The pandemic introduced everyone and everything to a new normal. As work from home and online classes got on board, the courts also extended their digital domain with virtual courts. These virtual courts are the upcoming future of the judicial system in India.
The SC started functioning completely online as the pandemic created an impasse. The courtrooms which were jam-packed with lawyers, litigants, and stacks of files are now a memory of the pre-covid world. The anecdotes on how lawyers made their way through the crowded courtrooms changed into how they managed to get a stable internet connection. Anyway, these first encounter problems will get ironed out as our litigants, lawyers, judges, and witnesses get familiar with the system.
As this pandemic is here to stay for a while, the Supreme Court, the High Courts, and several other courts adapted themselves to the situation and went online. Though in the start it was on a trial basis and limited but now it is extending itself to dispose of more cases effectively and provide relief to the uncertainty lingering around the functioning of courts. There were many obstructions and dilemmas on security, credibility, and productivity regarding this online functioning. But as the court premise’s online infrastructure upgrades this will accelerate the process and making it more productive and on time.
The best part of this monumental transformation in the Indian justice delivery system is that it’s the next step to provide access to justice which is enshrined under Article 21. The pandemic has proved to be a blessing in disguise for the Indian judicial system which gets to know how to embrace the technology by providing equal field and accessibility to the last man standing.
The court hearings shifted to video conferencing which provides lawyers, litigants, and witnesses the facility to be present in the hearing from the comfort of their homes. Moreover, when the cases need expert testimonies that are present at different locations and are required to testify on the same day used to delay the process but now due to virtual hearings, this crease is also ironed out making the case disposal faster. S.C. has heard more than 52000 cases by the modern technology platform, which makes it the global leader in this arena.
Upgrading online capabilities could make courts a thing of the past.
The virtual courtrooms have put a benchmark on the cost-effective functioning of the Indian justice delivery system. The time and energy put by litigants, lawyers, and witnesses to travel to the courts and wait in the long queues for E-filing and hearings have reduced drastically. Moreover, the virtual courts reduced the exhaustive paperwork and cost of manpower to keep them on track by digital records with auto workflows. The courts are ensuring the use of e filing and summons through SMS and emails to registered litigants without the fuss of waiting in long lines.
India as a country with enormous diversity poses structural challenges to these virtual courts which are necessary to be addressed to make this virtual successful in the true sense. India with a large population residing in rural and urban areas which have a huge gap in internet accessibility and connectivity plays a significant problem. The up-gradation of infrastructure for making it virtually accessible from the court premises is also in its primary transition period.
The onus of the security and credibility of the data and hearings are to be ensured too by the system as several times it came up that hackers infiltrated into virtual court hearings of other countries. So, we are moving towards a better future but we have to be conscious and attentive towards the concerns and threats too.
Now, as the Covid curve is flattening, the courts are opening up physically in a very limited manner, but this shows the Indian judiciary the way to get a hybrid system for accelerated case disposal which includes both physical and virtual hearings as it increases the accessibility and productivity.
The virtual hearings are the new normal of the post-Covid world too and an essential part of the modern justice delivery system. The parliamentary panel on law and justice headed by Bhupendra Yadav, reported, that certain types of cases such as cases related to traffic Challans and petty offences should be transferred to virtual courts as it will reduce the delay in pending cases. Hopefully, we will come out with satisfactory results after the implementation of the hybrid system in India.