The Bangladesh parliament on July 8, 2020 has passed by majority the ‘Usage of Information and Communications Technology by Courts Bill’, clearing the way for virtual courts to become operational.
The approval comes in a time when access to justice was widely disrupted by the worldwide coronavirus outbreak, an essential system that needed speedy resumption to ensure safety and security for the country and its citizens.
To tackle the situation, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Supreme Court of Bangladesh established a strong partnership to develop the improved and timely justice service delivery mechanism to benefit the people.
The partnership resulted in the formation of a high-level technical steering body – Supreme Court Special Committee for Judicial Reforms.
They also adopted the Strategic Plan for Supreme Court (SC) of Bangladesh (2017 – 2022) supported by UNDP Bangladesh.
Through this periodical collaboration, the SC and UNDP have successfully implemented Judicial Strengthening (JUST) Project.
This resulted in improved justice delivery, court administration, case management and digitisation for not only the apex court but also the subordinate courts.
UNDP Bangladesh has been working on identifying the alternative means of operationalising the formal judiciary to address direct justice needs amidst the countrywide pandemic.
UNDP successfully advocated for policy reforms needed for better digitalisation. These policies created an enabling environment for digital tools and platforms during the case and court proceedings.
It also helped ensure common consensus between key justice institutions including the SC, Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs; and Bar Representatives on the significance of introducing virtual platforms in courts
To these end, UNDP, with support from its a2i programme with the ICT Division, has been officially providing technical assistance in developing virtual court applications – MyCourt.
In the short term, the virtual court app has included bail applications in the subordinate courts and SC, in Civil Injunction Jurisdiction and cases for Nari o Shishu Nirjatan Daman Tribunals.
Since the virtual court’s inception on May 12 till June 20, 2020, a total of 1,01,411 bail applications were received and 54,558 people received bail, setting a record in the history of Bangladesh and most importantly reducing the prison population in just a month.
A total of 945 judges, court staff, officials from Attorney General’s office, lawyers were trained on MyCourt.
This system has helped reduce the government’s operational cost, standardise implementation, and ensure delivery of service.
As mid-term and long-term measures, the Supreme Court intends to continue supporting the digitisation of essential legal procedures, including case filing and related case management processes, e-record management, training and capacity-building of key justice sector stakeholders and bringing basic equipment for virtual hearing in courts
The functions of the virtual courts will result in a two-year bridging project which will complement the e-Judiciary project of the Government of Bangladesh. UNDP Bangladesh is working on introducing the case management mechanism in High Court division by digitising its registry’s case records, strengthening commercial justice and promoting business and human rights.