Jury in the Digital Age

Jury in the Digital Age

Digitalization of the legal system is often perceived to demand plenty of time, energy and dedication from a majority – if not the entirety – of the legal system. It is, however, imperative if we are to ever progress and really tackle the outdated and sluggish legal system and problems in the implementation of law.

The move towards a more computerized system of law and its record-keeping has also been suggested – and to an extent implemented – in Parliament. However, reformative technological change has been limited to law-making and will take long before being adopted fully by the judiciary and finally by lawyers, law enforcement professionals and laypersons. A technologically advanced system will not only save the legal system a lot of time and address the issue of delays in justice, it will also utilize time more efficiently and enhance access to law and justice for legal professionals as well as citizens.

To further democratize the legal system, one is of the view that court proceedings also need to be documented in such a manner that they are more accessible for citizens to view and comment upon. This may be done in the form of digital applications or online platforms. Facts of cases may be made available online via the said platforms, or court sessions may be recorded for later viewing by the public. Other elements essential to this system can be tailored in accordance with recent developments. In particular, what needs to materialize is the system of jury under criminal law. While Pakistan has based its common law system on that of the English legal system, it has not adopted the concept of trial by jury – the justification being that ‘people who have no understanding of the law should not be given such serious matters to decide’.

“You can have as many elections as you want and as many elected leaders as you want but unless you have the idea of trial by jury of one’s peers, at least when it comes to criminal charges, you cannot have a real democracy.”

– Yasser Latif Hamdani, Daily Times.[1]

Juries allow the public to become part of a decision that will ultimately affect the public itself. Instead of the traditional method of recruiting a small number of people to represent the entire nation, what if the entire nation took part in deciding whether someone was guilty in criminal cases? Much like voting, if a system of online polls gets introduced, the entire nation could serve as the jury in each such case. This may proof the system of any external meddling which an otherwise select jury may be prone to, as well as provide a much more efficient view of the decision. This could be incorporated into a technology-based platform as well, as discussed earlier. It could also include a section for discussions among jury members and present before the public an essential debate deliberated upon by the jury, while ensuring that the jury members remain free of bias.

The criteria of jury eligibility may be incorporated by means of a registration system on the platform. The requirement of a Computerized National Identity Card (CNIC) could perform vetting on the spot by validating a citizen’s account. This could include information about age, gender and more importantly any records of prior legal violations, if any, attached to the CNIC. This, however, does call for a digital liaison with the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA).

The criminal proceedings of a handful of highly publicized and media fueled cases – such as the unfortunate murder trial of Qandeel Baloch, the sexual harassment claim by Meesha Shafi against Ali Zafar, and the morally and constitutionally controversial removal of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif – do remain accessible to the public but in inconvenient proportions, with no real prerogative to act upon, causing a loss of faith in the system. This is a problem which is permanent in nature. With news channels and social media in constant frenzy, the decisions that courts present less than satisfy the democratic value system. A poll, accessible countrywide to all citizens by law, will allow popular opinion to be channeled systematically.

A democratized digital system does already exist though, in the form of technology enabled platforms such as Awaaz, YouGov, PETA, and other such voting and surveying websites which provide all the necessary groundwork to execute a polling mechanism for a countrywide jury. The existing Citizen Portal application introduced by the government and widely acclaimed for its unprecedented inclusivity of the general public into model citizenship also has a thorough and self-encouraged response system, which again is a rather crucial factor in democratizing the system in this digital age. These examples show that the public can be trusted to be included in the democratic decision-making process while technology can ensure transparency of the system.



[1] https://dailytimes.com.pk/304779/trial-by-jury/


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of CourtingTheLaw.com or any other organization with which she might be associated.

Emarah Arif

Author: Emarah Arif

The writer hails from Peshawar and is a student of LLB (Honours) of the University of London at Business and Law School, Lahore. She has also served as an intern and research fellow at Courting The Law.

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