Malaysia moves to Virtual Court hearings during Covid-19

By Yun Xuan Poon

Criminals hoping for a respite are out of luck.

Malaysia will start holding court trials through video conferencing while the country is under lockdown.

In-person court hearings have been put on hold, as citizens are currently barred from leaving their homes, except to buy essential items like groceries and medicine. They will still be expected to show up for court proceedings, however.

Documents sent by the Chief Registrar of the Federal Court on 26 March set out three options for settling cases online: through video conferencing, email or the existing e-Review system.

Involved parties must submit requests to hold hearings through a video conference three days in advance, the documents show. The announcement also advised all parties to be dressed appropriately during the video conference.

Malaysia’s e-Review system, implemented in 2018, already allows judges and lawyers to hold trials without needing to attend court in person, the Chief Registrar noted. Lawyers present their case and judges raise queries through the online portal. Malaysia does not have a jury system in its courts, as in Singapore, Indonesia and India.

This step could see Malaysia make bigger changes to its infrastructure. Prisons will need fast internet connectivity and appropriate rooms for defendants to present in court digitally, experts said. “It is necessary to start looking into this. Perhaps the ongoing movement control order has pushed us to finally consider this transition seriously,” lawyer Sangeet Kaur Deo told The Borneo Post.

Other countries have also begun holding court hearings online in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. Singapore’s courts will allow more video conferencing and email hearings from March 26. Meanwhile, China has also conducted more online trials since its Covid-19 outbreak in February this year.

A video trial can have up to eight people at the same time, and parties can scan a QR code to access the transcript after the hearing, reported Xinhua News.