Virtual court hearing to remain post-Covid

Meanwhile, Malaysian Bar’s Kalidas says nobody is above the law, irrespective of their political or social affiliations


THE judiciary will not be reverting to physical hearings in the post-pandemic era.

Chief Justice Tun Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat said the judiciary has been asked whether it will revert to physical hearing as a norm.

“The judiciary has always embarked on technological advancements, and online or virtual hearings mark our progress in this direction.

“The advent of online hearings is not merely a means to cope with the pandemic, but a permanent feature of our justice system. There is, therefore, no question of ‘reverting’,” Tengku Maimun said after the Opening of the Legal Year 2022 (OLY 2022) last Friday.

She noted that judges have adjusted well to remote hearings, at least in the context of civil cases, criminal applications and criminal appeals.

“The screen-sharing technology assists us with reference to documents, and the level and nature of advocacy has improved irrespective of whether the counsel before us is a senior or a junior.

“Remote hearings have also made life easier for lawyers who have been relieved from having to waste time on travel.”

According to her, the newly inserted section of 15A in the Courts of Judicature Act 1964 allows remote hearings.

However, she acknowledged that remote hearings are not perfect due to Internet connection issues.

“Sometimes there are issues with sound, Internet connection and such hearings are sometimes not feasible when parties do not have the requisite means or access,” she noted.

Regardless, she said the overall gain and accessibility that remote hearings bring with them far outweigh the downside, which can be worked on.

Accordingly, the judiciary has invested a greater amount in technology in terms of hardware and software in upgrading the court technology, namely the video face equipment, a voice tracking conference system and a virtual conference set, and Zoom accounts.

Throughout the pandemic, Tengku Maimun said the judiciary received numerous applications for adjournment as the accused were unable to attend court as they were infected by the coronavirus or had close contact.

“Accused persons cannot afford to have their cases being perpetually put on hold, so even their virtual presence is necessary.”

Additionally, she said the judiciary intends to fully equip all courtrooms with the e-courts platform.

As of now, all the courtrooms in Peninsular Malaysia have been equipped with the e-courts platform except in Yong Peng, Johor, due to the need for physical infrastructural revamping.

Meanwhile, Malaysian Bar president AG Kalidas Krishnan said nobody is above the law, irrespective of their political or social affiliations.

“The Malaysian Bar affirms its commitment in protecting and upholding the independence of the judiciary, including that concerning the conduct of our members,” he said in his speech at OLY 2022.

Kalidas said there were attempts by politicians seeking intervention with their court matters.

He was referring to former Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin’s televised address on Aug 4, 2021, where he said he was asked to intervene on certain people’s ongoing court cases.

To this, Tengku Maimun said it was not stated anywhere that Muhyiddin had contacted the judiciary on this matter.

“If anyone did contact us, we would just say that there is nothing much we can do. The matter is in the court, the judges will decide according to the evidence and the law.

“That will be our answer if there is any such call,” she assured.

On a separate matter, Tengku Maimun said the judiciary will not respond to netizens’ comments on court decisions.

She said the public is entitled to express and share their own views, but they cannot interfere or change the decisions that were made.

“So, we will not be making any comments in relation to what people are saying, either in the social media or anywhere else.”