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Virtual Courts: Prospects And Challenges

Remote working is a tried and tested model for arbitrations, and courts can adopt it very easily. Hiccups are only a mindset problem. Article 141/ 142 can be used for this to be effected in a timely manner.- Retired Justice BN Srikrishna, Supreme Court of India

The global catastrophe has had a huge impact on India as well as on the Indian judiciary. Throughout India, all the courts have been suspended for more than two weeks, leading to a pause throughout trial proceedings. Access to justice is a constitutional right[1] in order to ensure that there is no infringement of human rights and to optimize social isolation, the judiciary has turned to virtual justice.

India's first virtual court was launched in Faridabad in 2019. Until then, relatively little attempt has been made to convert traditional courts into virtual courts. On 26 November 2019, the President of India unveiled an application called 'Supreme Court Vidhik Anuvaad Software,' which is capable of translating English judicial records into nine vernacular languages and vice versa.

The Official Multilingual Mobile Application of the Supreme Court of India will also be released to provide accurate real-time access to case status, review screen, judgements to lawyers and litigants, daily orders, etc. Much technical advancement have been made in the judiciary, such as capturing testimony by video conferencing[2], but a significant change to virtual courts has arisen as a result of the current Covid-19 pandemic.

Some of a virtual court's biggest benefits are cost savings and availability of hours of service. Traditionally, tribunals are not available to the public on business days. However, this is restrictive in that many litigants needing access to the courts also work on business days. Not only can virtual courts remove this barrier by allowing online access to electronic filing and other case processing 24 hours a day, seven days a week, but litigants will also be able to participate in videoconferencing trials. Litigants will no longer be forced to leave work for court, as they will have access to proceedings from their home or office.

A full electronic courts system with proper implementation would help reduce court expenditures such as technology, staffing, protection, etc. Parties involved in the proceedings would not be forced to come in person to court, which eliminates travel time and makes the process cost-effective.

The institutions' digitization and computerization will also introduce transparency and better management into the functioning of the judiciary. As we can clearly see, the video conference facility introduced to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in court has helped to divert traffic in the courthouse and, with the help of remote video technology, has moved to virtual courts.
One of the biggest benefits that we'll have is the court's flexibility to work 24/7. There is a huge backlog of court cases, and the delay in justice leads to a lack of faith on the judiciary among the citizens. This will give the procedure a thrust, and the adjudication of cases can be carried out in a time-bound manner.

Justice D.Y. Chandrachud of the Supreme court on Tuesday said that judiciary could not but fulfills its special responsibility of adapting technological advancements and creating a robust infrastructure required to meet the expectations of highly tech- savvy youngsters.[3]

How far we have come?
E-courts project
The project of e- courts was started on the basis of the "National Policy and Action Plan for the enactment of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in the Indian Judiciary-2005" submitted by the SC e-Committee of India. The vision behind the whole plan is to bring technological advances to the work of the Courts.

Also created was a common software platform known as CIS (Case Information Software), with which all court data will be uploaded including past cases. Video-conferencing services are in their final stages in courts and jails.

Mobile apps have also been made for judicial officers such as e-Court systems for District and Taluka courts, and the JustIS Mobile App. Phase 2 accomplishments also include websites such as e-Filing via which people can file their case from home, check the status of the case in real-time , and make court fee payments through e Pay.

The first virtual court of Delhi was opened at the Tis Hazari Court on 26th July 2019. Following that, the Punjab and Haryana High Court launched Faridabad's virtual court and the court deals with Haryana's traffic challan cases on 17 August 2019. This project was launched via Supreme Court of India's e-committee guidance.

Present CJI SA Bobde arranged a conference on 15 March 2020 to discuss the introduction of videoconferencing in Courts in order to prevent any sort of court hearing/ gathering in Court.[4]

Over 18,000 cases were heard till the date 9 June via videoconferencing by the High Court of Delhi and its subordinate courts during the constrained judicial period that began on 23-24 March due to the corona virus disease outbreak.[5]

Although the Supreme Court of India usually disposes of as many as 3,500 cases every month, only 215 cases were closed from 23 March to 24 April of this year. Since the lockdown started, urgent new cases have been brought before the Supreme Court, which are fundamental to the life of hundreds of thousands of migrant workers in India.

Future of virtual courts- a way forward
2020 has been a big year of change in the space for dispute resolution � courts are online, virtual judges are put to decide our claims, and crowd-sourced justice systems are increasingly impacting our everyday lives. Together these and many others call traditional principles of justice into question. Technology devices are designed to intervene with the courts, and here are some of the latest technology developments.

Technology is expected to transform the face of justice rapidly, if not sooner, over the next decade. While these disruptive forces raise certain concerns about fairness and safety, research efforts have been put into effect to make them work better. As more and more traditional courts move online, we're confident to see big progress.

Despite the strong interest in developing and applying disruptive technology like AI in the Indian judiciary, significant challenges remain before it can become a reality.

It is time we went beyond the normal claims of transparency and accountability in the judiciary, because they would be an axiomatic result of an open judiciary in any event. Rather, if the Indian judiciary really wants to make use of the transformative potential of emerging technologies such as AI, it is critical for it to recognize and quickly remedy the impediments in current data.

Lack of infrastructure
When speaking from the context of infrastructural needs, it is important to account for other interoperable considerations. The most critical thing is the bandwidth. The courts may also be opposed to the notion of using apps controlled by a third party on the grounds of a breach of data privacy. Some jurists have also proposed that a national standard should be established which should be unanimously followed by all courts in the world. In fact, in order to reduce legal reporting limitations, there will be standard applications that would be accessible to all advocates and court registries.

Unavailability of information technology infrastructure
The new law on evidence law related to electronic evidence remains in motion and not yet crystallized, e.g. the issue of the provision of Section 65B of the Certification for the admissibility of electronic evidence has already been assigned to a larger bench.

Dedicated electronic / virtual networks, such as nuclear fuel plants, which are secured by highly advanced protection mechanisms, have been broken in without trace for months. It further adds to the concern of tampering with documentation and paper documents in cases of e-filing and e-storing of data.
E.g. Not Petya's ransomware attack, which started in 2017, resulted in the damage of more than $10 billion in globally.[6]

Practical issues
It involves weak quality of internet access, outdated and poor audio and video facilities, power cuts, failure to create links at the agreed time, failure of multiple parties to participate, notably affecting interpreters and vulnerable witnesses.

Lawyers lack of basic knowledge of Information technology, particularly in smaller centers. This opinion was shared by the Delhi Bar Council on behalf of lawyers who were unable to use the video conferencing service due to lack of technical knowledge. The same was stated by the Indian Bar Council in its response letter to the CJI.[7]

Access to people who lack internet connectivity is not discussed.
Even, we seem to overlook that as many as 50 percent of Indians do not have access to the Internet. That is despite having the second largest number of Internet users in the country.
Some may argue that even a person without an internet link should go to someone with such a link and use it, which is definitely better than going to a faraway court for a rural person. Yet the internet divide remains a big obstacle for half of people to reach or comprehend virtual court hearings.

While we are talking about globalization and digitalization, we cannot deny the importance of virtual courts in our lives. To make our country stand at par with the world, we need to adopt all modern means of technology to make sure we do not lag behind the world. After comprehensively analyzing everything, we can be assured that Yes, every crisis brings a new opportunity, an opportunity to develop and upgrade oneself, an opportunity to immune one from the problems and obstacles that might come in our way in the future. The case for India's future of 'internet courts' is close.

We raised a question earlier, that how "near" this future is. Well, we got the answer. It's all right to say that the ballpark figure would be 1-2 more years, and we can see a well-established 'virtual courts' working system in our country. But this can only be accomplished if we don't forget the obstacles that are in our way and how we can remove them. The reason that India still does not have a full-fledged network of virtual courts is due to numerous loopholes in the implementation process. However, the importance of physical courts can never be denied, open court system, wherein, the general public takes part in the proceedings guarantees transparency. We have come a long way in digitalization but we still have a long way to go.

This entire idea can be summed up in a sentence:
Virtual courts won't displace open hearings, but tech has potential: Justice Chandrachud.

  1. Anita Kushwaha v. Pushap Sadan (2016) 8 SCC 509
  2. State of Maharashtra v. Prafulla B. Desai (Dr.) (2003) 4 SCC 601

Written By:
  1. Yashashvi Singh And

  2. Amisha Sah

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