Yangchen C Rinzin

A private lawyer in Thimphu is all set for a virtual court hearing. Dressed in national attires, he keeps his laptop on the table and waits for the defendant, who is in another dzongkhag to join.

To his surprise, the defendant is in casual clothes and lying on the bed.

In another prosecutor’s office, he is on Skype, waiting for the virtual hearing.

After five minutes, he checks the sound to find the defendant waiting for him to speak. 

 “This is what happens when the internet connection is not good,” he said. “I thought they couldn’t connect while they thought my internet was down.”

With restriction of movement and health protocols, judiciary adopted virtual hearing in the wake of Covid-19 pandemic to expedite court proceedings in July. It was also expected to save time and cost.

The hearings are either conducted through social media apps like Skype or Zoom. Prosecutors submit evidence by scanning documents and sending it through e-mail to respective clerks.

However, with poor internet connectivity and technical issues, private and public prosecutors and lawyers say it is difficult to conduct court proceedings.  

A prosecutor from the Office of Attorney General (OAG) said poor internet connectivity might hamper the case, as they have to submit huge documents of evidence, which is difficult at times. 

Another prosecutor said that with poor internet services at the other end, voices break and there are chances of miscommunication. “We explain our submission, expecting the judges and others might be listening but when voices break, they miss the explanation.”

OAG lawyers also said that with no separate rooms designated for prosecutors to conduct the virtual hearing, it is difficult when all of us are in the hearing.

According to a private lawyer, virtual hearing limits them the opportunity to rebut cases well.

An official from OAG said that except for Paro where the judge did not agree to conduct the virtual hearing, all other courts implemented virtual hearing.

Meanwhile, the judiciary is also in the process of developing and finalising documents for e-litigation, which includes Rules and Regulation on e-litigation, an action plan for implementation of e-litigation, and terms of reference for technical assistance. 

“It’s almost in the final stage, and we are left with only one meeting to finalise. However, with Covid-19 and other issues, the meeting couldn’t be held,” an official said.