DIGITIZATION OF JUDICIARY
It is no news that India has loads of pending cases at different levels. As of November 2019, the Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar said that there are 59.867 cases pending in the Supreme Court and 44.75 lakh cases in various high courts. The numbers extend up to 3.14 crore cases at the district and subordinate court levels. The numbers have hardly changed since December 2014. There are many ways to clear this backlog of cases. It could be done by filling up posts or increasing the number of posts of judges in courts. Another way could be the digitization of judiciary.
Ever since the novel Coronavirus struck the globe, businesses have had to reshape their conventional way of working and carrying out their work. Internet played a great role for these businesses to work efficiently. How long can the judiciary work efficiently in this pandemic given the extraordinary number of already pending cases as mentioned earlier?
There is a need for digitization of judicial system amid the global crisis. A vital first step could be conducting regular court hearings over video conferences. But this is not the only step to make our judicial system digital. The entire legal system needs to be reimagined so as to function properly and efficiently during this pandemic. Social distancing seems like the new lifestyle and it is less likely to be eased completely in the foreseeable future at least not till a vaccine for the novel Coronavirus is available. Therefore, the decisions taken now will undoubtedly have a lasting effect in near future.
The Supreme Court of India had recently issued guidelines to lessen physical presence to maintain social distancing. Justice DY Chandrachud had also earlier mentioned that an e-filing software was being developed. A threat remains that the use of technology may hamper with the efficacy and sanctity of the judicial process which is why the sole development of an e-filing system is not enough. It is no doubt that the shifting of the legal profession to a virtual procedure will be difficult. Time management and logistics related issues are going to be one of the biggest problems to ensure the functioning of the court in a smooth manner.
WHAT ARE DIGITAL COURTS?
A platform where the trial of cases will be done electronically including those that are pending and those cases that have been freshly registered is called a digital court. A computer hardware, LAN (Local Area Network) and a standard application software would be the essentials for the working of a digital court. India’s first digital court was administered at the High Court of Judicature at Hyderabad. This digital court was inaugurated by the Chairperson of the Supreme Court e-Committee Justice Madan B. Lokur.
WHY SHOULD JUDICIARY BE DIGITIZED?
The current functioning of the legal profession is quite hectic and it is safe to say that it is not the most efficient utilization of the time of those engaged in this profession. Lawyers are expected to be physically present in the courts. Those lawyers who practice regularly in high courts and the Supreme Court have it worse. When they are assigned a particular day of hearing, the first half of their day is spent waiting for their case or matter to be called up and that is if they get called up. Many a times they wait all day and still don’t get called up due to presence of huge number of cases and their slow working. This slow working of the cases is because everything is handled physically.
Because of all this, the opportunity to attend matters in multiple courts is diminished. This often forces the lawyers to prioritize their cases at the cost of irritating their other clients. This whole mayhem harms their reputations. Anything done properly and with efficiency leads to great results. The shift to a technological take can reduce this hotchpotch and save valuable time allowing those engaged in this profession to appear in multiple courts within minutes. Shifting to online courts will require precision and punctuality in time management. This will be easier since both the parties of the cases and their lawyers would be expected to join the virtual court at a pre-decided time.
One may question about the reliability of evidence. Block chain technology can be used to improve its reliability. Moreover, with the use of a virtual platform, locational bars and issues can be easily handled. A digital platform would encourage transboundary practice. The cost of travelling all the way to the Capital for Supreme Court hearings will be eliminated. E-record keeping can help reduce paper based practices which will be environment friendly as well as the chances of loss and destruction of documents will be nil. The aforementioned ways are only a few of the possibilities of a digitized platform for courts.
There will be problems while implementing digitization of judiciary. For example, areas which are socio-economically weak will not be able to find digital systems easy to handle. The education system for those involved in this profession like lawyers and judges will need to change to include these developments. Even the skills requires for positions like clerks and other officials of the court will also be required to change. As all the data will be uploaded digitally, there will be a need for a stringent secure system. However, this all can be taken care of. Digital platform for legal professions is not new to the world.
There are other countries who have digitized there judicial system before and from international experiences it can be concluded that well implemented systems not only benefit the public in the short term but also improve cost effectiveness in the long run. Sure, the challenges are big but they need to be overcome not only because the results at the end will be fruitful and substantial but also because it promotes and encourages the core idea of all this, that is, a judicial system accessible to all and easy deliverance of justice.
Author: Saumya Shreya,
National Law University and Judicial Academy, Assam (First Year)