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Transforming towards digitalization of Bangladesh Judiciary

Releasing of Timely Justice for All in Bangladesh-Business Process Mapping Publication by the Hon’ble Chief Justice of Bangladesh in the workshop.

A well-functioning judiciary is a crucial determinant of a country's economic performance. It promotes efficient production and distribution of goods and services by securing, among other things, the enforcement of contracts. Conversely, weak contract enforcement could lead firms adopting inefficient technologies (for example those that minimise dependence on other firms), with detrimental effects on productivity. It is widely understood that a judiciary effective in enforcing the rule of law would not only be conducive to trade, financing and investment but would also promote social peace and trust.

However, judicial systems, particularly in developing countries, continue to suffer from inefficiencies that have a negative impact on socio-economic well-being. Commonly faced lacunae in judicial performance include (a) length of time it takes for cases to be disposed; (b) uncertainty in the progress of judicial proceedings; and (c) difficulty for the common man to access judicial services, particularly related to the cases she/he is concerned with or is a party to. In this backdrop caseflow management as an approach to keep track of cases and ensure their smooth passage through allocation of most appropriate time and resources forms the very backbone of the judicial system. Caseflow management techniques are now widely adopted as a way to reduce case backlog, render timely justice and increase predictability in the judicial system.

Information and communication technologies (ICTs) are today considered to be an indispensable tool for both case management and efficient delivery of judicial services. While ICTs make it possible to address the information-intensive requirements of case management through its search and discovery capabilities, latest advances in technology (including those related to mobile devices) also ensure that information is provided to the citizens on a device of their choice and at a place of their choosing.

Much like other developing and transitional countries, the judicial system in Bangladesh faces the same constraints and bottlenecks. The largely independent judicial system lacks performance measurement benchmarks and a nation-wide standardisation of case management processes that need to be followed. At over 3 million cases, the backlog is very high and cases take inordinately long to reach their logical end even as litigation costs keep mounting. To make it still worse, information related to cases is not easily available thus adding to the inconvenience of the already distressed citizen seeking recourse to justice. The vulnerable and marginalised sections of the society suffer the most.

Access to justice systems and bringing about efficiency in the core workings of the judiciary is one of UNDP's principal thematic pursuits. As one of its core interventions UNDP promotes effective, responsive, accessible and fair justice systems as a pillar of democratic governance. Through the Judicial Strengthening (JUST) Project UNDP has provided technical and financial support to the Supreme Court aiming at strengthening its capacity to administer the court system efficiently and reduce the case backlogs in order to provide a sustainable foundation to improve access to justice for the public, especially, vulnerable groups such as the poor, women and children.

This workshop for the “Digitalisation of Bangladesh Judiciary”, decided during a meeting between the honourable Chief Justice of Bangladesh and the Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister’s Office held in May, was held on July 4, 2015 at the Bangabandhu International Conference Center as a full-day event. Over 160 participants including, though not limited to (i) Supreme Court judges including the Chief Justice of Bangladesh; (ii) topmost political and executive leadership from the ministries of ICT, law and Finance, besides the PMO; and (iii) project executives from the a2i and JUST Projects, participated in it.

The subsequent section of the workshop was divided into four sessions: (A) Plenary session; (B) case studies session; (c) discussion and planning session; and (D) concluding session.

While addressing on the occasion as the Chief Guest, Mr. Justice Surendra Kumar Sinha, Hon’ble Chief Justice of Bangladesh, highlighted the interplay between law, technology and societal developments as inseparable from one another. The interface between law and technology is a growing sphere. Just as technological developments leave their mark on society the law too must keep up with this change while ensuring that any unwelcome developments in technology are kept in check by legal constraints. However, "the law must assume new dimensions to suit the needs of an IT-based modern society and it should play a dynamic role like a living organ". Already, the impact of ICT on court systems can be felt with case management systems, court administration, human resources, online libraries and many other ICT-enabled facilities that are now available with stakeholders

Lauding the decision of digitalization of Bangladesh Judiciary Mr. Abul Maal A Muhith, Hon’ble Minister of Finance, emphasised the fact that Bangladesh, as a new nation must strike a balance between the Executive and the Judiciary. While technology, he said, must be used for the service of the people, justice must protect their rights.

Terming the evet as a much-needed step Mr Anisul Huq, Hon’ble Minister of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs, called the workshop a "leap forward" and an "opportunity to develop a system that is not only future proof but addresses the needs of the administration of justice from the first court appearance to the end. The eJustice system would be as much of use to the justice seekers as to those who are entrusted with delivering justice. In order that the system is effective, he hoped, it would consider aspects of confidentiality as much as it would satisfy the requirements of the right to information.

Mr  Zunaid Ahmed Palak, Hon’ble State Minister, ICT Division, highlighted the rapid progress made in ICT in Bangladesh including advancements in penetration rates with mobile subscribers exceeding 12.5 crores and Internet penetration surpassing 4.7 crores, high speed 3G services being rolled out across the country and connectivity infrastructure deployed to connect all government offices. He however, also brought into notice that the adoption of ICT in Judiciary has been disappointing as compared to the other pillars of the state, namely the Executive and the Legislative.

While addressing in the inaugural session, Mr Robert Watkins welcomed this workshop as an opportunity for further reforms in justice sector to the development of ICT and pledged UNDP's continuing support to the agenda of reforms. While highlighting how technology transforms societies at home and workplace through improved communications, he stressed the importance of exploiting technology as a tool for positive change and transforming the justice sector.

Mr Md. Abul Kalam Azad, Principal Secretary, Prime Minister’s Office, assured how ICT would not lead to shrinking of labour, as was erroneously feared during the Industrial Revolution, but would instead open up new horizons of services and employment. However, to counter the impression of technology as something that is complex, ever-changing and confusing, training and awareness building is the need of the hour.

In the Plenary Session, Mr Justice Muhammad Imman Ali, Judge of the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh, spoke about the Justice Sector and its emerging challenges including the problem of mounting backlog in the judicial system while offering a few approaches to reduce case backlog in the country's courts. Mr. Anir Chowdhury, Policy Advisor, a2i Programme, spoke of the initiatives taken up under the a2i programme with a view to facilitating access to the justice system for its stakeholders including those who are marginalised. Mr. Jakhongir Khaydarov, Chief Technical Advisor, UNDP, spoke about the innovations adopted towards improving justice sector service delivery in the world and their suitability for Bangladesh. UNDP's own lessons and expertise in this area were discussed too. Mr. S M Ashraful Islam, Executive Director, Bangladesh Computer Council provided detailed overview of the proposed ejudiciary project with the estimated worth of USD 70 M in his presentation.

A key part of the plenary session was the presentation of the eJustice strategy developed by the UNDP through an international ICT specialist. Kamal K Mukherjee, an eGovernment and ICT4D expert commissioned for the purpose explained the strategy in detail and prefaced it with how the strategy was aligned to the tenets of effective justice, namely, predictability in judicial operations and services, speedy case disposition and service delivery to those who need them the most. e@syJUSTICE 2021.

A prominent part of the Case Study Session were the experiences shared by Justice Dr G C Bharuka, former Chairperson, eCommittee of the Supreme Court of India, Dr Bharuka explained in detail the finer aspects of eJustice and bottlenecks faced during such an implementation. He liberally drew out from his experiences lessons learnt to reveal where likely difficulties would lie and how they could be overcome. Among other things, he highlighted the need for any change effected in processes through standardisation and re-engineering to have their basis in law.

In the Discussion and Planning Session questions were taken and points emerging from the different speakers were summarised to arrive at a common understanding of requirements of eJustice and elements of the way forward.

Now judiciary of Bangladesh is all set to implement ejudiciay project for the digitalization of Bangladesh Judiciary.

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