They explained to The News, a newspaper published in Karachi, that lack of education as well as imagination are the main reason for not using video conferencing in the law courts in Pakistan.
Barrister Mirza explained: “The Indian judiciary has allowed the use of video conferencing in hundreds of cases over the past six years.” It was also permitted in neighboring China and many other Commonwealth countries such as England and Australia. This newsletter has published many stories of the use in courts and prisons in many countries.
The picture above tells a story of a six year old girl raped by a pedophile in Pakistan. The accused has been brought from jail chained to a guard and is waiting for trial in the harsh conditions of the law courts’ lockup facility.
In the court, the six-year old girl paralysed under the piercing glare of the man tied in chains standing a few feet away from her, could not stop the wave of utter devastation and fear from gripping her when the prosecutor asked that she identify her rapist. Too young to even grasp the meaning of the act itself, instead of pointing out the pedophile present in the court room, she began to cry hysterically. In addition to her failure in identifying her tormentor, the prosecution’s eyewitness refused to testify out of fear of retaliation from the defendant’s gang. The accused was thus acquitted.
In this case justice may have been better served if the accused was not present in the courtroom at the time of the girl’s testimony. The Pakistan Criminal Procedure Code (CRPC) dictates that evidence should be recorded in the presence of the accused and that a witness’s testimony is recorded in the presence of the judge, according to Barrister Mirza.
However, there is group of people which includes NGOs and lawyers who believe that video conferencing would remove the necessity of having the prisoner physically present during his or her court hearing without impending on the CRPC and a judge’s ruling granting permission would suffice. So far Judges in Pakistan have appeared reluctant to allow this technology in the absence of a specific amendment being passed in Parliament.
Haji Mohammad Iqbal, the general secretary of the Innocent Citizens Welfare Trust (ICWT), filed a petition with the Sindh High Court in May 2011 for video conferencing to be permitted for recording evidence during court cases as well as ensuring the presence of the accused. The ICWT’s representative Advocate Waqar Shah’s main argument was that the ‘physical’ presence of the accused or the witness was not a precondition for a criminal trial.
Barrister Mirza claims that the law in Pakistan is flexible it allows the use of modern technology. Nevertheless so far judges are reluctant to rule in favor of video conferencing in the absence of an official amendment to the CRPC being passed.
Shah and Mirza both agree that the drawbacks of using technology to expedite criminal proceedings are negligible compared to the benefits and it was the lack of education as well as imagination that was the main reason for not following the world’s example in using video conferencing.
They argue there are economic advantages of using videoconferencing technology. Over a hundred under-trial prisoners (UTPs) are transported from the city’s jails on a daily basis in heavily police vans manned by at least four police officers.
With video conferencing, the government could save on fuel as well as manpower thus freeing a significant amount of funds that can be put to more productive use. For example, there would also be less of a need to modernize and rebuild City Courts lockup premises.
“Video conferencing would be beneficial in criminal cases on the condition that both the prosecution and the defence agree on its use,” said District Judge South Hasan Feroz. “This technology would be particularly useful in the case of juveniles because I believe they should not be brought to the court while chained to adult prisoners.”
“The constitution demands inexpensive as well as speedy justice for all citizens of Pakistan and video conferencing should thus be permitted without legislation,” Muhammad Aqil, president of the Karachi Bar Association (KBA) told The News of Karachi.
Experience in other countries which we have described in this newsletter suggest this approach is beneficial to all concerned in human and economic terms.
Adapted from Article that appeared in The News, Karachi Pakistan on 25 August 2011. Full article at: http://www.thenews.com.pk/TodaysPrintDetail.aspx?ID=64419&Cat