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The Supreme Court on Monday passed directions for all courts across the country to extensively use video-conferencing for judicial proceedings saying congregation of lawyers and litigants must be suspended to maintain social distancing amid the coronavirus pandemic. The top court, which has restricted its functioning and is conducting hearing through video conferencing since March 25, exercised its plenary power to direct all high courts to frame a mechanism for use of technology during the pandemic. A bench headed by the Chief Justice stressed that “technology is here to stay”.

  • Virtual Court is a concept aimed at eliminating presence of litigant or lawyer in the court and adjudication of the case online.
  • An e-court or Electronic Court means a location in which matters of law are adjudicated upon, in the presence of qualified Judge(s) and which has a well-developed technical infrastructure. An e-court is, however, different from a computerised court.
  • In the case of e-court, everything is done in an “online environment” through the use of Internet and other Information and Communication Technology (ICT), whereas a computerised court is nothing more than a court having computers and basic level hardware and software.
  • The e-courts project is about providing ICT so as to enable courts to make justice delivery system affordable and cost-effective. This would be beneficial for both improving the court processes and rendering citizen-centric services.
  • E-courts are aimed to make legal processes easier and more user friendly. In an e-court, the entire work is executed digitally, wherein, the information that is shared and generated is stored as a database and synched to a particular software. This software can be accessed by litigants, judges and advocates. The primary intention of e-courts is to make the justice delivery system affordable, transparent, speedy and accountable by limiting the paper filings.

The eCourts 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 eCommittee, Supreme Court of India with a vision to transform the Indian Judiciary by ICT enablement of Courts.
  • The project envisages
    • To provide efficient & time-bound citizen centric services delivery as detailed in eCourt Project Litigant’s Charter.
    • To develop, install & implement decision support systems in courts.
    • To automate the processes to provide transparency in accessibility of information to its stakeholders.
    • To enhance judicial productivity, both qualitatively & quantitatively, to make the justice delivery system affordable, accessible, cost effective, predictable, reliable and transparent.

Advantages of e-courts:

  • The key advantages of establishment of Electronic Courts in India is bringing in a justice serving mechanism that is transparent, efficient, affordable, time saving, protects the interests of witnesses, reduces the backlog of pending cases and most importantly reduces the number of unscrupulous activities.
  • Entire information related to a particular case would be available online. It would be available to the attorneys, parties and the general public through the help of internet.
  • Registered attorneys can file their case document directly from their home or office. They do not have to worry about postage, traffic congestion or messenger services. They can create a docket sheet and update it immediately, when the documents are filed.
  • With the help of internet, the documents of a case can be accessed easily from anywhere at anytime.
  • E-courts would help in the computerization of work flow management in courts. Thus, it would help to create a better court and case management. Video conferencing facilities would be installed in every court complex. Evidence of eyewitness, who are unable to attend the court can be recorded through this method.
  • The information would not be misplaced as all the information regarding the case would be carefully recorded and stored. Data keeping would include maintaining the records of e-file minute entries, bail orders, warrants etc.
  • In many cases, the witnesses are not able to come to the court and make their statement as the other party is too strong and scares them of the consequences. e-Courts can help in dealing with such cases.

Demerits of e-courts:

  • E-courts in India is an endless and complicating process. The process of e-filing a document is a difficult process. All the evidence cannot be produced in a digital format.
  • Lack of techno legal expertise is the main reason for the poor status of e-courts in India. With the absence of techno legal expertise, electronic courts cannot be established in India. The country requires more techno legal e-court centers so that the project of e-court can achieve success.
  • The project of e-court involves a lot of expenditure. It involves the use of a lot of computers and infrastructures. In the long run, e-courts may face the issue of lack of funds.
  • Hackers are getting stronger with every passing day. The possibility of e-Courts getting hacked in such a case can not be denied.

Solutions to address the challenges:

  • It is critical to draw up a well-defined and pre-decided framework as it can help in laying a concrete roadmap and direction to the e-courts scheme of India.
  • Another solution to address e-court related challenges would be to upgrade the present state of infrastructure. The present judicial infrastructure does not support establishing the e-court project. The government needs to identify and develop the infrastructure that would be required to support the e-court project.
  • One aspect that needs to be focussed on is the deployment of a robust security system that provides secure access to case information for appropriate parties. The security of e-courts infrastructure and system is of paramount importance. Also, user friendly e-courts mechanism, which is simple and easily accessible by the common public will encourage litigants to use such facilities in India.
  • The government must also make dedicated efforts in the training of personnel to maintain all the e-data. Also, conducting training sessions to familiarise the Judges with the e-courts framework and procedure can give a huge impetus to the successful running of e-courts.

The way forward for Indian litigation and arbitration:

  • In India, a significant amount of time is spent in resolving disputes which has been the real bane of the Indian judiciary system. The e-courts project, if implemented, would go a long way in saving costs and time for the litigants.
  • The present government is taking active steps to establish e-courts all over India. All these government efforts will result in providing quick and cost effective solutions to the litigants.
  • The judiciary system in India with the help of e-courts can overcome the challenges and make the service delivery mechanism transparent and cost efficient.
  • Further, the e-court project also requires the executive and the judiciary to reaffirm their resolve to support a speedy, efficient and quality justice delivery in the country. It is also important to  discuss steps required to surmount the various challenges facing the justice system.