- COVID-19 disproportionately affected the marginalized groups who were deprived of their legal rights. The crisis created the opportunity to accelerate alternative means of continued justice service delivery.
- The state leadership of Bangladesh has introduced the usage of ICT in courts.
- The pragmatic step to the E-judiciary is inevitable to integrate the existing efforts and to digitalize the judiciary aiming at reducing citizens’ time, cost, and hassle to access to justice and legal aid services.
- Even though the judicial infrastructure and the inter-agency justice service system in Bangladesh have not been completely digitalized, some brilliant advances are made by the Supreme Court, Bangladesh Police, and other agencies.
C19 has disproportionately impacted marginalized groups, including migrants, prisoners, women and girls, garment workers and day laborers, who are increasingly subjected to discrimination, rights abuses, and uneven access to C19 relief and unpaid pay. C19 exacerbates pre-existing social divisions and inequities, raising demand for informal justice and eroding community resilience. Moreover, the country saw an unprecedented closure of courts, and detainees, even those who had met the prerequisites, were deprived of their right to apply for bail for undertrial detainees.
The context created the opportunity to accelerate alternative means of continued justice service delivery and the state leadership has taken the very timely and significant decision in introducing usage of ICT in courts. The President of the country passed an ordinance on The Usage of ICT in Courts immediately to enable the trials through virtual courts from the subordinate courts up to the Apex court in 2020. The parliament passed the bill titled ‘Adalat Kartik Tathya Prajukti Byabohar Bill 2020 as an Act to empower country’s courts in carrying out trial proceedings through videoconferences and other digital means keeping the accused in jails, the lawyers in their residences and the witnesses in other places during the coronavirus crisis as per the Act. The era of digitalization in the justice service delivery process has begun and it allowed to accelerate the function of MyCourt – a digital platform for access to justice services. Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs, Supreme Court of Bangladesh, ICT Division, UNDP Bangladesh, a2i programme have jointly worked together to accelerate the virtual hearing process in the courts. The platform enabled 42,894 bail applications and 14,911 virtual hearings. 10,523 individuals, including female inmates, were released on bail, setting a record in the history of Bangladesh . The prison population was thereby reduced by 11.95 percent in just three months, significantly decreasing the risk of COVID-19 infections in prison. This system helped reduce the government’s operational costs, standardize implementation, and ensure delivery of service. In addition to that the easily accessible MyCourt App has reduced the time, cost, and visit to the court services for women litigants and marginalized people living in remote areas. The innovation in the judiciary unleashed much-needed novel thinking and motivated both the government and the people to transform the courts, making use of information technology. The functions of the digital initiative in judiciary resulted from timely needed initiatives which included an online causelist for all the courts across the country, MyCourt App, and digital judicial dashboard to complement the e-Judiciary project of the Government of Bangladesh. The recent amendment of the Evidence Act 1872 was put into effect in 2022 by bringing digital and electronic records into the fold also shows the strong commitment of the political will of the government in advancing the digitalization in the legal framework on the country.
The pragmatic step to the E-judiciary is inevitable to integrate the existing efforts and to digitalize the judiciary of Bangladesh aiming at reducing citizens’ time, cost and hassle to access to justice and legal aid services and to make the justice governance efficient and transparent. However creating the legal fraternity of Bangladesh tech-ready, improving digital literacy, and developing the institutional and professional capacity to adapt the digital transformation is crucial in accelerating access to justice for mass people. Ensuring timely justice has been identified as the major challenge in delivering justice to the mass people. 3.9 million cases are pending in the higher judiciary and the subordinate courts . To reduce the huge case backlog from the courts and ensure efficient delivery of justice, can we imagine a courtroom, which we could walk into, not with sheaves of papers, affidavits, bundles of documents and volumes of authorities, but with an electronic device? Plugging the digital devices into the courtroom in a flash, the judge and lawyers would immediately be able to follow arguments, evidence, and authorities at the click of a mouse. This reality can be evolved gradually if the judicial leadership plays a critical role. A ‘Digital Bangladesh’ is not imaginable without a digital-smart judiciary. However to adopt the practical perspective by the justice sector actors, required ICT infrastructure, record rooms, and related services need to have a minimum touch of digitalization. On the other hand, the mitigation measures concerning any risk that MyCourt App could contribute further to widen the existing digital divide between men and women, rich and poor, and urban and rural people should be critically analyzed by the justice reform champions in Bangladesh.
The judicial infrastructures and the inter-agency justice service system in Bangladesh have not been completely digitalized, yet Supreme Court has started to archive landmark judgments digitally, the Bangladesh police had launched online GD filing system, online case filing system has been also launched in the Company and an Admiralty Courts in High Court Division of Supreme Court recently. It is realized that the E-judiciary project has its scope to vastly develop the digital infrastructure in the judiciary, however, it is crucial to ensure the maintenance of the existing digital services in the court system including the online causelist for subordinate courts, digital judicial dashboard, etc.
Towards improving the justice service delivery for the women, poor, vulnerable, and left behind justice seekers, specific jurisdictions in the judiciary need to be given a special focus that includes,
i) Online legal aid application, online pre-case and post-case mediation (online dispute resolution), sms based summon and process server to the parties in legal aid, online database of the legal aid panel lawyers, and related tasks.
ii) Digitalization on gender-based cases, online case tracking and coordination between justice sector actors providing services to the victims/parties of GVB cases
iii) Online case tracking system for the CMM and CJM courts, online case tracking, online payment for cases of commercial nature, environmental courts, cyber crime tribunals and family courts.
iv) Completion of the digital filing process, through virtual hearing, online payment and online accessibility of the certified copy of the order/judgment in the Company and Admiralty Courts in High Court.
Improved justice sector coordination is critical in accelerating the digitalization of justice services by engaging the key agencies including the Supreme Court, Ministry of Law, justice and parliamentary affairs, Ministry of Home Affairs, Bangladesh Police, Bangladesh Prisons, the Forensic wing of the DGHS, National Legal Aid Services Organizations, etc. Institutional capacity development strategy on the digital justice system, enabling online court payment gateways, data protection, and an overall systematic digitalization approach requires to evolve better management and development of the digialized model of access to justice in Bangladesh.