Neglected websites: Courting the web
(Express Tribune (Pakistan) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) “0x xx W3lc0m3 M4st3r xx x0,” was the message defacing one of the websites of a district and sessions court in Sindh that the authorities failed to notice until they were asked to take action against it. Other messages included ‘C0de For India, Hack For India, Live for India,’ and ‘All I remember were those lonely nights when I was defacing those insecure websites,’ displayed on the web page of district East Karachi’s courts.
The removal of these messages, however, did not render the sites’ content any more useful – the websites have been non-functional since they were set up, due to a lack of interest from the authorities. “The process of hiring technical staff has been continuing for over a year,” said an official of the Sindh High Court’s (SHC) Information Technology (IT) department, explaining why online content is not updated or maintained. “I think this is reflective of the attitude of the authorities.”
The case in Punjab is only slightly different – while the websites of district courts are functional and accessible, they are still under construction.
Sindh’s district courts’ websites – Work in progress
While the courts’ websites may not be functional, slow internet speed, long power cuts and a lack of interest from lawyers create hurdles in the maintenance of these sites. Taking the old-fashioned route is the norm. “We’re still maintaining manual files,” said an official at the Sindh High Court, explaining that lawyers are thus able to monopolise information. In the absence of a computerized system, he says, lawyers are free to take the information of newly registered cases from the files and ‘pressurise litigants over the phone to hire them for their cases’.
“The district courts do not have the liberty to modify or update the websites because the sites are controlled by the SHC’s IT officials,” said the IT section’s in-charge at a district court. He further mentioned that there is no separate portal for the district courts websites. “Just a link – District Courts of Sindh – has been placed on the official website of Sindh High Court.” It just shows that the websites of the district courts do exist. They are, however, not functional.
While drawing attention to the nature of cases filed at district courts, he said that case details can’t be uploaded online because of litigants’ reservations. “People are scared that they may have to face humiliation if relatives get hold of case-related information on websites.”
There are hundreds of public interest cases in the subordinate courts. For example, the famous Wali Babar murder case, Amin Gulgee murder case, Shahzeb murder case, Hamza murder case etc. In addition, the cases where paramilitary soldiers are involved in litigation and information regarding the number of cases pending before the courts are useful information. Topics like any order against any official for his negligence or not complying with court orders, any notification about the transfer of judges and cases to other districts, daily cause list, news about bomb hoaxes, holidays, annual elections of bar associations, lists of judges, prosecutors, bailiffs etc. are of immense interest to many.
When The Express Tribune asked the SHC registrar about the non-functional websites, he said the SHC has nothing to do with the websites of lower courts.
The official added that litigants regularly visit the court in order to press staff for updates on their cases. “The court’s precious time can be saved if these people are able to get a hold of information online instead,” he felt.
“I believe people will use websites instead of giving a few bucks in the shape of chai, pani aur mithai to the court officials for extracting the same information that would be available online it will shrink room for bribery,” said a litigant, Noman.
Punjab’s district courts’ websites – relatively better
All 36 district courts of Punjab have separate and uniform websites. They have independent portals and links, listed on the website of Lahore High Court (LHC). “About three years ago, we designed and handed over websites to all district courts of Punjab,” said Iftikhar Ahmed, assistant registrar (IT), LHC. “Now, it is up to them [courts] to keep them updated”
Ahmed said the LHC had also provided two computer operators to each district court to keep the websites running and updated. “The websites are not beneficial yet as they are still under construction.”
Information on all 36 websites of district judiciary of Punjab include messages [related to what judiciary is and importance of laws and rights, in their opinion] from district and sessions judges along with their pictures. It also includes instructions for filing new petitions, marking of cases, and cause lists. There is a segment of announcements for vacancies, any official notification etc. on the first page of every website, links of duty roster of judicial officers and magistrates on Sunday as well as new cases filed, to mention but a few.
However, the links for cause lists, judgment and order, and case information are not operational in many of these websites.
LHC Deputy Registrar (IT) Saima Mushtaq told The Express Tribune that they are in the process of completing this task. “Soon, websites will be completely functional.”
However, an officer at LHC shared that there are many hurdles in completion of websites. “If case management is completely updated on websites, monopoly of court staff and lawyers would be eliminated.”
Published in The Express Tribune, March 20th, 2014.
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