Author: Anubhuti Sharma, Student at Vivekananda Institute of Professional Studies, New Delhi.
The pandemic has brought almost the entire world into a stand-still and Indian Judicial system is no exception. In India, the economy has suffered a relentless blow; legal profession and judicial system seem to be no different due to lack of digital foundation. Due to the outbreak of COVID-19, all the Courts across the country have gone into online mode with electronic fillings, electronic mailing and video-conferencing. The High Courts and Supreme Courts have acknowledged the public health crisis by suspending administrative and judicial work, exception is made for only urgent matters. In order to meet the requirement of social distancing, Courts are permitting its arrival via videoconferencing and e-filling documents.
The question, however, is that while Courts in India are trying to grasp technology, is the Indian legal system ready for sustaining it and can it depend on it for a considerably long term? The technological hindrances digitally remain unanswered and are required to be alleviated primarily, as well as seeing the post lockdown restoration of Court work, as the virus will be with us for a longer period and we might need to adopt digital Courts.
GUIDELINES BY THE SUPREME COURT
The Supreme Court even issued guidelines of how shall the Courts function through videoconferencing. It stated that, it is necessary for all the Courts to practice social distancing and make sure that premises of Court should not contribute to the spread of virus. This was decided by a bench of three judges, exercising Court’s absolute power under Article 142 of the constitution. The steps taken, by the Supreme Court, are to reduce physical presence of all the parties within a Court and it emphasized on best public health practices. The bench even said that that all the concerned Courts shall maintain a helpline number in order to ensure that if any complaint is raised, regarding the audibility or any technicality, it must be communicated at the time of proceedings or shortly after its conclusion. This way the Courts in India can recommence their performance, through faraway working patterns quickly, along with maintaining social distancing, according to health advisory instructions and at the same time huge crowds can be abstained from Court rooms.
ACCESS TO JUSTICE
A long standing criticism of Indian Judicial system is; that litigation is for only the rich sections of the society. By introducing a step-by-step way of filing, conduction of proceedings through videoconferencing (at all phases of judicial system, from trial to Supreme courts and in various tribunal courts), the cost, incurred by the parties of litigation as well as for the lawyers, may be largely reduced. The younger members of the Bar would also get opportunities.
COVID-19 can be advantageous in bringing out greater use of technology in the judicial system starting from apex-courts to the grassroots surface of the legal system.
ADVANTAGES OF VIRTUAL COURTS
Technology enables Courts to enhance the administration of justice, improve efficiency and save money. Further technology, when used in judiciary, resolves problems and makes sure that justice is improved. The coronavirus crisis has enabled Indian judicial system all over the world to find innovative new ways of delivering justice. Some of the advantages are-
- With the help of virtual courts in the Indian judicial system, challenges can be defeated and delivery of service mechanism can be made more transparent and cost-efficient.
- The virtual courts will also provide flexible retrieval of gathered information.
- Purity of legal uncover would be strengthened.
- Successful case management systems in a certain timeline and constant format.
- Demand would be reduced on physical infrastructure favorable utilization of commodities.
- Increase in outreach of litigants to diverse Courts in country through their lawyers.
ABSENCE OF UNIFIED PORTAL
There are several conferencing applications available, but they raise a security threat and are not safe to use. These applications raise obvious certain supremacy questions when used for judicial purposes such as proceedings. Hence the authorities will not rely on any third-party, suspicious software, which could be risky and unsafe for the judicial system. The National Information Centre will hence have to create a platform that includes traits and features such as videoconferencing and e-filling. This platform would not only benefit the Indian judicial system but also all the other elements of the judicial system such as police, lawyers etc. Thus it would provide more justice to the people speedily.
The Indian government established the e-committee of the judiciary in the year 2004 which has inspected the stable adoption of digital or electronic infrastructure by Courts across the country. It provides a guided map to judiciary for information technology and managerial related amendments and reforms. It is a committee constituted in conduct of a plan acknowledged by the Supreme Court, for support in developing a National Policy on Computerization for the Indian Judicial System along directions on technological communication and administration related advancement. The E-Court projects were envisaged on the vision to modify the Indian Judiciary by Information and Communication Technology (ICT) enabled courts. The project would enhance judicial productivity, both qualitatively and quantitatively, in order to make justice delivery system economical, available, cost-effective, reliable, certain and transparent.
In the present scenario, of COVID-19 pandemic, virtual courts are a necessity but at present there are a whole lot of technical glitches and shortcomings in its accomplishment and execution. Hence, there are numerous challenges and the measures taken by judicial system are not sufficient. Following are some challenges faced by the authorities-
- The E-Filing Process: It is infested with numerous complications.
- Hacking and Cyber Security: Cyber security will be a huge concern for the system. The process should be secured from any sort of outside interference. Considering security threats, many have urged the authorities to limit the number of lawyers in a particular case.
- Infrastructure: Challenges can blow up due to inadequate infrastructure, non-availability of internet connectivity and electricity issues in villages (As electricity connection is must in order to use internet and computers).
- Unfamiliarity and lack of knowledge: Judges are simply not used to consciously facing the camera, particularly while hearing a case. Similarly, lawyers are finding it difficult to comfortable argue while seated at home also many lawyers do not have any knowledge about using of computers. For eg. lawyers are in their respective hometowns and do not have access to files and hence unable to participate.
- Technical problems: They are also being faced while conducting online hearings. The bandwidth is also not adequate or not stable enough. For instance, the pictures might break or get frozen and the voice often cracks. For instance, many lawyers have complained that they are facing problems in sending PDF files to the Judges in order to convince them about the urgency of the matter.
- Consultations: Lawyers are required to occasionally consult their client. Judges also need to consult and consider each other during a hearing.
- Open Courts: Videoconferencing has been criticized on many grounds. Lawyers have complained that the system does not adhere to the concept of “Open Courts”.
Thus, the idea of virtual courts is temporary and may not have any long-term goals. There is clear absence of rules in order to enable consistent use of technology. Furthermore, sufficient amount of budget is not available to ensure efficient usage of technology.
The question is, what all can be done in order to overcome the challenges that are faced by Judicial System due to virtual Courts and videoconferencing?
- The present state of infrastructure is in a need of upgrade.
- Another aspect which needs to be focused is a strong security system which would provide secure access to case information and details. The security of virtual courts and e-courts is of supreme importance.
- A user-friendly courts mechanism, which is easy and simply accessible by the common people, would definitely encourage litigants to use such courts and facilities in India.
- Training sessions must be conducted for the judges so that they get familiarize with the functioning of such courts.
- Since, many people do not know about such courts, talks, seminars and workshops should be held in order to create awareness around virtual and e-courts.
Since technology is here to stay with us, we should find ways and mechanisms to make it better which will only be a step in the right direction.
At present COVID-19 is a grave threat to human race, it will force the countries to change the way work is undertaken. The silver lining to this is that adopting technology for dispute settlements in an online format which will help us in saving both cost and time of the parties involved. Without the requirement of extensive physical courts, technology will help the justice delivery system to infuse in the most distant parts of the country. The Supreme Court has already taken substantial steps such as e-filing and videoconferencing, which are expected to continue in near future and for long-term goals. Therefore, technology has the scope to transform our legal system, so it is time that courts in India imbibe technology.
 Student at IP UNIVERSITY, VIVEKANANDA INSTITUTE OF PROFFESIONAL STUDIES – NEW DELHI, COURSE- BALLB
 SUO MOTU WRIT (CIVIL) NO.5/2020
 Section 142 allows the Supreme Court to pass any order important to do “complete justice” in a case.
 Office order- No .L- I 10151212004-Jus; establishment of E-Committee
 NATIONAL POLICY AND ACTION PLAN FOR IMPLEMENTATION OF INFORMAITON AND COMMUNICATION TECHNOLOGY IN THE INDIAN JUDICIARY, available at https://main.sci.gov.in/pdf/ecommittee/action-plan-ecourt.pdf (last visited on June 1, 2020)