Participating in online hearings from office may violate MCO, warns lawyer

A cleaner is seen at the court in Kuantan which, like others across the country, has been closed in compliance with the movement control order, forcing hearings to be held online. (Bernama pic)

PETALING JAYA: A lawyer has warned that it may be difficult to implement online court proceedings as most case files and equipment needed for this are located in offices, which are out of bounds under the movement control order (MCO).

Adding that such proceedings could run foul of the MCO if parties communicate with judges from their offices, T Gunaseelan said lawyers would only be able to operate in that manner if the administration of justice is counted as an essential service.

His comments followed a statement by the Chief Registrar’s Office last Friday that lawyers can apply to the Federal Court and Court of Appeal for online hearings as the MCO has been extended to May 12.

According to the statement, High Court of Malaya judges can, among others, hear interlocutory appeals from the magistrate’s courts and sessions courts.

Gunaseelan’s comments also follow the move by the Court of Appeal to use, for the first time, video conferencing via Skype to conduct proceedings on appeals in three civil suits concerning dependency claims.

Gunalseelan, who followed the proceedings, said it was obvious that the lawyers for disputing parties were operating from their offices.

“That is one of the reasons I rejected a Court of Appeal hearing that was to be conducted online last week,” he said.

He repeated his call to the chief registrar of the Federal Court, Ahmad Terrirudin Mohd Salleh, to write to the government with the consent of the chief justice asking that the administration of justice be considered an essential service.

Under the MCO, trials at courts across the country that require the physical attendance of parties have been suspended.

This is in line with a federal gazette on the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases (Measures within Infected Local Areas), which states that people can move within a 10km radius of their homes to buy food, daily necessities, medicine or dietary supplements.

Those working on official duties or in essential services must provide a letter from their employer if questioned by an authority.

Those found flouting the regulation are liable to a maximum fine of RM1,000, jail of up to six months, or both.