Lawyers required to go digital by 2018

By 2018, all lawyers in Peninsular Malaysia must start using the e-filing system which allows them to file court documents online instead of doing it at the courts. — AFP pic
By 2018, all lawyers in Peninsular Malaysia must start using the e-filing system which allows them to file court documents online instead of doing it at the courts. — AFP pic

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 11 — Lawyers practising in the peninsula have until the end of the year to file court documents online, even as only a quarter of them have registered for the e-filing system introduced six years ago.

The judiciary’s e-Kehakiman division said that all legal firms are required to file their court documents online via https://efs.kehakiman.gov.my by the end of December 2017, noting that this was “based on consensus with Bar Council”.

As for e-filing service bureaus at the courts where court employees provide the service of filing documents, the e-Kehakiman division confirmed that it will by then be limited to those without lawyers to represent them or only as a limited alternative.

“Service bureau would be made accessible for unrepresented litigant (public) only or as an option whenever the e-filing system is not accessible due to technical reasons. It has been 6 years since e-filing system was introduced on March 2011 and lawyers have more than enough time to prepare themselves for online filing,” the e-Kehakiman division said in a recent email response to Malay Mail Online.

In the Kuala Lumpur Bar’s July notice to its members, it announced that the judiciary’s e-Kehakiman team had said there will be full migration to the e-filing system by 2018 and that lawyers would have to adapt to using the online system, adding that the service bureaus would soon only cater to the public.

The e-Kehakiman team said a total of 4,985 users from 2,569 law firms in Peninsular Malaysia have been registered as e-filing system users as of this July 12.

The Malaysian Bar, which represents all lawyers in Peninsular Malaysia, has around 17,460 members as of the end of 2016 and 20,040 lawyers from 7,538 firms from Peninsular Malaysia and Labuan as of this February 13. Not all lawyers or law firms engage heavily in litigation work or legal work involving the courts.

The e-filing system

The e-filing system allows law firms to file or access case documents at anytime and anywhere —— even for a case in another state, instead of being bound to the office hours of the courts’ filing counters that are otherwise known as e-filing service bureaus. It has been touted as a time-saving and cost-cutting method that boosts court efficiency.

It all started when the move to modernise the courts through the E-Court system was initiated in 2009, with the e-filing system introduced in March 2011 under the first phase reportedly covering eight locations — Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya, Shah Alam, Johor Baru, Ipoh, Penang, Kuala Terengganu and Kota Baru. The Star reported last March that 5,700 users were registered.

In the recent rollout of the second phase of the E-Court system from May to July, the e-filing system was upgraded in existing locations and was expanded to new locations throughout Peninsular Malaysia including Selangor’s Klang and Selayang, Johor’s Muar, Perak’s Taiping, Kedah’s Sungai Petani and Alor Setar, Perlis’s Kangar, Negri Sembilan’s Seremban, Pahang’s Kuantan and Temerloh and Melaka.

“Apart from improvements made to e-filing system, there are new modules introduced in Phase 2 which include Mobile Apps, Practising Certificate Module (system integration with Bar Council), Power of Attorney Module, and e-Lelong. Furthermore, e-filing also covers criminal matters for Subordinate Courts and High Courts and all filings to Court of Appeal and Federal Court,” the e-Kehakiman said when commenting on new features introduced.

Law firms can use the e-filing system to file both civil and criminal cases at the Court of Appeal and Federal Court. — Picture by Miera Zulyana
Law firms can use the e-filing system to file both civil and criminal cases at the Court of Appeal and Federal Court. — Picture by Miera Zulyana

Foong Cheng Leong, the Kuala Lumpur Bar’s Information Technology and Publication Committee chairman, noted that e-filing is partly aimed at ending the maintenance of actual physical files and saves time with the skipping of physical file searches.

“Before e-filing, the court had problem organising their files and many files went missing resulting the loss of judicial and litigants’ time. The e-filing system also allows documents to be viewed quickly without the need to look for the file,” he said.

While the cost of getting a token to use the e-filing service is relatively affordable at RM220 for two years or RM160 for one year and with no subscription fees applicable, some lawyers however remain reluctant to immediately make the leap.

When met in court, Ronnie Wong, who is a sole proprietor in his sixties, said he was more at ease with going to the e-filing service bureau instead of switching to the e-filing system, as he felt it would be harder to know whether the documents are in order or whether the payment went through if there are technical glitches.

“So when we do like that (going to the service bureau), if it’s not in order, they will reject at the counter, we will know already. Then payment also we know, we go and make payment, we get the receipt already...That’s why we want to do manual filing,” he said.

The Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) guide on the judiciary’s E-Court portal states that those using the e-filing system will be notified by email if their documents are successfully processed, while the words “Filing Accepted” would appear in the e-filing system if the documents have been successfully submitted.

According to e-Kehakiman, weekly training sessions from May 2 to July 25 were held for lawyers throughout Peninsular Malaysia at all locations where the new e-filing system was introduced, with all information on the online filing system available at https://ecourt.kehakiman.gov.my and with the user manual also available online at https://efs.kehakiman.gov.my.

Foong Cheng Leong said the e-filing system can be made better by doing away with online file searches' 30-minute time limit and inability to allow printing per file instead of per page. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
Foong Cheng Leong said the e-filing system can be made better by doing away with online file searches' 30-minute time limit and inability to allow printing per file instead of per page. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

Room for improvement

Foong said the second phase of the e-filing system had some improvements such as a better online file search system that now includes searching of court minutes, but he highlighted several issues such as the use of the security token which he felt was “unnecessary”.

“Although it is now available at an affordable rate, the use of the token creates a ripple effect. For example, the lawyer now would need to apply for the token and learn how to use and install it, safe-keep, protect and observe the expiry date of the token,” he said, arguing that there were other ways to ensure security or to ensure the right person is filing a court document.

He said the online file search function where users have to pay RM8 or RM12 depending on the court tiers for a 30-minute viewing period should be changed, suggesting that the time limit should be scrapped and instead replaced with a pay-per-file system.

The file search function also only allows users to view and print files page by page, but should instead be changed to allow users to download the files to view them directly on their computers, he said.

“The current system still has a lot of bugs. It ought to be have been beta tested properly by users, in particular, the lawyers before rolling them out,” he said, citing as example the timer in the file search system suddenly resetting to 0:00 before the time is actually up.

In response, the e-Kehakiman division told Malay Mail Online: “Issues regarding e-filing system have been discussed in meetings with the representatives from the respective State Bar and Bar Council with the Court’s top management and the Right Honourable Chief Justice and corrective measures and improvements are carried out as on-going process. Any complaints and feedback can be directed to the Helpdesk Support or Unit e-Kehakiman.”

The case for retaining court filing services

When contacted, lawyer Cyrus Tiu Foo Woei said he had already switched to the e-filing system about one year ago as he felt that it took too long to do it in court.

But drawing on his own experiences of the allegedly unstable e-filing system’s first phase during system upgrades and inadequate support system, he felt there was a need to retain the courts’ e-filing service bureaus as an alternative for lawyers in cases of emergencies such as electricity disruptions or if the e-filing system is down.

Tiu said there were only two helplines during the first phase which were often hard to reach and that uploads were relatively slow, but said he has not encountered any problems so far with the e-filing system’s second phase which also allowed for faster document uploads. He suggested that the support system be further improved by increasing the number of hotlines and providing technical support via livechat in the e-filing website.

The KL Bar said in July that the service provider currently has 13 staff manning eight telephone lines.

Foong similarly said: “However, the service bureau should still remain to assist lawyers to file their documents. Not every lawyer has litigation cases often and some may even do one or two a year. It makes no commercial sense sometimes to pay for the token to do e-filing. Nevertheless, the Court should allow other parties to open service bureaus to cater the needs of fellow lawyers.”

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