E Courts – A way Forward
An electronic court or E-court means a location in which matters of law are adjudicated upon, in the presence of qualified judge(s) and which has a well developed technical infrastructure. Virtual court is a concept aimed to eliminating the presence of litigants or lawyers in the court and adjudication of the case online.
In the wake of Coronavirus Pandemic the Supreme Court has passed directions for all courts across the country to extensively use video conferencing for judicial proceeding. The Hon’ble Supreme Court exercised the plenary power under Article 142 to direct all High Courts to frame a mechanism for use of technology during the pandemic. A bench attended by the Chief Justice stressed that ‘technology is here to stay’. In the case of E-courts, everything is done in an online environment through the use of internet and other information and communication. Technology, whereas a computerised court is nothing more than a court having computer and basic level hardware and software. The e-court project on other hand is about providing ICT to as to enable courts to make justice delivery system affordable and cost effective.
- Hearing of cases through e-courts as necessity is the mother of invention.
- The counsel has to make an application to court and the court will only take up the urgent.
What are virtual courts?
A virtual court is a conceptual idea of a judicial forum that has no physical presence but still provides the same justice as available in the court rooms.
Virtual Courts do not exist in physical form nor do they enjoin upon the defendants and petitioners to be physically present at their premises however , this is a technology based system where the internet is relied upon for the smooth functioning of the courts.
- Access to virtual courts would, however, the limited to online access, video conferencing and teleconferencing
- The videoconferencing technology allows witness to testify at trial without being physically present in the courtroom.
- In a contrast to traditions, in person witness, the videoconference witness is not physically present in the courtroom but ‘virtually present’ through the use of technology.
Importance of Artificial Intelligence for Courtrooms
- With nearly 3 crore cases pending, delays in court remain a grave concern. In such a case ,technology can be a major catalyst in facilitating reduction of backlog in courts.
- Tools derived from the Artificial Intelligence will help expedite case flow management, unclog the processes that are slowing justices down and in many cases, ease administration aspects.
- However, the use of Artificial Intelligence does not envision replacing the wisdom, experience and objecting of judges in determining cases, it just seeks to ease the process of delivery of justice.
- In the near future, there is absolutely no chance as to replacing human reasoning, logic and intelligence of judiciary with automations.
- But, there are many usages of technology that can be adopted and integrated immediately such as this could be used to free up judiciary to solve complex matters that require full attention and experts.
- Artificial Intelligence would also enable real time governance of courts based on simple metrics like frequency of case disposal per judges or categorization of subject matter with respect to judges.
PROS OF E-COURTS:
- Cost Effective: Through virtual courts video and audio enabled hearings is beneficial as it saves significant court cost in terms of building, staff, infrastructure, security, transportation costs for all parties to the court proceeding.
- Saving Manpower: Virtual courts will cut much police work and spare large number of them for other duties. On an average one to five policeman are generally out on duty related to court matters like service of summons etc.
- Transparency and Accountability: Virtual courts can bring transparency and accountability in judicial system as they can bring judicial reforms in India by dealing with pending cases.
- Boost in the India’s legal framework: E-courts with prove to be a major step in the evolution of India’s legal framework and will play a major role in boosting the confidence of foreign and domestic business as they explore investments in India.
What are the major challenges?
- Authenticity issues:The use of audio and video enabled hearings have also faced significant legal and practical problems including admissibility and authenticity of the evidences received through the video and/or audio transmissions, the identity of the witness and/or individuals subject of the hearings, the confidentiality of hearings.
- Connectivity Issues: The practical issues have been wide ranging, they includes poor quality of internet connection, poor and outdated audio and video equipment, power cuts, inability to establish connection at agreed time, inability to multiparty to take part especially involving interpreter and vulnerable witness.
So it is crucial to have good internet connection for audio-video enabled hearings to be effective and successful. This would involve investment in court and IT infrastructure.
- Difficulty in confidential information: Defendants in virtual court hearings find it difficult to hold confidential discussions with their lawyers , become disconnected with the proceedings and also disadvantaged during sentencing.
What can be done?
As it is rightly said , “Change is the measure of time” and being in the generation of Artificial Intelligence as well as rapid growing technological advancement , it is the duty of the courts to inculcate technology as a fundamental for Access to justice in the 21st century. Therefore to cope up with the need of the hour , the following measures can be adopted-
- Adopting Virtual Judicial Platforms- The importance of allowing technology within the judicial process is already recognized by the Indian Legal catalysts. For Eg- The Motor Vehicles Act , 2019 was the first E-courts project introduced in the legal system wherein virtual courts were set up for the purpose of settling Motor Vehicle Claims such as petty traffic challan cases etc.
- E- filing of cases- Filings related to non essential matters can be moved online and e-filing should be made available at all levels . In matters related to bail hearings and habeas corpus where individual’s liberty is at stake , it is imperative to allow Video conferencing .
- Judiciary should play a proactive role- Training shall be provided to the lower judicial officers upon the functioning of the virtual courts. As it was rightly said , by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud that , “The very foundation of the Justice Delivery system is from the lower District judiciary and they shall be well informed and well trained for the future of E-Courts’
- Assurance of justice to litigants by way of E-courts – “Justicing is not a sovereign function but a service which is provided to the community” , therefore , the courts must ensure equal access to justice for all the litigants and must play an active role to make the litigants as well as the lawyers accustomed to the Virtual courts and their functioning.
Susan Hood , the CEO for the Court of Majesty and Tribunals Service , once said , “Our processes don’t need to be as old as our principles , therefore , Technology , must at it’s core be about enhancing the access to justice and it must be towards enhancing the fundamental values of human dignity and equality . Our court procedures may be too expensive for the common citizens , yet we also have to realise that the confidence of the litigants in the process of the court is an integral of the rule of law . And , technology makes our processes , consistent , transparent and effective.”
As we move ahead , in the generations to come , we will realise that the access to internet is greater than the access to justice in our country therefore it becomes highly critical to make Technology an inseparable part of the justice system. And technology , can therefore act as a Floride element in the justice system , to stop the decay and act as a transformation to bring out the True fundamental of the Indian Judiciary. However , looking at the strong foundation of our legal system , the virtual courts cannot be said to be substitute to the physical courts , however , it such courts can be resorted to in certain cases and during the times of extreme emergency , such as the ongoing pandemic.