Judicial system goes digital in Covid times

Team Udayavani, Aug 2, 2020, 12:22 PM IST

The judicial system, which is considered as one of the most important pillars of democracy saw itself going digital to impart justice amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Following the imposition of lockdown, a three-judge bench comprising CJI Bobde, Justices DY Chandrachud and L Nageswara Rao invoked Article 142 of Indian Constitution and framed guidelines for smooth functioning of courts by adopting Video Conferencing techniques for extremely urgent matters.

While video conferencing facilities were available prior to the Covid-19 lockdown as well, it was most often used in cases where a witness resides in another city and sometimes in criminal cases, when a witness is reluctant to come down to the court due to safety issues. While court requires that oral evidence is made before it, the same can be done by way of video conference or any other electronic means.

Concerns have been raised over the virtual hearing of cases post the lockdown and the Bar Council of India had also written a letter to the CJI recently urging that the concept of a virtual court be introduced in a phased manner. The letter pointed out that access to the resources available for video-conferencing and e-filing with lawyers might not be readily available for everyone, especially those from rural areas. It also highlighted that several of the legal fraternity members, including judges were not well-versed with the technological nuances.

Responding to concern over compromising the open court principle by adopting the virtual court hearing, the apex court in a press release recently stated that the aim of both the system of adjudication through the open court system and the court system being conducted via video conferencing is delivery of justice.

The note also mentions that technology plays an important role in our lives in the present era and as such Virtual Court Rooms cannot be considered as “antithetical” to the open court system in any manner.

Having spoken of the cons of virtual hearing of cases lets look at few of the benefits it may offer. Digitization of the judicial system is likely to help reduce the pending cases and probably ensure speedy justice. Apart from this, it will empower a witness to make a legal deposition without having to worry about self-security, privacy exposure, geographical impediments etc.

Speaking to Udayavani, NN Hegde, Bar Association President opined that virtual hearing of cases presents a good opportunity for lawyers across the districts as they can register as high court advocates and argue cases ‘virtually’ from their place of residence.

He however pointed out that personal hearing is required for recording of evidence in criminal cases in a trial court while oral evidence in other forms are permissible in other cases.

He further mentioned that the high court has appointed master trainers in districts, to train advocates, judges in nuances of virtual hearing of cases.

Apart from benefitting the lawyers, the concept of virtual hearing can also aid in reducing litigatory expenses and for general public.

The Supreme Court has appointed senior civil judge Kaveri Lele as master trainer for Dakshina Kannada and Udupi District. Speaking to Udayavani she said that training is being provided to legal fraternity as per directions of the high court.

Due to the pandemic, the physical presence of people in courts has to be reduced and the high court has issued an SOP in this regard, she added.

Present Scenario in Courts

In all District or Taluka places having cluster of ten and more Courts, 50% of the Courts have commenced functioning

Presently, physical hearing of cases has also started in courts. However, a total of 20 cases are listed per day by each court.

Advocates, staff and the litigants must adhere to social distancing and other guidelines prescribed by the government

Due to the Covid situation, parties and witnesses aren’t allowed inside the Court Complex. However, evidence can be recorded through video conferencing if both parties agree. Earlier there was no restrictions on who may enter the Court.

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