On 27 February 2021, 8pm, BAC Law Society held a virtual ZOOM forum titled “Dispute Resolution Today: Future Proceedings in Malaysia”. The forum was held to discuss future legal proceedings held on digital platforms in the midst of a pandemic-stricken world. The panelists that spearheaded the discussions were Miss Tan Hui Wen (Senior Associate of SKRINE), Miss Nik Azila Shuhada (Senior Associate of Shearn Delamore & Co.), Mr Dominic Ng (Senior Associate of Albar & Partners), Mr Chuah Chong Ping (Senior Associate of Tay & Partners), and Miss Voon Su Huei (Senior Associate of Thomas Philip, Advocates & Solicitors).
The ongoing worldwide pandemic had left defendants, plaintiffs, and petitioners anxious as to what this situation means for pending hearings and trials. To avoid further delays of such disputes, the Malaysian Judiciary was quick to come up with solutions which include e-Reviews, hearings and trials through emails and video conferencing. This was proven effective in bringing justice back into full force to its best abilities. The virtual aspects and capabilities that dispute resolutions may head towards in the near future may be a major change in the legal service line, something the up and coming Generation Z lawyers should anticipate reaching their tenure.
The event began with Miss Tan Hui Wen of SKRINE listing down the most common and sought after dispute resolution methods as litigation, arbitration, mediation, and adjudication. She went on to elaborate on Arbitration on its own followed further conversation on that by Mr Dominic Ng of Albar & Partners. The other panel speakers focused on litigation procedures. Miss Nik Azila Shuhada from Shearn Delamore & Co continued with an overview of the court proceedings in Malaysia, from the preliminary stages until the trial took place. The panelists did an overall but unbiased evaluation on litigation versus ADR which was conclusive that the discussed dispute resolutions all had distinctly different judicial functions which will work best for particular legal situations and claims. Mr Dominic Ng also added his view on how arbitration was different from other ADRs.
The panellists then began to share the current situations of trials and arbitrations whereby as there is a huge backlog of cases due to the MCO, the courts are trying to dispose cases as much as they can therefore they have implied a strict rule such as a certain timeline for each case. Particularly, Mr Chuah Chong Ping of Tay & Partners mentioned that he attended a full appeal hearing of the Federal Court through Zoom which he went on to disclose that “before the pandemic, I would never have imagined that such hearings could be conducted online”. When asked whether senior councils face uncertainties when conducting online dispute resolutions, Miss Voon Su Huei of Thomas Philip, Advocates & Solicitors noted that traditional lawyers are still apprehensive on such methods which called for younger lawyers to step in and facilitate to assure that things go smoothly and be quick-minded in attending to technical issues. Additionally, Miss Tan Hui Wen’s initial belief is that this field of work (law) is conservative and non-malleable but with recent events, it has steered to be more flexible and adaptable.
Likewise, the panelists agreed that digitized trials instill more confidence in younger lawyers as they may find it less intimidating to conduct trials from home compared to going to court especially in the higher courts where they are being scrutinised by senior judges and lawyers. All panelists agreed that it is possible that the court would continue with these digitized trials as it’s actually more cost-effective, time-efficient, eco-friendly, and convenient for everyone. However, Mr Chuah talked about how he felt the art of cross-examining witnesses and the intensity of legal arguments had somewhat faded or lost its value as virtual conductions are done by speaking to the screen. There is also a lack of proper emotional evaluation as observations of the body language of the judge or the other party cannot be captured through the screen. Hence, Mr Chuah finds that stricter rules and regulations need to be applied to online trials and hearings to ensure that justice can still be served as fairly and effectively as the conventional court trials and hearings. In view of arbitration, Mr Dominic Ng believes that “even after the Covid-19 pandemic, these [virtual] practices will continue in order to facilitate a more expeditious, cheaper or more cost-effective way of conducting hearings especially in terms of international arbitration”. In consideration of the rise of arbitration during the pandemic, Law Society members wondered if that changes anything for the world of litigation. Miss Voon Su Huei took view that they are both quite separate in terms of dispute resolution. She did not believe that arbitration would ever override litigation as they do not overlay, considering that there are non-arbitrational matters as well.
To conclude, the event was a success for the organisers, participants, and panelists. Much discussion has led to the conclusion that the future of dispute resolution proceedings will be digitized. It was indeed a blessing in disguise, to quote Mr Chuah Chong Ping, we have to “thank the pandemic for speeding up this method”. Through time and sharing experiences, advanced and improved methods and ways shall be uncovered to resolve legal disputes online effectively.