‘There is nothing wrong in change if it is in the right direction. To improve is to change, so to be perfect is to have changed often –Winston Churchill
The volume and complexity of what we know have exceeded our ability to deliver its benefits correctly, safely, or reliably.The unprecedented rates at which Information Technology has affected and changed our lives in practically all spheres that are from personal to professional is something very strenuous to cope up with. It is safe to say that technology is the sole catalyst that has driven all the major changes for decades now. Humanity has been in a race to catch up with the new innovations coming in and trying to adapt to this age of machine living. We have simply accepted to be ruled by technology under the pretext of efficiency and comfortable lifestyle and once that premise is accepted, we are left with absolutely no choice but to keep adapting to the never-ending technological feats or advancements and keep implementing them in our lives. The legal field is no exception to this, and this paper will deal with the changes in the legal field which have been caused due to technological advances and the future possibilities of innovations that can be adopted to revolutionise the legal field. For any drastic change to be brought into any field, it is important to overcome the challenges such field poses to break the status quo and move towards change.
DEVELOPMENT OF E-COURTS IN INDIA
Any major development or change in any field takes a lot of time and planning. Similarly, the integration of technology in the legal field in India happened gradually over a period of time starting from the 1990s.The policymakers were convinced that the use of technology can make the judicial system more effective and efficient. Around 1992-1996, the Planning Commission along with National Informatics Centre (NIC) initiated the process of upgradation and computerisation of High Courts following which in 1997, 430 district courts with the funds of the Information Technology Ministry were computerised by the NIC. On 28th December 2004, an e-Committee was established to formulate a comprehensive policy for the Indian Judiciary to be computerised and technologically sound.A huge boost to the goal of achieving computerised courts was in 2006-2007 [i]when Rs.600 crores were allocated to the Central Sector Scheme with total central funding under the 11th Five Year Plan. The Department of Justice suggested this total transformation must be done in two distinct phases and further NIC was assigned as the Implementing Agency for the first stage of the e-Committee’s National Policy in 2007.
VIDEOCONFERENCING IN COURTROOMS
Over the time the Supreme court of India, High courts and even District courts under the circumstances in particular cases allowed video conferencing to be used in courtrooms for presenting evidence and testimony and setting precedents for other courts to follow because till date there are no exact provisions in any statute or piece of legislation which dictates the procedure for utilization of video conferencing in courtrooms. The very first case of IPC where the court proceedings were conducted via video conferencing was of the local court of Ahmedabad, where the local court ordered trial through video conferencing on a complaint filed by QamaruddinSaiyad. Additional sessions judge KK Dholakia ordered the prosecution to conduct court proceedings through video conferencing from Sabarmati Central Jail. The complaint was filed that four-murder accused- Dilawar alias GauravSaiyad, Fardeen Sharfuddin, Farid Ghanch and Shahrukh Seetharam&Chandrasekharan, e-courts in India from policy formulation to implementation, Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy (2016) Khan Pathan threatened him during court proceedings, that on the day of production and court hearing, both the parties are present in front of each other and emotions run high on both the sides. Therefore, it was considered best that the accused should be kept in prison custody and be brought before the court to conduct proceedings through video conferencing. Moreover, he pointed out that this would reduce the expenditure and resources spent overproduction and bringing the accused in court from jail, and that there would be no scope for escape for the accused persons.
MERITS AND DEMERITS OF VIDEOCONFERENCING IN COURTROOMS
The rapid rate of modernization of the system and government’s policy of connecting every part of the system with each other through technology has also played a very important role in the use of video conferencing inside the courtrooms.
MERITS OF VIDEO CONFERENCING
i. Efficiency-We all are well known about the backlogs and pending cases in the Indian Judiciary System. Video Conferencing can act as a catalyst and speed up the proceedings being a better means of communication and proceedings. This can be a great boon for the system.
ii. Cost-Effectiveness– Video Conferencing can help the Judicial System by saving a huge amount of money which can be used in other prospects of that needs to be developed.Let us take an example wherein a case there is the need of the presence of prison inmates in the court proceeding.
iii. Security– Security concerns while the transportation of prison inmates from custody to courts is a very important issue, the risks of which are often heightened in cases of inmates accused of multiple crimes, large gang members or leaders where there is an always risk of their extraction and attack on security personnel.
DEMERITS OF VIDEO CONFERENCING
i. Reliability– When it comes to the use of technology, many people raise the concern and raise some brows on the reliability of such technology. The dependency on internet connection and electricity might be a hindrance in the use and its reliability on the use of video conferencing during court proceedings.
ii. Lack of Technical Know-How One of the major problems when it comes to the use of technology is the lack of technical know-how among the majority of the country’s population. Though technological knowledge has considerably increased in the country’s population in recent times, with more than 80% of the population owning smartphones.
ASSESSMENT BY LEGAL PRACTITIONERS
As discussed earlier the different aspects of video conferencing in courtrooms along with its acceptability and challenges, it is also pertinent to see how is it really operating in the practical world. Due to Covid-19 pandemic, the Supreme Court of India has started conducting hearings on matters of importance through video conferencing March 27 onwards.
· E-Filing and Hearing Process – The filing of the petitions is now being done through the Supreme Court portal which is not very user-friendly and many of the advocates are facing numerous problems while filing petitions.
· Connectivity Issues and Technical Irregularities – There have been reports of failure of links provided for the hearings. At initial period only one link used to be shared due to which the instructing lawyer could not take part in the process and even if the links are provided to other lawyers, then there is not enough space for many lawyers.
Amidst the havoc created by the global pandemic Covid-19, technology has ensured that even at a time when everyone is to be maintained, the entire Judicial and Legal System of the nation doesn’t come to a standstill.To conclude, technology will always remain an ever-advancing field of growth to which humanity has to keep pace with or fall short and as the Legal System of any nation can be considered as a mirror to the society of the particular nation, the Legal System needs to keep evolving to maintain the dynamic nature of society and law with technology.
Author – Akash Tiwari, National University of Study and Research in Law, Ranchi