For the first time, the Supreme Court of Pakistan has allowed a senior lawyer to represent his client from home using a video-link facility. The permission was given keeping in mind the current COVID-19 situation that limits contact between clients and lawyers.
A three-judge bench, led by Justice Mushir Alam, on Monday ordered technical staff of the Sindh High Court to make arrangements for senior lawyer Khalid Anwar next week so that he may plead his case from his home using video link. Anwar could not come to the SC Karachi Registry due to Covid-19.
Senior lawyers welcomed the Supreme Court’s decision and urged all high courts to provide video link facilities to the lawyers so that they could argue their cases from home. At present, only the Islamabad High Court (IHC) has offered such a facility to its pleaders. At the IHC, some lawyers have even argued their cases from abroad.
It is believed that the extension of video link facility will help courts deal with their backlog of pending cases as well. Currently, 45,959 cases are pending in the Supreme Court. Senior lawyers believe that pendency can only be decreased through extending the video-link facility and lawyers should be allowed to argue their cases from home during the pandemic.
They have called on the Chief Justice to summon a meeting of the National Judicial Policy Making Committee (NJPMC) to evolve a strategy to facilitate litigants and lawyers in the prevailing situation. The NJPMC is a consultative body comprising all chief justices of superior courts. A senior lawyer, who is involved in international arbitrations, said all work at the foreign courts is being done through video link and that he is taking part in all proceedings from Pakistan.
In April, a division bench led by Justice Qazi Faez Isa had proposed a mechanism of hearing cases via video link amid the spread of Covid-19 virus and consequent difficulties faced by litigants and counsels.
The order proposed that each courtroom or bench be provided with a Wi-Fi-connected cell phone while the number of the cellular device should also be mentioned in the cause list as well as on the SC website.
The proposal also suggested that applications such as Skype, WhatsApp, Telegram or any other suitable videoconferencing platform be installed in the said Supreme Court cell phone and the counsel should also be asked to install the same application in their devices.
After the identity of the counsel is verified, cases may be heard by the use of the said video-conferencing application, the bench had proposed. It also suggested maintaining transparency and openness during the proceedings and that the screen of the court’s cell phone may be mirrored on television sets which are already installed in every courtroom.