The Novel Corona virus (COVID-19) pandemic had a significant impact on the
operation of nearly every institution. Judiciary is one of them. COVID-19
crippled the traditional court system thus making the Supreme Court realize a
need to be upheld JUSTICE in the rarest of rare times. As a result of which the
hon'ble Supreme Court (SC) exercising its power under Article 142 of the
Constitution of India, allowed the proceedings of the court to be carried
through video conferencing and e-filing.
This is not the first time that the courts are using technology for Justice
Delivery. However, past few months saw a giant leap and brought together the
virtual court system which had been in existence for a while but was used in
exceptional circumstances only.
Evolution And Status Quo
The e-court project was launched on the basis of “National Policy and Action
Plan for Implementation of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in the
Indian Judiciary-2005” which was submitted by the e-committee of SC of India.
The project brought about a change in the traditional court system and led the
way to advancement through digitalization.
After successful introduction of
e-payment facilities the first e-court was established in Delhi. The court
functioned through video conferencing and soon led to such courts in Punjab and
Haryana as well.
The courts have also extensively modified the law and included the technology as
and when required. A wider scope has been given in Section 230 to 234 of
CrPC as well as section 30 of CPC so as to include appearing of witness
through video conferencing if the circumstances do not allow physical presence.
By virtue of the amendment in the Evidence Act and insertion of sections 65A and
65B, a special provision for evidence relating to electronic record and
admissibility of electronic records (including video conferencing) have been
This position had been consolidated in 2003, in the landmark judgment of State
of Maharashtra v Dr Praful B Desai . The grounds for examination
through video conferencing have ordinarily been the party/witness residing
abroad, bad health or was suffering from post-traumatic disorderor
testimony and cross examination of foreign expert witness. The facility has
also been used by the subordinate courts, where the judicial officer needs to
record evidence of under-trial prisoners for security reasons and the courts
have opined that it is a cost-effective method and avoids delay of justice.
However, the process is carried out in consideration of very strict precautions
as to both the identity of witness and accuracy of equipment used. The
presence of one deputed officer, signing of the written transcript of
deposition, ensuring a non-coerced statement with recording at both ends
certifying the identity and administering oath and several other rules have been
laid now and then. It is also noted that expenses and arrangements have to
be borne by the person availing the facility.
Such wide presence of the virtual system of Justice clearly indicates that it is
not new to us and in the past we have had a successfully engagement with
technology to deliver Justice. However, using the virtual system in exceptional
cases is one and employing it as a primary system is whole another task.
The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted a loophole whereof in the absence of any
alternative, virtual court system was practiced. This attracted the attention of
the nation and ignited the long-standing debate on pros and cons of virtual
The primary duty of the courts is to ensure that it is fair and follows the due
procedure of law in imparting Justice. The procedural laws speaking through
several provisions eliminate any possibility of taking a risk of
mal-practices as regard to the procedure. In that light, substituting a new
system is a tedious task yet not impossible. On a closer observation it can be
seen that the traditional system has some shortcomings that can be dealt using
technology and the technology has some shortcomings that need resolution before
diving into it.
Challenges To Real Justice
Signing for Virtual Courts might land us in a situation where justice itself is
not real if adequate planning and backups are not considered beforehand.
Ensuring good bandwidth connectivity to the whole country is the most basic
yet very crucial challenge. The legislature must frame policies and allocate
funds to incentivize the public sector to reach the core of the nations.
The level of technology that is required to ensure hack-proof platforms is very
high. It requires both skills as well as monetary investment to develop such
platforms. The allocation of 700 crores by the centre was a huge step in
this regard however, the system could not work effectively as the funds never
saw the light of the day.
The uncertainty as to confidentiality and evils of technology such as face
changer and witness credibility are major questions on the way. There is a need
to develop specific laws in this regard by formation of a high powered
The efficacy and importance of open trials for upholding the legitimacy and
effectiveness of the courts for enhancing public confidence are paramount to
justice dispensation in India. Thus, provision must be included for live
streaming of the court proceedings.
Analyzing the system being practiced in other countries, it is safe to
conclude that we do have the requisite technology present today. All we now need
is a strong will and a spirit to adapt to the new age solutions.
Prospects Of Virtual Court Systems
If we go by the data India has a pendency of 3.7 million cases for over 10
years which can be attributed to the simple fact that the aggrieved are
tired of visiting courts and have stopped appearing or worse that aggrieved
keeps on appearing but the accused claims unreasonable absence. This has not
only created a huge pendency but has also raised question mark on justice
itself. This can be resorted through virtual courts as the parties can join in
through their own systems and will have a speedy access to justice.
The corruption in courts is not a concealed fact. The very trend of the case
file requiring money from every employee that it passes through de-motivates the
poor from going to courts. The poor cannot afford to cover the costs of
corruption and thus keeps hanging between the system and justice. This can be
easily be corrected through virtual courts. As the transparency level is very
high and no additional corruption charges needs to be paid.
The cases of witnesses or the aggrieved being murdered on their way to the court
and the prisoners escape while being taken for the hearing are very common.
These instances run against the very essence of justice itself ,as the state
fails to protect the individuals against the crime and then even fails to secure
their lives. The Rape case in Unnao and the rape case against Asaram are
the prime examples here. The virtual courts can however ensure that the victim
approaches the court within a safe boundary. The recorded testimony of witness
can help in more witnesses coming forward and also protect their lives as the
perpetrator will lose interest in the witness after he/she has testified.
The apprehension created on the victims by the accused or their lawyers in the
courtroom at several instances overturns the truth and this can be
effectively prevented through virtual courts.
Suggestions To Maintain Balance
The huge amount of expenses that the rural people incur while travelling to the
cities to get access to justice not only de-motivates them from approaching to
the court but it also speaks against the constitution. If we use technology
to establish a virtual setup alongside the Panchayat office, the justice will be
easily accessible and will in its true sense reach the citizens.
Classification of cases can be done to see the level of care that the system
needs to take.
For instance, civil cases can easily be covered through Virtual
courts as they involve private interests of the party. The transcript of the
court proceedings can then be signed by the parties to confirm legitimacy.
In context of criminal cases, the court needs to ensure a free and safe
environment for the victim and witnesses to testify. Virtual courts will
find it a little difficult to ensure this but not impossible. It can be dealt
using a separate judicial police which can ensure a free statement and the
safety of such individuals.
The monetary expenditure might be a point of concern at the moment. But as the
courts come into action, we will also save a lot of money on traditional courts
as reported by the Delhi court after it employed such a court.
The installation of systems at jails and at accessible points in the cities and
towns will be cost efficient as well as a safe option to carry out the
trial. The electronically generated documents will make the courts go
paperless which will save 11 billion papers a year amounting to 1.3 million
trees & 109 billion liters of water.
Adequate technical knowledge can be provided to the young students and lawyers
at the very onset of their career. And efforts can also be made by the Bar to
provide the requisite knowledge to the advocates through training programs. So
that growth does not come at the costs of leaving people behind.
Need For Reformation
It is not necessary to bring about the transformation in haste; however it would
be inadequate if the transformation is carried out at the pace which existed in
pre-corona times. The transition has to be smooth by maintaining the balance
between the good and the challenges.
If we look at the legal systems of UK or USA, we can notice that they have
started using AI driven courts where questions of law are addressed by
technology. This has made accessibility to justice easy and has opened the doors
to entirely AI driven courts based on codification and interpretations. However,
India is still struggling with reaching the corners of the nation. This
situation has to be leveled through advancement and development. Ignorance will
no longer help and it is high time to take some serious steps in the direction.
We cannot outdo the work-load of such a huge population with the existing
traditional systems. And in not doing so we are inviting a society which
does not fear law even though it exists. Justice served after decade does
not make much sense and casts a wrong impression as if law is going to wait for
a long time before acting.
We are standing at a point, where virtual court system is applied only in cases
of special circumstances. We do have the requisite legal as well as
technical competence to reform the system as suggested by the legal position
discussed earlier. Therefore, what needs to be do is the improvisation of the
pre-existing system. Certain organizations like Daksh have done detailed
analysis to construct a road map on the subject matter which can be of immense
help as long as the country is ready to empower this shift.
It is an accepted fact that law lags behind technology in terms of
development in legal provision. But it must run at par with the technology
where it can help law get stronger and ahead of the criminals.
Thus, it is safe to conclude that COVID-19 has provided Indian Judiciary with an
unfortunate opportunity by opening the gates for modernization. It must be
welcomed by the courts but at the same time the courts needs to be cautious so
that odds are balanced and free as well as speedy justice is served.
Written By: Vranda Agarwal
- Ravindra S Garia, Covid 19 Pandemic and the judiciary, (May 14, 2020),
Available at: https://theleaflet.in/covid-19-pandemic-and-the-judiciary/#
- Constitution of India,1950( provides discretionary power to the Supreme
Court as it states that the court in the exercise of its jurisdiction may
pass such decree or make such order as is necessary for doing complete
justice in any cause or matter pending before it.)
- Re: guidelines for court functioning through video conferencing during
covid-19 pandemic, 6/04/2020, Suo motu writ (civil) no.5/2020
- Accord, Sites includes links of Zoom and other platform, https://vcourts.gov.in/virtualcourt/index.php
- National Policy and Action Plan for Implementation of Information and
Communication Technology(ICT) in the Indian Judiciary-2005, E-committee
Supreme Court of India ,(01/08/2005), Available at: https://districts.ecourts.gov.in/sites/default/files/action-plan-ecourt.pdf
- See also, Phase Plan, Available at: https://services.ecourts.gov.in/ecourtindia_v6/static/about-us.php
- Code of Criminal Procedure,1973
- Section 30, Order XVI and Order XVIII of the Code of Civil Procedure
- In effect since 17 October 2000
- Refer, State of Maharashtra v Dr Praful B Desai, 2003 4 SCC 601
- Refer, Praful B Desai, Liverpool and London Steamship Protection and
Indemnity Association Ltd v MV ‘Sea Success I' & anr 
- Refer, Alcatel India Ltd v Koshika Telecom Ltd & ors 2004 (3) Arb. L.R.
- Refer, Sakshi v Union of India [(2004) 5 SCC 518]; Sheeba Abidi v State
& anr 
- Refer, Dr Kumar Saha v Dr Sukumar Mukherjee 
- Refer, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation v NRI Film Production
Associates (P) Ltd [AIR 2003 KANT 148] and Amitabh Bagchi v Ena Bagchi. AIR
2005 Cal 11
- Refer, Supranote 11, para 24.
- Accord, AH Hawaldar, Evolution of due process in India, (October 2014),
- Code of Civil Procedure,1908 and Code of Criminal Procedure,1973
- See, Analysis through 4 papers by Daksh Foundation, Available at:
- Rank 109 in international index of Internet Speed and Internet
penetration rate is 50%, Available at: https://www.statista.com/statistics/792074/india-internet-penetration-rate/
- CDN nodes can be used ,See , White paper series on Next Generation
Justice Platform paper 4,pg 41, by Daksh , September 2019
- See, White paper series on Next Generation Justice Platform paper 3 by
Daksh , September 2019 The cost calculation for purposes of development by
DakshIndia Foundation ,https://dakshindia.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/Paper-2_Transition-and-Implementation.pdf
- Justice Madan Lokur, on record, stated that the XIV Finance Commission
had allocated a sum of Rs. 700 Crores to develop a common software for the
purpose of case and court management.
- See, White paper series on Next Generation Justice Platform paper 3 by
Daksh , September 2019
- Swapnil Tripathi vs Supreme Court of India Writ Petition(Civil) No. 1232
- See, White paper series on Next Generation Justice Platform paper 1 by
Daksh ,Pg 17 to 23, September 2019
- Data in accordance with NJDG( National Judicial Data Grid), Some critics
say that the judiciary in India is over burdened and the days are not too far
that it may collapse on account of its overweight unless some remedial steps are
taken. Justice BB Malhotra Judge Allahabad High Court, in an article “Court
Management” published [J.T.R.I. JOURNAL – First Year, Issue – 3 - Year – July –
- Nayana RenuKumar, The Indian Judiciary on trial: Tackling corruption in
India's Courts, The Global Anticorruption Blog, 12/02/2016
- Accord, https://www.deccanherald.com/national/north-and-central/unnao-rape-all-you-need-to-know-about-the-incident-750523.html
- Accord, Jayshree Bajoria, Asaram Case Highlights Need for Witness and
Victim Protection in India
Published in:CNN News18, April 27,2018
- Accord, The minors and women must be protected against sharp words ,see,
- On average, each litigant spent Rs 519 per day to attend court. Even more
unfortunate is the fact that litigants with an annual family income of less than
rs 1 lakh per annum spent 10 per cent of their earnings in attending court
hearings, other than legal fees, in a year. Survey by Daksh Foundation on
Expensive road to justice, Available at: https://www.indiatoday.in/magazine/cover-story/story/20160509-judicial-system-judiciary-cji-law-cases-the-long-expensive-road-to-justice-828810-2016-04-27
- In China and other countries, ODR mechanisms are being used to adjudicate
on domain name disputes. The courts are utilising Artificial Intelligence and
blockchain for resolving disputes.
- Due process of law and section 164 of Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973
- From 2003 till 2005 that is within a span of two years the High Court of
Karnataka was able to save amount to a tune of Rupees ninety three lakhs eighty
three thousand five hundred and forty one. Since then, it is under various
stages of completion and functioning at the rest of the jails in the State
through jail video conferencing.
- Supra Note 36
- Supra Note 27, Pg- 20 -23
- Sourya Banerjee, The problem of access to Justice in India, May 30,2018,
Available at: http://onefuturecollective.org/the-problem-of-access-to-justice-in-india/
- Supra Note 33
- Justice Delayed is Justice Denied, Example- Uphaar Cinema case and Jessica
- Supra note 11
- Fenwick, Mark D.; Kaal, Wulf A. Ph.D.; and Vermeulen, Erik P.M. "Regulation
Tomorrow: What Happens When Technology Is Faster than the Law?," American
University Business Law Review, Vol. 6, No. 3 (). Available at: http://digitalcommons.wcl.american.edu/aublr/vol6/iss3/1
- Second year BALLB (Hons.) student at NLIU,
Email: [email protected]