E-Justice comprising of e-courts or virtual courts, e-filing, e-notices etc. has been considered a part of e-governance in India. The India Judiciary consists of 15000 courts. In 1990, a mission was launched was computerization with the name of Mission Mode Project. The aim of this mission was to enable the E-courts to achieve various objectives-to help the judicial administration in streamlining cases, to reduce pendency and cost of litigation, to provide databases, to ensure E- Filing, E – notices, producing witnesses through video conferencing, digitally signed court orders, digitalized ADR. In the present date, the system of E-courts has proved to be very essential when the country is amidst a lockdown due to the COVID-19 crisis. We can unanimously agree that there is no other way to continue the functioning of judiciary smoothly in the present scenario. However, ever since the concept of e-justice was launched, the effectiveness and the usefulness of the system has been a debatable issue. We shall have a look at the pros and cons of the same further in this article.
Why is E-Justice Important?
• Better Access and faster dismissal of cases: Until recently, technology has been vastly used in diverse organizations & spheres of life and resulted in enhanced efficiently & effectiveness. The subordinate judiciary is still running on manual systems. There is a general acceptance that Indian Judicial system suffers from case delay due to the use of antiquated methods. Virtual courts can be the solution to this problem. Traditionally, courts are open to the public only on business days. This is, however, restrictive in that many litigants who need to access the courts also work on business days. Virtual courts can eliminate this barrier not only by allowing 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week access to electronic filing and other case processing online, but litigants will also be able to participate in trials by videoconference.
•Transparency : If the court proceedings take place through video conferencing, it solves the most controversial issue of transparency. The proceedings can be live streamed and be open to public to attend and even id they are not live streamed, the recording of the video conferencing can be made available for reference of anyone.
Roadbocks to Digitization of Courts
• Digital Illiteracy: A large part of the population still is far behind being acquainted with technology. A few might be expert at using the modern gadgets, some might still be in the learning stage while others might be digitally illiterate.
This creates an imaginary demarcation between the privileged and the non-privileged advocates in our country. So, I believe virtual courts cannot be fully operational until a major part of the population becomes familiar with technology.
• Threat to Open Courts: Open courts implies that the public has access to witness court proceedings as a reporter, intern, spectator. Section 153B in CPC, section 327 in CrPC are legislative provisions governing the same. Digital courts curb this access to the public at large. This issue can be resolved only if the proceedings of the courts are live streamed as mentioned earlier.
• Demeanor of witness/ False Evidence: Virtual hearings do not permit the judge to scrutinize the facial expressions and bodily movement that are extremely instrumental in ascertaining the truth. It may also pose threats of identity thefts. Although this is not feasible, we cannot deny the fact that such a problem might arise in the course of virtual proceedings.
The Need of an Hour Amidst Covid-19
The times of Covid-19 have made virtual courts the need of the hour. In order to practice social distancing, the physical courts have to be temporarily replaced. During Covid-19 pandemic, courts in different parts of the world have resorted to video conferring and tele justice facilities to render justice. The Supreme Court in India also heavily relies on the same. The Chief Justice of India, Shri SA Bobde had specifically mentioned that “Technology it here to stay”. Justice Chandrachud recently remarked “virtual courts are an attempt by the judiciary to make the citizens believe that we value your time.” Thanks to technology that the open court of different countries are able to function and are acting as a safeguard to protect the rights of citizens during the pandemic.
There cannot be a second opinion about the fact that till the Corona crisis stays, we will have to adopt to this mode of justice delivery itself; whether we like it or not, whether we are comfortable with it or not. But, if we are to make virtual courts the new normal, this milestone needs a lot of time in India. this shall not become the new normal in a country like India unless complete digital literacy is achieved and the disadvantages are adequately addressed. Only after succeeding in this venture, we shall be able to say “Tech Way is the Next Way”.