PETALING JAYA: Remote court hearings are the best way for the justice system to continue working during the Covid-19 pandemic even though the display of advocacy skills could take a beating, lawyers said.
They also said the way forward for the justice system, even after the pandemic is over, was to include more online hearings, adding that there were many benefits in conducting virtual proceedings.
Senior lawyer Gopal Sri Ram said he was becoming addicted to participating in proceedings via video conferencing as it made him more relaxed in his office.
“At first I was very doubtful but have now changed my mind as the proceeding in no way dilutes the justice of the case,” he told FMT.
Sri Ram said remote proceedings should be encouraged even after the conditional movement control order (CMCO) was lifted.
“This is my first experience as counsel to go online and so far I have done about five cases,” he said, adding that he was pleasantly surprised at the efficiency and hard work put in by the Chief Registrar’ Office to get the system working.
Sri Ram, who has been a lawyer and judge for 50 years, said advocacy skill was not affected as ” it is good or as bad in the person”.
Mixed reactions from lawyers, says Bar secretary
The Federal Court and Court of Appeal have been advocating remote hearings very actively since August for civil cases and it became beneficial when the CMCO was introduced last month.
A panel of judges would assemble in the Palace of Justice while lawyers could remain in their offices to make submissions via different platforms of video conferencing.
Malaysian Bar secretary AG Kalidas said generally e-appellate remote hearing was conducted after the court obtained the consent of parties involved.
“There are still mixed reactions from lawyers. During the CMCO we have no choice. I suppose we have to adapt because the courts are closed to stop exposure to the Covid 19 virus,” he said.
FMT understands that lawyers practicing criminal law prefer the physical presence of parties involved, including convicted persons who may be in prison.
On performance skills and learning from seniors
Lawyer Ong Yu Jin said the practise of law was also about the finer art of advocacy, which could not be showcased to the optimum outside the courtroom.
“Virtual hearings will eliminate a lot of advantages like your body language and intonation, to get the judge’s attention,” he said.
Ong said one would also miss the camaraderie, whether among junior or senior lawyers, before and after a court session.
“Also the juniors will lose the opportunity to soak up the experience of senior lawyers in the courtroom,” he added.
A government lawyer said the use of virtual hearings had removed the fear factor, especially among junior officers, who had the comfort of making submissions from the office.
“It can be very intimidating to present your case before a panel of judges while surrounded by senior lawyers,” said the lawyer, who asked to be anonymous.
Saving time and money
Lawyer Ravi Nekoo said there was no difference whether one’s client was in court or in the office to witness the proceeding.
”Clients in civil cases can assess our performance based on questions posed by judges and rebuttals based on points raised by opposing counsel,” he said.
Ravi said much time and money and other resources could be saved through online hearings.
He said less time was wasted with a scheduled hearing, which eliminated problems with travelling and staying in hotels.
“Remote hearing is a breeze as long as the internet connection is stable. We can also go paperless as only soft copies of court documents are displayed on the computer screen.
”The opposing parties can easily follow when a particular page is uploaded on the screen,” he added.