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Virtual Courts: How Justice Delivery is Shifting to the Virtual Mode

Adv. (Dr.) Ashok Yende, President of Mumbai Bar Association and Director of Mumbai Law College

Virtual courts are rapidly transforming the justice delivery system in India, making legal processes more efficient, accessible, and transparent. The Indian Constitution guarantees social, political, and economic justice to its citizens, but the judicial system is currently burdened with a backlog of over 5 crore cases. The move towards virtual courts and e-courts, accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, aims to address these challenges and provide a more streamlined judicial process.

The Constitution of India guarantees social, political, and economic justice to the citizens of the country. A speedy trial has been declared to be a “fundamental Right” by the apex court in a series of decisions. The huge pendency of more than 5 crore cases in various courts is a serious concern. The chronic problem of judicial delay continues to plague the country, leaving a lasting impact on individuals, and society, affecting the lives and livelihoods of millions of citizens. 

COVID and Virtual Hearings

The crisis triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic posed a tremendous threat to our lives and communities, including the area of justice. In 2020 the Supreme Court of India passed an order that made court hearings through video conferencing valid in 2021, the e-Committee of the SCI released draft model rules for the live-streaming and recording of court proceedings.

Virtual / E-Courts (Virtual courts)

The virtual courts is a concept that aims at eliminating the physical presence of litigants and lawyers in the court and provides for the adjudication of cases on a virtual courts/ platform. The concept has evolved to utilize court resources efficiently and to provide litigants with an effective avenue to settle disputes.  The decision of the Supreme Court of India to livestream hearings is a milestone. It has granted access to thousands of people to witness for themselves how the country’s top judiciary functions. The Chief Justice of India, Hon’ble Dr. D. Y. Chandrachud has directed all high courts to adopt technology and execute different virtual modes of court hearing.

Electronic courts (e-courts) have become a new alternative to regular courts with the advancement of technology. They have facilitated simplified operations and the elimination of delays. E-court projects utilize technology to improve court procedures, such as submitting lawsuits online and holding virtual courts hearings. The countries like U.S.A., Canada, the United Kingdom, and some other countries have effectively implemented e-court initiatives on a larger scale to the desired results. The initiative has also introduced virtual courts hearings and video conferencing, which have helped to reduce delays caused by physical distance. In a massive country like India, e-courts are attempting to remove the obstacle of access to justice by providing the option of virtual/online participation. 

Use of Technology in Justice Delivery Mechanism

In today’s fast-paced world, technology and innovation have become integral to our lives, and the field of law is no exception. The Indian judiciary is not an exception to this technological wave. It has significantly changed the legal landscape. Lawyers can get legislation, case laws, and legal commentary easily with the help of online platforms and legal research tools.

The digital divide also negatively impacts lawyers, who are either technologically illiterate or don’t have access to digital tools and resources. The present article takes a bird’s eye view of all these techno-legal developments.

NITI Ayog, and Online Disputes Resolution (ODR)

The vision document for phase III of the e-Courts project aims to develop end-to-end Digital Courts in the country – an ambitious model that adopts a platform that enables seamless collaboration across all arms of the justice system, including legal aid authorities, prisons, police, and more. It has enabled E-filing, Digital filing from any location, the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in research – for lawyers, the Use of AI-assisted judgment writing tools and legal research, Seamless integration of courts with prisons,  police, and other aspects of the judicial system to enhance information sharing, and use of open data by independent researchers to inform laws, processes, and reforms – for improving the overall health of the legal system.

The use of ODR (Online Dispute Resolution) technology can help reduce the large pendency that woes the judiciary by making the process of dispute resolution easy, efficient, and accessible. NITI Aayog (previously called as Planning Commission of India) released the report ‘Designing the Future of Dispute Resolution: The ODR Policy Plan for India’, to scale dispute avoidance, and containment, and to encourage dispute resolution online.

The report is a culmination of the action plan made by a committee constituted in 2020 and chaired by Supreme Court Justice (Retd) AK Sikri.

Conclusion:

A virtual and digital justice system is necessary to create a more efficient, readily available, and cost-effective judicial system. E-courts have become an amazing tool to reduce the backlog of cases by encouraging alternative dispute resolution (ADR) procedures such as online mediation and arbitration. With well-structured usage of technological advancements, we can “Indianise and localise” the justice system as suggested by the former Chief Justice of India Hon’ble Justice N.V. Ramana. One of the key challenges is ensuring the confidentiality and privacy of court case data, which is a legitimate issue. The digital gap in the legal profession further increases the existing inequalities in access to justice, significantly for marginalized communities.
On the other hand, online legal aggregator platforms have revolutionized the way individuals seek legal assistance. These platforms serve as one-stop destinations for legal needs, offering a wide range of services from connecting clients with lawyers to providing legal advice and document preparation. With features like user reviews, ratings, and transparent pricing, users can make informed decisions when choosing legal representation. Platforms such as Rest The Case simplify the process, enabling individuals to locate reliable lawyers in their nearby areas with just a few clicks. They also make law easy and accessible with simplified articles on Indian laws.
A virtual and digital justice system is necessary to create a more efficient, readily available, and cost-effective judicial system. E-courts have become an amazing tool to reduce the backlog of cases by encouraging alternative dispute resolution (ADR) procedures such as online mediation and arbitration. With well-structured usage of technological advancements, we can “Indianise and localise” the justice system as suggested by the former Chief Justice of India, Hon’ble Justice N.V. Ramana. One of the key challenges is ensuring the confidentiality and privacy of court case data, which is a legitimate issue. The digital gap in the legal profession further increases the existing inequalities in access to justice, significantly for marginalized communities.
This article was shared with Prittle Prattle News as an authored article.
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