Sunday, November 29, 2009

E-Courts in Indian Perspective

Judiciary is vital for any organized society. Otherwise, there will be only a law of the jungle where might is right. Indian judiciary has maintained its independence guaranteed in the Constitution and also by its action and healthy traditions, which have been set up. Nevertheless, there is a negative aspect of the Indian judiciary. This is related to the enormous delay in disposing of cases. One estimate is that if the Indian courts were not to take more cases from today and dispose off the cases at the present rate, then, it may take nearly 300 years to clear the present back log of around 30 million cases pending in the various courts of India. It is in this context that e-courts offer a ray of hope.

The extent to which IT is used in the judiciary can be looked at from two angles. One is the use of information technology to improve the present paper based system by bringing in the advantage of IT to increase the speed enormously and also bring greater transparency. More extensive use of IT can definitely improve the system so far as speed is concerned. Another area where IT can be used is in the form of video conferencing to examine under trial prisoners in the courts. Recently, the courts have taken the issue of video conferencing as a means of saving time and a matter of security.The Indian Information Technology Act visualizes the extension of Indian court's jurisdiction outside the country though I wonder whether this principle has been tested. Broadly, it is the international nature of the cyber space and cyber crime as brought about the need for an international convention and principles. It becomes very necessary for the judiciary particularly the law enforcing forces like the police as well as the judges and the lower judiciary to become up-to-date in these aspects of information technology. It is estimated massively about more than 200 thousand police personnel and the judiciary at the district level onwards will have to be trained. This is a major challenge facing the government in preparing the country for more effective e-governance particularly enforcing the laws to e-courts.

Ultimately, e-courts will have to deal with the crimes in cyber space and for this three aspects have to be borne in mind. It is necessary to study the criminal mind in the cyber space and design system so that the crimes are checked with the maximum extent possible. This means that for bringing criminal in cyber space to justice, the police and the law investigating agencies as well as judiciary will have to be trained and the conventions will have to be established about bringing the guilty to book. International cooperation becomes very vital. In this context, the role of international bodies will become significant, especially, when it comes to drafting of the cyber laws and their implementation in order to evolve right standards and practices in the emerging area of e-courts.

Keeping in mind the importance of e-governance department of Information Technology and Telecommunication is already working on the important projects to make e-governance a success in India. These are the following items which are already in progress under Mission Mode Projects (MMPs), which have identified on the basis of high citizen/ business interface, Integrated e-BIZ, EDI, India Portal, Common Service Centers, EG Gateway, E Courts, E-Office, E Procurement.

Central Govt. is working on e-Income Tax, e-Central Excise, e-Passports/Visa &, Immigration, MCA 21, National ID / UID, e-Pensions. States are also working on the following projects: e-Agriculture, e-Land Records, e-Transport, e-Treasuries, e-Commercial Taxes, e-Gram Panchayats, e-Municipalities, e-Registration, e-Police, Employment, e-Exchange and e-District. By Industry Initiative, e-Banking, e-Insurance are already in progress while States can add up to 5, state specific e-Projects

Under NeGP as a MMP, it is proposed to implement ICT in Indian judiciary in three phases over a period of five years. The project scope is to develop, deliver, install and implement automated decision making and decision support system in 700 courts of Delhi, Bombay, Kolkata & Chennai; 900 courts in the 29 capital city courts of states and UTs and 13000 district and subordinate courts.

The objectives of the project are: to help judicial administrations of the courts in streamlining their day-to-day activities; to assist judicial administration in reducing the pendency of cases; to provide transparency of information to the litigants; to provide access to legal and judicial databases to the judges.        

The project has been devised following the report submitted by the E-committee on national policy & technology in the Indian judiciary. The project will be implemented in 3 phases spread over a period of 5 years at a cost of Rs.854 crores. In the first phase, computer rooms & judicial service centres would set up in all 2500 court complexes. About 15,000 judicial officers would be provided with laptops. Digital inter-connectivity would be established between all courts from the taluk level to the apex court. The project also aims at creation of e-filing facility in the Supreme Court & high courts. The first phase also envisages development of comprehensive & integrated customised software application for the entire judicial system with regional languages support. in the second phase, it would be possible to provide ICT coverage of judicial process from filing to execution level & also of all administrative activities. In third phase, it would be creating of information gateways between courts & public agencies & departments. The project is expected to lead to complete demystification of the adjudicatory process thereby ensuring transparency, accountability & cost-effectiveness

In the backdrop of Indian scenario the steps taken by Delhi High Court is highly appreciable which is going to establish the first e-court of India.

The same would be operational by December 8, 2009 in the court of Justice S Ravindra Bhat. It intends to provide SMS alerts about court hearings to advocates and litigants, summons sent through emails, e-stamps instead of stamp paper, recording of evidence through video-conferencing, virtual tour of court premises, etc. Being in the initial phase, other crucial aspects of e-courts would be taken up in the due course of time. 'The necessity of e-courts has arisen due to shortcomings of a paper-based system like storage, maintenance and wastage of a lot of paper.

Delhi High Court is also working on the project in which live court proceedings would also be seen on the website. The project will be first started in one court and will soon be started in all other courts, including the five district courts in Delhi.

For lawyers and litigants, the e-courts will be a great help as it would enable them to stop carrying bulky files to the court and just a USB device or the CD of their case.

'Recording of evidence in any case will be done electronically. Court is also planning to have centres at various places in Delhi from where the person can record his statement and the court can see it via video-conferencing. With the help of e-courts, warrants, court notices and other documents can be sent via e-mail to the party or the post office concerned from where a service slip will be sent back confirming the receipt and court fees can be paid online so that entire work is done at a click of mouse. Courts will provide adequate facility to the lawyers while they argue their case using the laptops. Judges will also be given a touch screen handbook which will be like their computer screen and they can read it like a file. E-courts will definitely enhance transparency, accountability and accessibility for a litigant.


Source: visited on 29th November, 2009, 9.15 PM IST.

Dr.Tabrez Ahmad,
Associate Professor of Law,
KIIT University, Bhubaneswar, India,
Research Papers: