Context: The Indian judiciary has increasingly started using technology and the change is reflected in the legal profession in general as well.
In India, e-governance in the field of administration of justice began in the late 1990s, but it accelerated after the enactment of the Information and Technology Act, 2000.
- 2006: e-courts were launched as a part of the National e-Governance Plan (NEGP).
- Guiding star: Chief Justice of Allahabad HC, Justice D Y Chandrachud
- Conceptualized and initiated the project to digitize approximately one crore case files in one year.
- Necessary: A large space required to store so many files + becoming difficult to manually preserve the decades-old documents + To ensure that these files are traceable electronically as and when required. The consequences of missing court records are grave.
- In-State of Uttar Pradesh v. Abhay Raj Singh: Held by the Supreme Court that if court records go missing and re-construction is not possible, the courts are bound to set aside the conviction. Thus, convicts can go free for want of court records.
Significance of Digitisation
Saves time: The time consumed in summoning records from the lower courts to the appellate courts is one of the major factors causing delays in cases. With digitisation, it will take much less time for the lower courts to transmit the records as and when called for.
Decrease in the no of adjournments: Cases are adjourned simply because affidavits filed several years ago were not restored with the record or were not traceable. Once the documents are digitised and e-filed by counsels, at least the cases would not get adjourned by the courts on this account.
Current Status check: Once a lawyer or a litigant files a case digitally, he or she can check the status of the filing, the status of applications and affidavits, the date of the next hearing, and orders passed by the courts, etc. just by clicking on an app. They or their staff are no longer required to visit the reporting sections or other sections of the court to know about the status of their cases.
Virtual Hearings will be a norm: Before the pandemic, virtual hearings were used only in a limited manner. In 2018, the Supreme Court allowed the live-streaming of cases of constitutional and national importance on the basis of the judgment in Swapnil Tripathi. The livestreaming of court proceedings is a step towards ensuring transparency and openness.
- Gujarat HC in July 2021 became the first court in the country to livestream its proceedings.
The Way Forward
- Significant investment in court and IT infrastructure: Solving internet connectivity issues, ensuring cybersecurity and provision of a well-equipped space where lawyers can conduct their cases
- Political will and the support of judges and lawyers are necessary.
- Training to Judges, court staff and lawyers to make them well-versed with digital technology and its benefits.
- The use of video and audio enabled hearings have also faced significant legal and practical problems including admissibility and authenticity of the evidence received through the video and/or audio transmissions, the identity of the witness and/or individuals subject of the hearings, the confidentiality of the hearings.
- Clear classification of cases that can be taken care of in the virtual space: Virtual hearings cannot be a substitute for physical court hearings in all cases. However, in appropriate cases and certain categories of cases as identified by the court administration in consultation with the members of the Bar, virtual hearing should be made mandatory.
Source: Indian Express