E-Filing and Video conferencing of cases during COVID-19

As the whole world is in lockdown and most of the countries have experienced the downfall in their growth or have faced a financial crisis as their economy has fallen drastically. This situation is arising in every part of the world as no business is being conducted during the lockdown. COVID-19 has hit every sector of business. Even if we see the stats of one of the most powerful nation, the United States of America, their economy has fallen at a rate of 4.8% since 2008.

Judiciary is one of the most important pillars in every country. In India, it is very important because of the pendency rate of cases in the Indian Courts. Seeing the COVID-19 situation Indian Courts decided not to stop the function of the court and take matters through video conferencing. But the question arises, how can lawyers and advocates file a fresh matter or case. In this regard, the E-filling portal was introduced.

Also, this system of e-filling or to hear the matter via video conferencing was introduced as it is the right of every individual to approach the Court in any kind of emergency (war, external aggression or armed rebellion) or if their rights are infringed. 

History

In the past, the makers of the constitution were of the opinion that Fundamental Rights must be curtailed or suspended if the country’s security is under danger by war, external aggression or armed rebellion. With this, Article 358 of the Indian Constitution states that, during an emergency, fundamental rights must be suspended. Also, article 359 gives the power to the President of India to declare that the right to approach any court of India for the enforcement of Fundamental Rights shall remain suspended during the period of emergency.

One of the most important case laws, ADM Jabalpur v. Shivkant Shukla (1976)[1], in which the Supreme Court upheld the suspension of the right to approach the court against infringement and fundamental rights. (Later this decision was overruled)

To prevent such practice, the constitution (44th Amendment) Act, 1978 was enacted. The most significant part of this amendment was that to article 359 which states that “the President may by order declare that the right to move any court for the enforcement of such of the rights conferred by Part III (except Article 20 and 21) as may be mentioned in the order and all proceedings pending in any court for the enforcement of the rights so mentioned shall remain suspended”.[2]

In Anita Kushwaha v. Pushap Sudan (2016)[3], the judgment says that “Access to justice is and has been recognised as a part and parcel of the right to life in India and all civilized societies around the globe. The right is so basic and inalienable that no system of governance can ignore its significance, leave alone afford to deny the same to its citizens”. Further, a “citizen’s inability to access courts is bound to result in denial of the guarantee contained in Article 14 both in relation to equality before the law as well as equal protection of laws”. Also, in the case of Swapnil Tripathi (2018)[4], SC taking the cognizance in the matter issued the directions to use the technology and enable live streaming of the proceedings.

After this amendment, the right to life and civil liberty will always remain subject to judicial scrutiny.

Present Scenario

India is a country of more than 130 crore population and Indian Courts are overburdened with the pendency of cases. In this scenario also, lots of cases are filed or registered every day. During this pandemic, no one was able to approach the court and thus they faced many problems. In order to overcome this issue, in April, the Indian courts decided to introduce the E-filling portal as well as to hear the matters via video conferencing.

On 30th January 2020, WHO declared COVID-19 as a health emergency around the world. Despite this, Indian Courts were working till the third week of March. Supreme Court in an order (writ petition No. 3 of 2020), extended the period of limitation in any law.

Announcement of Video Conferencing

In March, it was proposed that matter should be heard via video conferencing and the cases should be filled online to make the judiciary system frequent.

On 6 April 2020, the Supreme Court passed a motion directing to conduct the proceedings via video conferencing during the period of COVID-19.[5] Some of the directions by the apex court are: –

  1. All High Courts should ensure the proper functioning of the judicial system through video conferencing in the premises and shall decide the modalities after analysing every factor.
  2. District Courts should also adopt the technology of video conferencing to hear matters in every state, prescribed by their High Court.
  3. Courts shall also make the facility of video conferencing for those litigants who are unable to have access to these facilities.
  4. Video conferencing should be used to record arguments from both sides but not to record evidence.

After this, High Courts in various states issued the order to conduct the proceedings through video conferencing. Some of the video conferencing software was used across the country to conduct court proceedings. Some of them are VIDYO, Zoom, MS Teams, Skype and WhatsApp.[6]

Announcement Of E-Filling

On 15th May 2020, Chief Justice of India S.A. Bobde said that “We went for video conferencing to reduce the footfall in court premises. We have to change according to the needs of the times. We have to accept the present situation. There is a need for a change of mindset. Now, there is no going back,”

CJI also added that e-filling was the basis of new digital where AI plays an important role. E-filling module was made by keeping lots of factors in mind like to access to justice and simple the work of the court.[7]

E-filling will make the registry of cases simpler for the lawyers and more efficient. E-filling is also social distancing, as before filling the case lawyers have to wait in ques. This service will be available 24 hr, which means a lawyer can file a case anytime and in Supreme Court.[8]

Delhi High Court also inaugurates the e-filling portal on 14th June 2020. Chief Justice Patel says on inauguration that “Time is yours; the date is yours. Just do the filing. From Jammu-Kashmir to Kanyakumari and Dwarka to Arunachal Pradesh, one can file cases.”[9]

Important Instructions Before E-Filling In Supreme Court

Supreme Court has given some basic guidelines which have to be followed while filing a case online

  1. Signature of both the parties or advocate on record on the document, wherever it is necessary, must be physically signed and then scanned and appended with other pages of the petition.
  2. Impugned judgment should also be scanned with the petition and should not be of dim impression.
  3. The petition must be typed in double space, justified, and be typed in 14 font size and courier format.

Conclusion

To boost the function of the judiciary in COVID-19 lockdown, Supreme Court laid down guidelines on which the Indian Courts can work. First of all, they introduced the method on which the courts can hear the matter through Video Conferencing. Video conferencing is only used to listen and record the arguments of the parties and not to record the evidence. Now the filling of the case was also introduced in the very next month. Now the point comes, whether this type of system will also continue after the lockdown or COVID-19 pandemic.

Judiciary is a system that requires practical knowledge for the new one. Although this kind of system will reduce the time and effort of the lawyers it will also be a drawback for the newcomers in the field of law. They will never get to know, how the court proceedings were held in the past. They will not be aware of the functioning of courts on a physical level and in the long run, this can prove to be detrimental to their best interests.


[1] ADM Jabalpur v. Shivkant Shukla (1976) 2 SCC 521; AIR 1976 SC 1207.

[2] Bharucha, M, By Scaling Down, India’s Courts Have Become Party to an Undeclared Emergency. The Wire, from https://thewire.in/law/by-scaling-down-indias-courts-have-become-party-to-an-undeclared-emergency.

[3] Anita Kushwaha v. Pushap Sudan, (2016) 8 SCC 509.

[4] Swapnil Tripathi v. Supreme Court, 2018 (11) SCALE 475.

[5] Suo Motu Writ (Civil No. 5 of 2020), https://main.sci.gov.in/supremecourt/2020/10853/10853_2020_0_1_21588_Judgement_06-Apr-2020.pdf

[6] Banerjee, K, Virtual Courts in India – Weekly Update (6.4.2020 – 11.4.2020) | Khaitan&Co. Khaitan & Co. https://www.khaitanco.com/COVID-19/Virtual-Courts-in-India-Weekly-Update#_ftn1.

[7] Mishra, S., Supreme Court unveils e-filing module to facilitate the online filing of cases, The Week. https://www.theweek.in/news/india/2020/05/15/supreme-court-unveils-e-filing-module-to-facilitate-online-filin.html.

[8] Krishnan, M, E-filing will bring court registry to lawyers’ chamber, make work simpler: CJI Bobde. Hindustan Times, https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/e-filing-will-bring-court-registry-to-lawyers-chamber-make-work-simpler-cji-bobde/story-93l6LEVUCjEQp4gnOL5RrK.html.

[9] Singh, A, File from anywhere, anytime: Delhi High Court inaugurates Online e-filing System for all types of cases. Bar and Bench – Indian Legal news, https://www.barandbench.com/news/file-from-anywhere-anytime-delhi-high-court-inaugurates-online-efiling-system-for-all-types-of-cases.

Shivam Bansal from Symbiosis Law School, Noida

“Dream only when you have a passion to fulfill them”

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