Times when people involved in court cases had to travel miles to attend court proceedings will now be talk of olden times with e-litigation to be introduced any time this year in the country’s judicial proceedings.
Pioneered by Chief Justice Lyonpo Sonam Tobgay, e-litigation will save time through high-quality video conferencing which will be used in all the courts in Bhutan provided that the witnesses have genuine reason to miss out a court proceeding in person.
Countries like Singapore have already performed a mock trial of introducing e-litigation in its judicial system but could not come to a rigid decision of really introducing it.
The process of introducing it in Bhutan could possibly prove yet another milestone in the country’s legal system.
However, the proceedings will not completely be internet-based. While filing a case with the court, an individual can directly ask a law firm to e-litigate, paying a nominal fee. On being provided all the details, the firm will look into its legitimacy and proceed. The whole process, according to an official, will have three stages.
The case or the application filed by an individual will be converted into a portable document format (pdf ) by the law firms people seek help from and then the e-filed pdf will be sent through the portal created within the network in the court which is accessible only to the concerned officials as in, the attorney or the registered law firm. According to high court Drangpon Lungten Dubgyur, this move is to prevent lodging of false complaints. But he also said that the court registry will entertain people coming in person to file cases since there might be people who may not be aware of the e-litigation system. Some officials at the high court said that there were issues raised in other countries on people filing cases and later mocking the system to have taken them seriously.
All the confirmation and verification of the e-filed documents will be done by the Registrar and later on, the court registry will enter information whether filed in person or through e-filing.
The registrar will also be cross-checking the application or the charges on its propriety.
The plaintiff/prosecution and the respondents has to appear in front of the judge or the court while he explains the e-litigation processes. The bench clerk, meanwhile, will be getting the e-mail addresses of both the parties specifically to fix the date and inform on the opening statement through pdf filing. Later on, when the clerk receives all the e-filings from the defendant, he will put it on record in the concerned case file. Later, he will also send the copy of the pdf e-filing to the other party through email and then will ask him/them to submit a rebuttal within a specific time. And on receiving the rebuttal he will file it in the case file.
Thereafter, the same process repeats with the defendant asked to reply to the rebuttal within a specific time. This process will continue as usually done during a physical hearing but here it is entirely through email.
Finally, during the evidence hearing the individuals have to come in person. But if the witness is legitimately unable to attend the hearing due to physical disabilities or any risk factors involved, then a visual presentation of evidence and testimonies from the witness will be done through video conferencing if necessary.
Clerks will also be trained to handle such a system although the clerks at the courts have consistently been trained in various IT fields and law processes.
Although there is no extensive training for the Drangpons, during the recent judicial conference, Lyonpo Sonam Tobgay, demonstrated the procedures of how to go about with this sort of system. The Chief Judge with the district court Nima Gyelsthen said that initially it was to be introduced at the district court as a trial run but now, according to Supreme Court judge, Kinley Namgyal, “We’ ll either start with the high court or the Supreme Court but basically it will depend upon the type of cases filed”. He also added that it’s meant to cut down on court appearances by the plaintiffs or defendants.