Court e-filing: Another screw to tap into our pockets.
New court e-filing system complicates work, say lawyersBy Debra Chong
April 25, 2011

KUALA LUMPUR, April 25 — As Putrajaya reels over an unpopular free email service, lawyers in the Klang Valley are complaining about a new electronic filing system that is complicating rather than simplifying their work since March 1.

The electronic filing system (EFS) at the Jalan Duta court complex was supposed to cut out queues and paper at the registry office but lawyers say it involves personal digital certificates which are strangely not for firms apart from a payment module that cannot work with corporate banking accounts.

“The present problems faced by the courts are symptomatic of how badly the government often implements projects,” Bar Council president Lim Chee Wee (picture) told The Malaysian Insider.

The lawyers said the system is so badly and hastily designed that it is a non-starter, unlike the Singapore system on which it was based.

While Singapore introduced its lawyers to the concept in phases over eight years from 1997, Malaysian lawyers said they were given only a week’s notice before the federal government imposed the new rules on March 1.

This has not given the lawyers enough time to ease into the system.

Judges too, especially those in the High Court, are still asking lawyers to print out hard copies of their case documents when their matters are called up for hearing.

The EFS requires all court work to be done electronically.

This means lawyers have to scan all their documents — which can run into the hundreds of pages — into the Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF) to be accepted by the court.

This can be done either from the law firm itself, or for lawyers without Internet access, they can seek help from court officers at the Jalan Duta service counters.

They are also required to make all payments online.

The problem started when the government failed to ensure the basic infrastructure was ready and in place for the transition to a paperless system.

First, lawyers are required to get an organisation certificate that costs RM1,500 each from MSC Trustgate, a third-party company, in order to make the e-filing.

The certificate is only good for two years and is non-transferable.

But the lawyers are questioning the need to pay a third party for digital certificates, noting in the Singapore experience, it was all handled by the court registry.

They claim the RM1,500 fee goes against the principle of access to justice as the costs will then be passed on to their clients, who will have to pay extra for fees.

They also have to pay an extra RM40 to get a digital signature to put down on their documents. That too is non-transferable from one lawyer to another.

Next, the lawyers are required to pay up the court fees in full before the system will process their applications.

However, the contracted service provider, Formis, failed to synchronise the online payment to allow a transfer of funds between the banks.

“Banks do not allow corporate accounts to perform online banking transactions. Only individual account holders can use online banking freely, for example, CIMB clicks and Maybank2U.

“And law firm bank accounts are corporate accounts,” lawyer Brendan Navin Siva explained to The Malaysian Insider.

As such, lawyers are now still lining up at the court to make the payments by cash.

This, the lawyers said, has created a massive jam at the service counters in the KL court complex, which also handles the most number of court cases in the country.

As a result of the pile-up, it can take lawyers three to five days just to file a case there now, Siva added.

Putrajaya has also scheduled the service counters to start charging a fee for processing the papers from May 1. However, it has yet to set the amount to be charged.

Both Lim and Siva note that if there is no policy change soon, lawyers may have no choice but to raise their fees, especially as their costs will go up in trying to accommodate the system that includes upgrading their broadband access.

“There should have been better planning and consultation with all the stakeholders, better and earlier dissemination of information to all users,” Lim said.

“E-filing in itself is a good policy because if implemented correctly it makes submission of documents easy, convenient, environmentally-friendly and reduces costs,” he added.

He told The Malaysian Insider he will be meeting de facto law minister Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz this week to sort out the mess.

The EFS is part of the e-government initiative that suffered some trouble last week when the government announced Tricubes Berhad is leading a RM50 million initiative to provide the 1 Malaysia email service using Microsoft Corp’s Windows Live platform for secure communication with Malaysians.

The announcement raised an immediate furore over project funding as many claimed existing free email services were secure for communication.

The issue was exacerbated with the revelation that Tricubes could be delisted if it did not file a financial regularisation plan by this October.

The government had said the project was a private financing initiative (PFI) that did not require public funds but an official from the efficiency unit Performance and Management Delivery Unit (Pemandu) later revealed that public agencies will have to pay 50 sen for each email over the current postage services that could cost up to RM2 per notice.