“Justice must not be delayed at any cost as it involves paramount interest of the citizens. Courts cannot deter from delivering justice even in the wake of this pandemic.”
Covid-19 a pandemic has taken a new dimension in an undeclared Third World War. This is the most unforeseen and unprepared event which acts like a weapon to destroy and imbalance the world. Every single thing is dormant and standstill but the Indian judiciary system cannot afford the same. Access to justice is as important as daily bread which must not be denied even during this tough time. Due to this pandemic entire human population is suffering which results in filing of several PIL in the SC. It involves issues regarding migrant and daily wage workers seeking for minimum wages required for their survival, several domestic violence cases seeking for protection, which require urgent attention and cannot be delayed or ignored. It is crucial for the court to address these issues and act upon it appropriately. At the same time, it is vital to maintain social distancing from further spread of virus. This posed a greater challenge to the Indian judiciary which could only be met with the help of technological advancement. In this digitalised world, everything is possible with the help of internet. Kerala High Court was the first to hear the matter over Video Conferencing which was the most effective step taken by the judiciary system. Few months back we could not even imagine this scenario of advocates pleading over VC which is now a reality and the most effective way to deliver justice in this tough time. Now, courts have started to take up all emergency matters via VC including e-filing which is a key step.
Now the question arises, can India look forward to continue the use of e-courts for delivering justice? Will it help the Indian Judiciary to reduce the number of pending cases? Is it a new route which was unexplored so far which can now actually be endorsed?
Over the course of time, it is important to adapt with changes. India is always known for adapting with the technological changes. Even in the judiciary system, we have witnessed certain changes taking place with time. Initially, the petitions were typed with the help of manual typewriters which is now replaced by typing in word. Instead of printing it on a legal-size paper, courts are now accepting it on A4 size with print on both the sides. Even for research work, checking any legal provision or looking for any judicial pronouncements, advocates and judges are relying on technology and use of internet instead of looking into books or commentaries. It was back then in 2005 when an e-committee was formed and National Policy & Action Plan was made for implementation of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in Indian Judiciary. This was the first major step taken by the judiciary. In 2013, e-courts National Portals were launched which gave free access to case status, cause list and the case information. This simply shows that Indian Judiciary was always well versed with the importance and use of technology and it is not something new which made it easier for them to adopt it and conduct the pleadings over VC in this pandemic. It has a lot of benefits like its cost effectiveness, more transparency, public hearing via live VC, reduction of resources and time as well as speedy disposal. People who are disabled or if they are unable to attend the court can also virtually attend via VC. Advocates residing in some other city can have the pleading over the VC in SC. In case of adjournment of the cases, the people and their advocates will no longer be troubled.
But will it be so easy to adopt it as a general practice of the court after the lockdown? Wont it affect the most common form of human race i.e. socialising?
Majority of the population is still not well versed with the technology. Moreover, a proper structure and implementation must be planned before making this an alternative of accessing justice. Proper rules to operationalise the e-courts must be formed. Technical trainings must be given to the advocates, judges in order to have a smooth process.
But the major issue is security. Data being the most important asset must be protected. India do not have its own VC application and is relying on third party applications which is not safe. The National Informatics Centre must create a platform for VC and e-filing. Cyber threat is the most growing issue in the present times. With the use of internet, we are also inviting hackers. It is very important to protect the information being processed in the court as it involves the interest of the nation. No doubt that with the help of technology number of cases can be reduced, but we cannot institutionalise this on the stake of security. India lacks a strong legislation on data protection. According to me, e-courts can become an effective way of access to justice in future but not immediately after the lockdown. Certain efforts and measures need to be taken. India must first focus on the security issue and create a strong data protection team with proper encryption. This will be a very big step which requires efforts and planning. But that day is not so far when India will beat all the challenges and e-courts will function along with the other courts.
– Nisha Agarwal