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- Mains – GS 2 (Governance)
Context: India takes an average of 2,184 days to dispose of a case in its subordinate courts, 1,128 days in its High Courts, and 1,095 days in the Supreme Court, bringing the total life cycle of a case in India to 12+ years.
- Indian Judicial System has been suffering from pendency of cases.
- Over 4.3 Crore cases have been pending at various stages of the judicial process.
- Digitization of the Judicial process holds promise in reaffirming the trust of the citizen in the Judiciary.
About Digitization of the Judicial Process:
- Digitization refers to the increased usage of digital technology to perform conventional tasks, thereby reducing time and enhancing public service delivery.
- In the context of the Judicial Process, it stands for documentation of the case in digital format.
- Richard Eric Susskind in his book, The Future of Law, has written that in the coming years, lawyers and their litigants will communicate through email.
Evolution of digitization in Administration and Judiciary
- 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.
Benefits of usage of technology and digitisation:
- Reduction in the need for storage infrastructure for case files:
- This space could be utilised for increasing courtrooms and recruiting more judges for enhanced access to justice and speedy Justice delivery.
- Judges – Population ratio: 20 per Million for India (whereas for other countries it is approximately double).
- Increased traceability of Case files:
- This will reduce adjournments due to the traceability of affidavits which were stored electronically.
- Reduced time for Court proceedings:
- The time consumed in summoning records from the lower courts to the appellate courts is one of the major factors causing delays in cases.
- Due to the digitisation of the records, this time would reduce significantly.
- For ensuring real justice:
- In ‘State of Uttar Pradesh v. Abhay Raj Singh’, it was held by the Supreme Court that if court records go missing and reconstruction is not possible, the courts are bound to set aside the conviction.
- This would allow the accused to not be held accountable for the crimes committed.
- This would lead to a miscarriage of Justice and hence digitisation provides a panacea against this.
- For increased ease of procedure in the judicial ecosystem:
- Lawyers can check the status of the filing, the status of applications and affidavits, the date of the next hearing, orders passed by the courts etc. just by clicking on an app.
- It would no more be required to physically visit the courts to know the status of the case.
- Increased openness and transparency:
- A litigant can be more informed about the status of his/ her court case.
- This will lead to enhanced trust in Judiciary.
Challenges associated with digitization of judicial records:
- Digitisation and usage of digital infra require increased funding.
- Digital Literacy amongst the stakeholders is abysmal
- Lawyers and Judges struggled to shift to virtual hearings during the pandemic.
- The status of it is poor in the case of the rural population.
- Privacy Concerns- With increasing digitisation, especially of court records, privacy concerns are likely to be at the forefront of judicial and public deliberations in the coming years.
- Hacking and Cyber security- On the top of technology, cyber-security will be a huge concern too.
- The government has initiated remedial steps to address this problem and formulated the Cyber Security Strategy.
- Not every case can be disposed of virtually nor can these be live-streamed.
- Deployed with adequate planning and safeguards, technological tools can be a game changer.
- However, technology is not per se value-neutral — that is, it is not immune to biases. Power imbalances need to be checked upon.
- Lack of a well-equipped space where lawyers can conduct their cases.
Steps taken for the usage of technology in Judicial Process
Digitisation of judicial records and establishment of e-courts
- This was conceptualized under the “National Policy and Action Plan for Implementation of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in the Indian Judiciary-2005”.
- The e-Committee is the governing body charged with overseeing the e-Courts Project.
- Its vision is to transform the judicial system of the country through the ICT enablement of courts.
- e-filing of cases/petitions by state governments in all matters has been made mandatory from January 1, 2022.
National Judicial Data Grid:
- National Judicial Data Grid (NJDG) is a database of orders, judgments and case details of 18,735 computerised District and Subordinate Courts created as an online platform under the e -Courts Project.
- Data is updated on a near real-time basis by the connected District and Taluka Courts and High Courts.
- It is short form of Supreme Court Portal for Assistance in Court’s Efficiency.
- It is a composite AI-assisted tool.
- It makes all relevant cases available to a judge/ legal researcher for making an informed decision.
- It is short form of Supreme Court Vidhik Anuvaad Software.
- It is used to translate SC judgments into regional languages.
Virtual hearings in Courts:
- The Supreme Court in Anjali Brahmawar Chauhan v Navin Chauhan allowed the family court, Gautam Buddha Nagar, to conduct the trial of a matrimonial case through video-conferencing.
Live Streaming of Courts’ proceedings:
- On the basis of the judgment in Swapnil Tripathi, in 2018 the Supreme Court allowed the live-streaming of cases of constitutional and national importance.
- Gujarat High Court became the 1st court in the country to live stream its proceedings.
As the technology grows, concerns about data protection, privacy, human rights and ethics will pose fresh challenges and hence, will require great self-regulation by developers of these technologies. It will also require external regulation by the legislature through statute, rules, regulation and by the judiciary through judicial review and constitutional standards.
The cases related to matrimonial issues and domestic violence, bounced cheques, motor accident compensation referred to mediation centres and Lokadalats could be included in the list of cases fit for disposal through the virtual hearing.
Source: The Hindu