An Overview of Virtual / E-Courts

Over 3 million cases are pending in high courts and around 26 million cases in district courts and the number of judges available are very few in order to deal with the cases. Each day thousands of cases are filed in these courts which increases the burden of the courts and also the cost to maintain them. The accumulation of cases has put a burden on the Indian judiciary, courts have to maintain all the records in a physical form which is very difficult and costly. Further, cases require the parties to be present at the time of the hearing, so they have to travel to the courts along with the case files. The staff also has to maintain evidence in proper form so that there is no tampering. In order to reduce the cost of the courts to maintain cases, reduce the burden, and be time-efficient, the need for e-courts is recognized.

What are E-Courts?

E-Courts or virtual courts are basically a paperless court where the entire court proceeding takes place in digital format. It is a method of reducing/eliminating the presence of advocates in the courtroom by disposing of the cases online. In this, the case proceedings are video graphed and the evidence is scanned which is made available to the authorized users only. The advocates can check the status of their case through the e-court website which provides the case status of all the courts.  

E-Courts were introduced on the basis of the National Policy and Action Plan for Implementation and Communication Technology (ICT) in the Indian Judiciary, the idea was submitted by the e-committee of the Supreme Court of India with a motive to transform the Indian Judiciary into a technologically advanced judiciary[1]. The main motive behind the formulation of e-courts was to provide an efficient (time & cost) and less cumbersome services to the citizens and also to make the judiciary system more affordable, reliable, and easily accessible to the people. The 188th Law Commission Report[2] stated that E-courts can be defined as those which take the help of Information Technology and Communication Tools for working more efficiently.

In the case of Imtiyaz Ahmed vs. State of U.P. & Ors.[3], the court stated that all High Courts must evolve a uniform data collection and data management method under the e-courts mission mode project and make an online real-time data on the pendency of various categories of cases to the respective state governments and the central government.

Merits of E-Courts

  • Easily accessible: with the development in technology and with the help of internet connectivity, these e-courts are easily available to the users of it. It can be accessed from anywhere at any time.
  • The information available: it is one of the main advantages of an e-court, i.e., it will be easy for a person to know all the facts related to the case as they will be available online, so the person doesn’t have to look for the documents related to the case. He just has to access the site and all the related documents will be available there.
  • Digitalization of cases: another feature of e-court is that cases are digitalized which reduces paperwork. Cases can be filed online from home or office, the evidence is scanned and uploaded in encrypted form on the server so that it is available for the use by an authorized person only.

In the case of Om Prakash And Ors. vs. State of Haryana[4], the court stated that all courts should work in a paperless way and a policy regarding converting courts into e-courts should be laid down at the High Court level and be finalized.

Demerits of E-Courts

  • Complicated procedure: technology has become advanced which has complicated the process of using it. With respect to e-courts, e-filing is available but the process for filing the same is very complicated. Also, not every evidence can be made available in digital format.
  • Hacking: the more the data is made available on the internet, the more it is exposed to getting hacked. The evidence uploaded to the server is encrypted but it is still exposed to getting hacked which may lead to tampering of the evidence.
  • Lack of technical experts:  the main reason why there is still a resistance in adapting e-courts is the lack of technical experts. Not all the judges or the staff of the courts (mainly district courts) are aware of the procedure relating to the e-courts, so they still work with the traditional method of court proceedings.

Traditional Courts vs. E-Courts

  1. In traditional courts, the case file and evidence have to be carried to the courtroom at the time of hearing whereas in e-courts the evidence and the case file is already available in digital format and there is no need to carry them from one place to another.
  2. In traditional courts, the case documents are submitted manually in the court by the police, hospital, etc. whereas in e-courts the same documents are uploaded by respective parties from their premises only.
  3. In traditional courts, the case cannot proceed until the witness/accused is present at the time of hearing whereas in e-courts, through video conferencing the witness/accused can participate in the proceedings.
  4. Traditional courts are generally costly in nature as they require a lot of paperwork whereas e-courts are less costly as there is no use of paperwork.

Current Scenario of E-Court in India

The current pandemic which the whole world is facing, i.e., COVID-19 has affected all the sectors of the world. With respect to India, we are also facing major crises due to this pandemic. All the sectors of work have been shut down their working from offices and have shifted to work from home. Similarly, the judiciary has also shifted towards the concept of e-courts. All proceedings are being done through e-courts only. Advocates gather the case status and other related information from the official website of the e-courts and present their arguments in front of the respective judge through video conferencing at the specified date, time, and the application.

The Supreme Court and the High Courts have restored virtual courtrooms as proper net connectivity has been deployed through the system and advocates have been appearing working from their home through video conferencing. The Supreme Court of India uses messaging and email services for filing and conducting matters. In the suo moto writ In Re Guidelines For Court…vs. Unknown[5], the Supreme Court on 6th April, 2020 passed an order explaining the reason for the online courts. The order talked about how the recent outbreak of COVID-19, how the Supreme Court and High Courts should adopt measures to ensure the functioning of the judiciary system through video conferencing technologies.

Further, the Supreme Court (bench comprising of Justice R Banumathi, Aniruddha Bose, Indu Malhotra) has observed that one e-court can hear up to as many as 40 cases through video conferencing in a single day. The Supreme Court has been conducting hearing virtually since 25 March, 2020 due to the nationwide lockdown in order to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Challenges Faced while setting up E-Courts in India    

E-Courts are a positive step towards speedy justice and to ensure better access to justice for the public. They are also a solution for the large number of pending cases in courts but there are multiple challenges that are faced while setting up an e-court. These challenges include lack of proper net connectivity, lack of communication between various departments, lack of technical experts, and unawareness amongst the advocates and their acceptance towards this.

Further the initial cost of setting up the infrastructure of an E-court is very high as it demands a lot of technical equipment and upgradation from time to time. In the near future, there might be a lack of funds in setting up these e-courts as the economy is facing a crisis due to the global pandemic.

Conclusion

There is no doubt that the concept of e-court is a good step towards the betterment of the Indian judiciary as it provides speedy justice. At this time, what needs to be focused on is how to tackle the challenges that exist in setting up e-courts in India. In the district courts, the main hindrance is the orthodox nature (of the judges and the advocates) and the lack of equipment. They either do not want to shift towards arguing through video conferring or they do not have the right equipment to do so. However, in the near future, the Indian judiciary will shift towards e-courts as the advocates and the judges have started to accept this method as a mode of adjudication of matters.


[1] E-courts service, available at: https://services.ecourts.gov.in/ecourtindia_v6/static/about-us.php (last visited on June 4, 2020)

[2] Law Commission of India, 188th Report on Proposal for Constitution of Hi-Tech Fast-Track commercial division in High Courts (December, 2003)

[3] CRIMINAL APPEAL Nos. 254-262 OF 2012

[4] 23 February, 2004 CriLJ 1932

[5] SUO MOTU WRIT (CIVIL) NO.5/2020

Kush Bisht from JEMTEC , Greater Noida

“I am a very focused person as my profession asks for it. My goal is to become a good corporate lawyer.”

EDITOR: SANSKRITI SOOD

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