SOUMYA MANI and DAKSHI SHUKLA
INTERN FORES LEGAL
Digitalization is the process of increasing the use of technology. It is basically the integration of various technologies/techniques to upgrade and modify processes and bring about the desired cumulative change. India is heading towards digitalization with the interlinking of the four levels i.e. expanding digital infrastructure, increasing technological adoption, growing digital communication, and unprecedented data explosion. A well-functioning judiciary is a crucial determinant of a country's vigorous condition and its well-being and it's converse is also true. It is generally believed that a judiciary which succeeds in effectively enforcing the rule of law in the country also succeeds in promoting social peace and trust among the citizens. 1 When talking particularly about India, here judiciary to a great extent, is successful in achieving its purpose of establishing peace among the people and securing the rule of law in the country, and thus, ensuring that the very purpose of judiciary does not get fettered. However, the judicial system here continues to suffer from certain inefficiencies that have a negative impact on socio-economic well-being. This inefficiency can be eliminated by digitalizing the Courts.
IDEA OF THE DIGITALIZATION OF COURTS
A digital court refers to a platform where the trial of cases will be done electronically. E-courts can be seen as a subset to virtual courts, as they refer to the websites, and components used in order to assist the functioning of virtual courts. All the necessary websites, mobile applications and other important software are all considered to be a part of e-courts. Digitalization of Court will help to curb corruption and also enhance the transparency of the judiciary in the country, thereby, improving its efficiency. We have already witnessed the success of schemes like Digital India and E-Governance. They have impacted the society tremendously. Now, is the turn for The Judiciary. It’s time for our traditional courts to undergo a paradigm shift and upgrade themselves and this can be achieved only by means of Digitalization of Courts. The impact of Digitalization of Judiciary in India is supposed to be ever-lasting. In the Indian context, digitalization is expected to yield remarkable benefits by imposing greater accountability on the people concerned.
NEED FOR DIGITALIZATION OF COURTS IN INDIA
The first and the foremost reason emphasising the need of digitalization of courtrooms in India is to fast track the disposal of pending cases. The overburden of cases results in their backlog and delayed justice. It is the need of the hour to make necessary upgradations in the system. The commonly faced lacunae in the judicial system in India include (a) length of time it takes for cases to be disposed of; (b) cost for legal service; and (c) difficulty for the common man to access judicial services. Other than the major loopholes, there exists a large no. of predicaments that often question the efficiency of Courts which are, corruption, favouritism etc. These factors sometimes contribute to the delivery of injustice to the sufferers. And this injustice can be in many forms such as slow rate of proceedings in Courts, expensive system, power, illegal transaction, corruption, bribery, unaccountability etc. and even after that if justice is rendered, many a times it’s late enough to amount to injustice. It has been said, “Justice delayed is justice denied”. To make sure that justice is neither delayed nor denied, but is rendered effectively and efficiently digitalization is required. It is the weapon which would make sure that sufferers don’t go back disheartened and empty-handed.
The impact of Digitalization of Courts are expected to be the following:
Reduce corruption to a considerable extent by conferring accountability.
Ensure transparency in the judiciary.
Increase the efficiency of judiciary by speeding up the process and making it cost-
Reduce paperwork and documentation.
Provide an easy access and management to the documents online via websites.
CHALLENGES IN THE PROCESS OF DIGITALIZATION
The primary challenge in the process of complete digitalization of Courts in India is the Principle of Open Justice which is a cardinal element of our judicial process which promotes that the court proceedings need to be open and transparent to the public. And virtual functioning of Courts dilutes the very essence of this principle. Digitalization of Courts might sound alluring but it comes with a number of challenges, to count a few like, mammoth of the data will be collected whose storage would call for proper protection techniques, particularly when dealing with confidential cases. Furthermore, creating a virtual courtroom is economical and easy but ensuring adequate encryption and security throughout is a challenge. In addition, absence of e - signatures, e - attestations, e -documents and lack of technological literacy for the judges, lawyers and clients making it vulnerable to cyber-attacks, are the major impediments in the path of digitalized Courts
The E-Court project floated by the government of India is an initiative to promote digitalization of Courts in India, based on the recommendations of the 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 the Apex Court with a vision to transform the Indian Judiciary by ICT enablement of Courts and it was expected that if it is properly executed, it would exceptionally change the ease of access to courts. The objectives of the project are:
To help judicial administration in streamlining their day-to-day activities
To assist judicial administration in reducing the pendency of cases
To provide transparency of information to the litigants
To provide judges with easy access to legal and judicial databases
The project was divided into various phases
The Phase-1 of the project started in 2007 with the main object to initiate the execution of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in the Indian Judicial system. It was done by providing the courts with the basic and fundamental facilities such as computers, working Internet connection via LAN and the other required software and hardware, for example- printers, scanners, etc. Besides, the judges were provided laptops with internet connection, digital signatures were also introduced and district court websites were made functional. Because of these websites, the citizens could check status of their case, daily order sheets and final order too. Phase-2 was enacted with the assistance and co-operation of the e-committee, the Department of Justice (DoJ), DietY and the Ministry of Finance. The infrastructural model was changed and computerization was done in the offices of DLSA (Delhi Legal Services Authority), NJA (National Judicial Academy), SJA (State Judicial Academy) and Taluka Legal Service Committee. A common software platform which is known as Case Information Software (CIS) has also been designed with which all the important court data will be uploaded. The accomplishments of Phase 2 also include websites such as e-filing, through this website the citizens can file their case from the ease of their home, they also can check real-time case status and also make court fee payments through ePay facility.
INTRODUCTION OF NATIONAL JUDICIAL DATA GRID (NJDG)
NJDG introduced by the Apex Court acts as a freely accessible public portal for district courts to make the judicial process even more clear and easy to understand by the ordinary citizen. It basically works as a monitoring tool so as to identify, manage and reduce pendency of cases. NJDG serves as a source of information of the judicial delivery system for all the stakeholders. The NJDG works as National data warehouse for case data including the orders/judgments for Courts across the country with full coverage of District Courts. The public access portal performs the duty of spreading and circulating the information widely related to national, state, district and court-wise related information about institution and disposal of cases. This gives a lot of transparency and clarity in the judicial system of the country.
BENEFITS OF DIGITALIZATION OF COURT ROOMS
1. Blessing for unforeseen situations: Digitalization of court rooms is no less than a blessing
for times like this, when we have a pandemic, in such horrible times, atleast people can
get their matters addressed and heard.
2. Less Paperwork: By allowing digitalization to take over the courtrooms, the usage of
paper will surely go down. Not only this, but it will also help in keeping a proper track of
all the important Court documents which will help in speedy remedy to the matters.
3. Clarity and Transparency in the Judicial System: Clarity and Transparency is what the
judicial system lacks the most these days. Through digitalization, it will surely reduce
corruption, bribery and illegal transaction of money.
4. Easily Accessible: Law was meant to help the common man and the complicated process
of Courts make it very difficult for a layman to understand this which eventually
discourages them to enter into legal proceedings and suffer the injustice which has been
done to them. Also, in addition to the process, the high legal expense used to discourage
them. Digitalization would surely do a solution to these problems.
5. E-Witness Examination: Some courts have already started accepting Cross-Examination
and testimonies over the use of electronic mediums. Though the process is limited to only
the Supreme Court, but if such infrastructure could be provided to other courts, it is
expected that it would reduce the time of both the litigants and the Court. In addition to this, this would also reduce the threatening, bribery etc. of witnesses resulting them
turning into hostile.
The underlying idea behind Digital Courts is to ensure transparency and accountability and thus, establish peace by delivering justice to the citizens, making maximum use of technology, with the ultimate goal of multifaceted development. It has been said that “Justice delayed is Justice denied”. Digitalization would help in making sure that speedy justice is rendered to people without any room for any sort of pacification. It would also bring flexibility in the working of the judicial system and clearing the huge backlog of cases. This would help in strengthening the trust of citizens in the Judiciary and the judicial system. While e-Courts and the NJDG are substantial steps in the growth and development of the judiciary’s digitalization, their existence by itself does not stand the digital infrastructure of the courts in good stead. We must remember that moving the mess from piles of files in dusty rooms to servers and screens is only movement and not an improvement. Also, one very important thing to be kept in mind is that the dream of E-Courts and E-Justice cannot be fulfilled until the average society is properly educated to take maximum advantage of its benefits and for this solid steps need to be taken. India is emphasizing on digitalization of Courts to carry out it’s functioning. Digitalization will prove to be a cornerstone for the Courts in delivery of justice. But especially in conditions like what we are going through at present, it is like a boon. It will ensure that the functioning of Courts does not cease. It will ensure accountability and better administration. Altogether, it can be said that in the coming days, Digital Courts will be the new normal.