Tech empowers Brunei courts
BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN
TECHNOLOGY has made our lives easier and the Brunei judicial system is becoming an advocate of the credo to the benefit of all the court players.
Since the Technology Court was first introduced in Brunei three years ago, the State Judiciary Department has been pressing for its widespread adoption by the judicial system. The computerised courtroom, which makes use of cameras, a digital visualiser and screen monitors, is in line with the department’s efforts to achieve paperless litigation and has other benefits.
The Technology Court, in particular, is able to utilise video conferencing which allows those detained in custody to attend their case hearings during the bail process or the extension of remand without having to be physically present in court.
During the 2014 opening of the Legal Year, Chief Justice Dato Seri Paduka Hj Kifrawi DP Hj Kifli expressed hope that this audio-visual link equipment could be used in the future for applications for remand or bail to save time and costs in transporting prisoners or detainees in custody to the courthouse while maximising security.
Four courts in Brunei are currently equipped with this functionality: the High Syariah Court 2 at the Syariah Courts building on Jln Stoney in the capital; the High Court in Jln Raja Isteri Pengiran Anak Saleha ; Magistrate Court 6 at the Law and Courts building; and Court I located at the Belait court building.
Last August 10, the first successful attempt at video conferencing was made between Jerudong Prison and the Magistrates’ Court in the capital through the Technology Court for the extension of remand.
Pg Norfarzat Irwani Pg Hj Mohd Jaafar, the court official who oversaw the proceedings, said they had been testing the facility since January this year after legislation was passed last year allowing the use of video conferencing in the courts. She said they initially had issues with internet connectivity between Jerudong Prison and the court due to differences in internet speeds which had since been resolved after fine-tuning the system.
Pg Norfarzat Irwani reiterated the chief justice’s hopes that video conferencing would reduce waiting periods such as for extension of remand for drug cases while awaiting the chemist’s report or for death penalty cases such as murder. She said this would be a cost-effective measure as it would reduce the amount of manpower required since the detainee would not be physically present in court and it would also improve security measures.
Pg Norfarzat Irwani said they are looking forward to utilising video conferencing more in the future for all extension of remand and bail applications. “On Wednesday, it was the first two cases (that used the video conferencing for extending remand), and we’re looking forward to more.
“These are the ways that we’re trying to improve our services and upgrade rather than waiting a long time,” she said.
The use of video conferencing at the Technology Court had piqued the interest of a deputy public prosecutor who had brought one of the two cases to court. “When I was informed that the mention was to be conducted through video conferencing, I was intrigued to see how the whole thing would work out, as this was the first of its kind,” said the deputy public prosecutor, who declined to be named.
The process met a few hiccups such as while there was some issue over whether her case was held at the correct venue as it was a mention to fix trial dates, the mention eventually proceeded through video conferencing. “We had a few issues with the volume. The defendant informed the court that when I spoke, there were echoes (or in his words, he heard double). Otherwise, I believe it went quite smoothly. We could see the defendant and the defendant could see the court,” she said.
Another issue raised was during another deputy public prosecutor’s mention where a new charge sheet was tendered and was shown to the defendant via the small camera. “I thought it wasn’t practical because we couldn’t be certain that the defendant could actually see what was written in the charge sheet,” the deputy public prosecutor said.
In relation to bail applications or extension of remand, she personally felt that it would be useful and would help quicken the mentions or process as their attendance isn’t required in court. “It will save time if there are no problems with the connection on either side,” she said.
Meanwhile, Deputy Public Prosecutor Vuina Song, who had also brought one of the cases before the Technology Court, said she was surprised when she was told that the mention would utilise video conferencing equipment. “I was very excited and nervous. I was excited as it would be the first criminal case where video conferencing would be utilised and nervous as I didn’t know how it would all pan out,” she said.
She said the prosecution welcomes the initiative of the utilisation of video conferencing in handling bail applications and applications for the extension of remand.
With the introduction of Section 236B in the Criminal Procedure Code, Chapter 7, Vuina said the foreseeable benefits of video conferencing would be a reduction in the use of manpower as well as government resources in transporting a detainee or accused person to and from court.
The utilisation of video conferencing has no adverse impacts on the prosecution’s capabilities to conduct bail applications and extensions of remand as the only difference is that the detainee or accused person isn’t physically present in the court room, she said.
“Both the prosecution and the detainee/accused person aren’t impaired in any manner as both parties are still able to forward their grounds in presenting their case without being affected by the changes brought about by the implementation of Section 236B,Criminal Procedure Code, Chapter 7,” she said in an email interview.
The technology by the courts, said Vuina, has so far proved more than capable in ensuring that proceedings run smoothly and efficiently.
The Brunei Times