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Virtual Courts

  • 12 Sep 2020
  • 6 min read

Why in News

Recently, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice has presented its report “Functioning of the Virtual Courts/Courts Proceedings through VideoConferencing”.

  • This is the first report to be presented by any parliamentary panel on the impact of the pandemic.

Key Points

  • Pre-Covid-19 period, the video-conference (VC) set up was primarily used for conducting remand matters to prevent movement of prisoners between courts and jails.
  • The report suggests that a full-fledged virtual court should be piloted in the first instance and recommends the continuation of virtual courts in a post-Covid-19 scenario.
  • It argued that transfer of certain categories of cases, like cases pertaining to traffic challans or other petty offences, from regular court establishments to virtual courts will reduce the pendency of cases.
    • Currently, there are 30 million pending cases.
  • Advantages:
    • Virtual/digital justice is cheaper and faster besides addressing locational and economic handicaps.
    • Virtual courts are an improvement over traditional courts as they are more citizen-friendly and offer greater access to justice.
    • The productivity of lawyers will increase substantially as there will be no regular visits to courts and long waiting hours. If this practice is extended to other civil cases, efficiency will double, even treble, in judicial functioning.
  • Challenges:
    • Various stakeholders have noted that the present infrastructure does not support virtual court proceedings.
      • 3,477 courtrooms are supported with facilities for virtual proceedings while 14,443 are still to be provided with them.
    • Almost 50% of lawyers, particularly in district courts, do not have any laptop or computer facility so their participation in the virtual courts will be either very less or not at all.
    • All judges are not able to undertake virtual hearings due to lack of experience and also due to lack of sufficient infrastructure to enable all of them to undertake virtual hearings.
    • Virtual court hearings, especially during peak hours when many people log into the video-conferencing system, are subject to frequent crashes of the system and one glitch can spoil the entire proceeding.
    • There are concerns that virtual courts will compromise the privacy of data as well as the confidentiality of discussions and court proceedings, due to the usage of third-party software applications, which are prone to hacking and manipulation.
  • Suggestions:
    • Infrastructure needs to be updated with sufficient machinery and data connectivity to provide with the virtual proceeding.
    • Virtual proceedings can be extended permanently to various Appellate Tribunals like Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal, National Company Law Appellate Tribunal, etc. located across the country which do not require personal appearances of the parties/advocates.
    • The Ministry of Law and Justice and Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology has been recommended to address data privacy and data security concerns while developing a new platform for India’s judicial system.

e-Courts Project

  • It was conceptualized on the basis of the “National Policy and Action Plan for Implementation of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in the Indian Judiciary-2005” submitted by e-Committee, Supreme Court of India with a vision to transform the Indian Judiciary by ICT enablement of Courts.
  • The e-Courts Mission Mode Project, is a pan-India Project, monitored and funded by the Department of Justice, Ministry of Law and Justice, for the District Courts across the country.

Way Forward

  • While India grapples with a crisis on the health and economic front, there is a need to think out of the box and a change in mindset regarding the work-culture is needed.
  • It is time that the courtroom, which is often regarded as the last bastion of antiquated working practices, opens its doors to the latest technology.
  • If vested interests are kept aside and collective will to initiate what is for the common good takes precedence, a virtual judiciary can become a part of Indian judiciary.
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