More than 3.6 million cases of the novel coronavirus have been registered worldwide and normalcy has been replaced with complete or partial lock-down. Even though the world continues to slowly circle back to a ‘new normal’ in the wake of an economic disaster following this pandemic, the world post corona continues to reflect a changed outlook of life. The uncertainties will persist unless a scientifically proven cure for this virus is provided to the masses. So far, most countries have implemented a ‘track and trace’ approach while organizations have been pushed by social distancing measures to keep introducing innovative working methodologies. It is believed that every organization will have to change its overall strategy to decrease human interaction in order to stop the transmission of COVID-19. Pakistan’s judiciary will also have to to take up the gauntlet and fight the battle in a post COVID world. However, Pakistan’s legal sector seems to be ill-equipped, unprepared and unresponsive to embrace the challenges posed by COVID-19.
In this age of globalization, it has become apparent that the organizations which had already been at par with digitalizing their work are now able to continue to operate as their employees work from home and contribute towards retaining normalcy. Undoubtedly, layoffs are expected, as organizations reshape themselves in response to this unprecedented threat. As the legal sector in Pakistan returns to a new normal, it may be jolted by another spike in coronavirus cases which may be directly proportional to an increase in litigation. At the time of writing, there have been a lot of verified and unverified news reports of coronavirus cases contagiously spreading throughout the courts of Pakistan. Courts are particularly vulnerable to the way this virus spreads and they may become the epicenter of this pandemic if they continue to operate under previous conditions. It is apparent that this hunt and battle against the virus will also continue in the near future, hence it is time to adopt measures to fight the current situation through innovation and technology. Needless to stress, it will be a blessing in disguise for the legal sector as well.
It is need of the hour to acknowledge that the legal sector is collectively responsible for excessive litigation delays in cases before the courts in Pakistan. COVID-19 has already disrupted traditional litigation structures through a complete shutdown of courts spanning over a month and continuing with the lock-down will be painful for litigants. With the upcoming summer vacation in courts, it seems that litigants will have to wait every day for their cases to be resolved through the courts and may eventually lose faith in the system and its structure. Unprecedented responses are required to address this increasingly worrisome situation across Pakistan. Litigation in Pakistan continues to ride across a never-ending tunnel with minuscule or no hope of seeing light at the end of that tunnel. COVID-19 has made the situation worse.
Although slogans in support of digitalization have been sung many a time, there is minimal support towards actual change in the existing legal structures. It is high time to actualize the slogans for revolution in the legal sector by involving technology in a more effective way. Our legal sector is yet to meet international standards needed to achieve the purpose of ‘Digital Pakistan’ and the ‘ease of doing business’. Technological innovation will provide firms with platforms to reach international audiences and help enhance the export of legal services. The Digital Pakistan campaign has been initiated by the government but digitalizing Pakistan’s legal sector is yet to be addressed. Coronavirus will persist if courts reopen and continue to work in their traditional frameworks. It is time to change, rethink and re-strategize our needs, goals and energies in an effective way as the legal sector, including the court system, is still lagging behind in embracing the impact of COVID-19.
To resolve this gap, the traditional framework of the legal sector needs technological revolution and digitalization, especially in the Law Ministry, provincial Prosecution Departments, Attorney General offices, Advocate General offices and the courts. All these departments need to be digitalized in order to reduce delays, identify gaps and bring in more transparency so that the courts can also be assisted to perform better. In a post COVID world, law firms will also seek the adoption of digitalization for reducing organizational costs and overheads. Courts will need to adjudicate and respond through online facilities akin to smart courts and E-courts around the globe and court hearings will need to be conducted online without involving the need to travel from one place to another. Such unprecedented measures with identified standard operating procedures will be required for the legal sector to continue to function.
It is now incumbent to adopt digitalization and look for ‘digital source development’ in the wake of coronavirus. Pakistan’s legal sector is lagging far behind in technology. It is the need of the hour for steps to be taken at all levels to address the situation before coronavirus destroys the bread and butter of hundreds of thousands of lawyers across Pakistan. Our legal sector needs to keep up with the global digital age which is governed through technology. Most importantly, adopting digitalization will lead to better accountability and transparency at the government as well as judicial level.
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 he might be associated.