as the viable way of accessing these areas.

However, the cost of travelling by air comes at a hefty price.

The best justice system, in theory, is no longer practical unless the public has equality of access and true access to justice is arguably the best measure of such system.

On that account, Video Conferencing System (VCS) was introduced. Ever since its initiation, the VCS had saved a lot of travelling time and costs for outstation lawyers from attending a short hearing in a different town.  The VCS is not a single-use product, but in reality, it has been used in many criminal cases involving rape, human trafficking victims or child witness.

The usual practice of witnesses having to present themselves in person in courts has sometimes received some difficulties due to geographical barriers, fear of testifying in person, insecurity of the witness, and concern about privacy exposure. Witnesses may decline personal presentation at a court trial for deposition. In such cases, video conferencing has been deployed to enable witnesses located in any part of the country present their evidence in a trial and make legal depositions on schedule.

The introduction of video conferencing services also allows courts to conduct remote court trials. The concerned parties and other participants in the proceedings can appear in courts from various locations and this improves the efficiency of trials.

Overall, video conferencing helps to enhance productivity in multiple areas of the court hearings. It enables the courts to run more smoothly, streamline legal procedures, improve the working efficiency in courts, and as earlier mentioned, save a great deal of judicial time and costs.

In an ideal justice system, the rule of law must be applied equally to everyone as what Judge Sturgess once quote, “Justice is open to everyone in the same way as the Ritz Hotel”.

In this part of the world, however,  not everyone has access to the law.  The costs of transportation alone can deplete their life savings, especially those living in the interior parts of Sabah and Sarawak.

This is where the Mobile Court was introduced. The Mobile Court is simple and straightforward. A specially equipped and modified four-wheel drive buses to provide the mobile court facilities. These buses bearing the logo, “Justice for One and All”, the vehicles are intended as a clearly recognisable justice administration feature.

Their visibility has two objectives. Similar to the maxim, “justice must not only be done, it must be seen to be done”, the fact that Mobile Court vehicles are prominent when they are brought to rural Sabah and Sarawak localities has the effect of advertising the Court’s existence.

As importantly, the Mobile Court vehicles arguably prompt these citizens with little prior formal legal system contact to seek a fuller understanding of the justice system’s larger role in Malaysian society.

The Mobile Court connotes a special arrangement of the court that moves from one place to another, as opposed to courts in an enclosed place. When the idea of the Mobile Court was mooted, it was envisaged that the mobile court should provide the same services as that is available in regular court under the present set up. With that concept in mind, the mobile court was structured to provide exactly the same services one would expect to obtain in the court in town.

This means that the Mobile Court does not only hear civil and criminal cases, but it also provides for other services that are normally available at a regular court, for example, late birth registration, attestation of documents, statutory declarations and filing of cases.

In fact, it goes one step further by providing legal advice in appropriate cases and it also assists the rural communities in their dealing with other government departments.

It is now a common scene to see Magistrates at a Mobile Court sitting in the remote areas drafting letters for people who seek their assistance, especially in their correspondence with other government agencies.

The Mobile Courts bring a revolutionary change in the history of materialisation and delivery of justice as well as bringing a neo-dimension and a crucial paradigm change in the legal system.

The operations of the Mobile Courts for the past 10 years suggest that the Court has both popular and public administration appeal. The best justice system in theory becomes irrelevant in practical terms unless the public have equality of access, irrespective of location or socio-economic status; and the public confidence in the quality of justice the system delivers.

The judicial system has incorporated major technological changes in the past few decades to offer services that meet the requirements of the technological age. The system has changed the approach to hearings of cases to enhance efficiency, transparency, and improve quality of service delivery.

The E-Court System has been implemented to ensure that judicial service is in line with the requirements of the digital age.

These technological changes continue to show that the Judiciary must exhibit that it is in control of proactive protection of public interest and human rights as a way of ensuring effective and equal access to justice for all.

The Judiciary exists not for its own sake but to serve the ordinary people in the name of justice and rule of law.

* Dana A. Wazani is a Deputy Registrar, High Court Kota Kinabalu

** This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.

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