A parliamentary panel has recommended the continuation of virtual courts in certain categories of cases such as appeals and final hearings with the consent of the parties involved even after the Covid-19 pandemic, saying that this will pave the way for cheaper and faster means. administering justice as a court is more of a service than a place.
Read also: Virtual courts can help distributive justice by providing access and affordability: Bhupender Yadav
He has suggested permanent virtual procedures for courts of appeal such as the Court of Appeals for the Settlement of Telecom Disputes, the Court of Appeals for Intellectual Property, the Court of Appeals for Company Law, etc. “This will reduce cost and increase the efficiency of available cases without unnecessarily interrupting. Virtual courts can deliver faster results with fewer resources. They can also reduce travel time before courts and waiting time. in the courts, “said the Standing Parliamentary Committee on Personnel, Public Appeals, Law and Justice in the report submitted to Rajya Sabha Mayor Venkaiah Naidu on Friday.
The report underlined digital justice is “cheaper and faster”. The Panel added that it addresses domestic and economic shortcomings, ensures the safety of vulnerable witnesses who testify in addition to speeding up processes and procedures.
Bharatiya Janata Party lawmaker, panel led by Bhupender Yadav, said virtual courts are an improvement over traditional ones “as they are more affordable, citizen-friendly and offer more access to justice”.
Litigation has been held digitally for more than five months to adhere to social alienation norms as part of measures to control the spread of the pandemic. The Supreme Court late last month announced standard operating procedures (SOPs) to govern physical hearings which are expected to begin soon. Physical hearings of the cases are expected to start initially in only three courtrooms, the SOPs said. The court was expected to receive a call on how many lawyers and litigants would be allowed inside the courtroom, depending on capacity and norms of physical distance.
The physical hearings of the cases in the High Court were suspended on March 23 due to the pandemic. The rooftop court has since heard cases through video conferencing. The Supreme Court issued a circular on March 23rd suspending the entry of lawyers and litigants into the court premises and directing that only urgent matters will be taken to be heard through video conferencing.
The panel’s recommendations also came after various advocacy councils questioned the effectiveness of digital procedures and highlighted the infrastructure constraints required of them. They have said that digital procedures favor tech-savvy lawyers in addition to depriving many lawyers of opportunities to change the flow of arguments based on changing the dynamics of a case during hearings.
In their panel presentations, the councils said that over 50% of lawyers, mostly in the district and lower levels, do not own laptops or computers and lack the skills required for virtual procedures.
The report keeps virtual courts and hearing issues through video conferencing gaining ground during the pandemic and will remain a new reality and a new normal. He added that virtual courts will promote access to justice as litigants in remote areas will be able to enter the Supreme Court without spending money to travel to Delhi. “The litigants should not leave their job to attend court as they can access the proceedings from their home or office. This makes it easy for a lawyer to argue in any court in India. A lawyer can argue in one court in the morning and be present in another court later in the day. In this way, it creates an equal playing field between the rich and the less rich.
The Panel has suggested the necessary changes in the law to give legal validity to virtual courts and their procedures so that they are not questioned before the courts.
Up to 13 of the 25 highest courts in the country have introduced and enabled electronic case registration. But district and subordinate courts in many countries have lagged behind due to lack of infrastructure and experience in handling and switching to virtual hearings.
The committee acknowledged the difficulties in the report and said massive investments would be required to deploy the necessary infrastructure to support digitized sessions. He suggested the feasibility of new funding approaches as a model of public-private partnership for this purpose.
The committee said the transfer of some categories of cases from regular to virtual courts would reduce the inclination of cases. “[The] The Committee considers that the current system should be allowed to proceed on an experimental basis with the consent of all parties to certain categories of issues such as the Appeal, etc. And final hearings where the physical presence of the parties / councils is not required and only virtual online hearing is sufficient. The costs involved in setting up a large number of Tribunals / Courts can be significantly reduced. “It will also reduce the crowd in court and reduce other costs of litigation and overhead,” the report said.
The report said virtual courts will make judicial services accessible to all. “No member of the general public should be at a disadvantage from local or economic barriers or otherwise. The Committee is of the opinion that Digital Justice is cheaper and faster. People living in remote and remote areas can also participate in court proceedings. ‘
The committee said one of the main benefits of virtual courts will be that they will expedite processes and procedures which would otherwise be lengthy and tedious. “Virtual courts can give results faster and with less resources. “Virtual courts help with concise, emphatic and focused arguments by lawyers, making the system faster,” the report said.
The panel said there is currently no mechanism to separate simple cases from complex ones involving complicated procedures and multiple witnesses. “The principle of Proportional Justice requires that the cost, speed, complexity and degree of combat of any case should be proportionate to the content and scale of that case. Minor cases should be dealt with promptly within a reasonable timeframe. “Such cases should not require difficult procedures.”
Virtual courts, the report said, could address the issue. The committee concluded that physical courts would not be sufficient. He added that virtual courts will need to be integrated into the country’s legal ecosystem. As a first step towards this, the judiciary needs to identify issues that can be heard by virtual courts, he suggested.
“The Committee is of the opinion that all such cases where personal presence may be disseminated may be transferred from the regular institutions of the Courts to the Virtual Courts. “Virtual trial will bring massive benefits to the whole system,” the committee said.
He also recommended the extension of virtual courts to cover arbitration hearings. “For example, if national and international arbitrations are allowed to be conducted through Virtual Courts, there will hardly be any demand for real-time travel to distant lands. … this move will unlock the Courts and also alleviate the worry of attending the Courts as long distance trips can be scattered and procedures become less expensive as well. “
Other recommendations include setting up E-Sewa Kendras in all court complexes, speeding up the execution of the National Broadband Mission, introducing computer courses for law students, and developing an indigenous software platform to guarantee data privacy and security. The Panel has also suggested the provision of a Broadband Network structure, the adoption of machine learning, artificial intelligence, etc. for a transformative change in the delivery of justice.
“The Committee believes that ‘Delayed Justice is Denied Justice’ but ‘Urgent Justice is also Buried Justice’. The Committee is of the opinion that Virtual Courts is a mechanism that will strike a balance between these two extremes and extend Justice “The Committee believes that the transfer of certain categories of cases from the regular courts to the Virtual Courts will reduce the inclination of cases which have blocked the wheels of Justice for decades,” the report said.
Yadav referred to virtual courts in countries like the US and Singapore and said they have also done a lot of work in aspects like bringing detention issues virtually to prevent the movement of prisoners between courts and prisons. “We have effectively used virtual courts during the blocking period, where more than 1.8 million cases have been registered across the country, of which nearly 800,000 have been destroyed.”
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