“Access to justice cannot suffer in a lockdown, whatever be the circumstances”-Hon’ble Justice Dr. D.Y. Chandrachud
It won’t be wrong to say that this pandemic has highlighted the weak links in our justice system.
A year ago, when the COVID Pandemic was not a conceivable threat, Hon’ble Supreme Court Justice Shri. Sharad Bobde was appointed the 47th Chief Justice of India. Almost instantly after taking oath as the Chief Justice of India, Hon’ble Shri, Sharad Bobde made it a point that he addressed the lack of digitalisation of the Indian Judiciary. He called for the introduction of Artificial Intelligence into the administration of the judiciary. He further pressed on the fact that Artificial Intelligence will not be replacing the Hon’ble Judges in the Supreme Court at all. He exemplified that the services that the Artificial Intelligence will provide will strictly be of only a miscellaneous basis. The only influence that Artificial Intelligence will have, is to fast-track the judicial process. Adding to this very phenomenon, Hon’ble Chief Justice said, “It is only the repetitive, mathematical and mechanical parts of the judgments for which help can be taken from the system…we are exploring the possibility of implementing it.” Hence, now it can be discerned that COVID or not, the lack of human intervention into the mechanical and methodical parts of the administration of the Indian Courts is a long time coming, and it is high time that we implement it.
Now that the full-fledged administration of the justice system is a practical impossibility, it is clear that the justice delivery system has now hit an all-time low, with little to no fault of their own. Citizens of India are facing severely restricted access to justice and it can adversely affect the public if continued for a longer period of time. The entirety of the country bases our faith in our courts to keep the constitutional promises made to us, and if the worst-case scenario is to be pictured, the people of India could slowly lose their faith in the justice system. Even though technological integration into the justice system can be said to be unprecedented in India, the same cannot be said for the rest of the world.
The United States Department of Justice has been using the wonders of Artificial intelligence for a long time and for the most part, it has served well for the country. The United States rarely has judicial traffic to be even compared to India, but the fact that it doesn’t illustrate the point really well. Of course, here off of all subjects, correlation does not equal causation; however, it is interesting to note how fast-tracked their justice system is compared to ours in India. To credit its procedural success to merely the technological integration would be dubious but it can be argued that just changes just like these pile up into making an efficient justice system.
Coming back to India, due to these unfortunate circumstances it is now clear that our justice system, just like any other justice system, has its vulnerabilities. However, the problem doesn’t lie in the fact that it has its flaws, the problem lies in the fact that the flaws could have been minimized if it had been worked on at an appropriate time. For example, it is a well-documented drawback of the corona plagued judiciary that it just doesn’t hold a candle to the pre corona judicial efficacy. The Hon’ble Kerala High Court was the first one to take the revolutionary step of taking proceedings in the form of video conferencing from 30th March 2020. In a step that was certainly unprecedented and hopefully inspiring, the Kerala High Court is a dynamic example of what the judiciary could have accomplished if such procedural wear and tear of the administration of justice was done away with at an appropriate pace. Nearly 30 urgent matters were taken up for hearing, including bail applications and writ petitions, and were disposed of. The advocates concerned and law officers also participated in the proceedings from their respective offices. This is truly epochal. This example must be institutionalised and eternalised.
The Kerala High Court might have been the first to implement such a change but it certainly isn’t the only one to do so. The Supreme Court also disposed of several procedural hearing via video conferencing. In the endless adversity, the Hon’ble Supreme Court also brought about the E-Filing module software to ease out the process of filing into the Supreme Court Registrar. It is thanks to this move; the filings and scrutiny of matters will now be possible 24×7. In the end, it all lands back to the initiative of the authoritative functionaries.
Cons of Technological Integration
Just to implement a system of AI and technology integration would certainly be naïve, and ineffective. The real challenge does not lie in its integration, the real challenge lies in the perfect integration of the same. To enunciate better with an example, the Supreme Court Advocates on Record, recently pleaded to the Hon’ble Apex Court to restore physical hearings from the month of July. The main vice of this setting was that almost 95% of the lawyers were dissatisfied with the quality of hearings been undertaken and hence found the mode to be ineffective. The Bar Council of India also requested the Hon’ble Chief Justice of India to not continue with the E-Filing and Virtual Hearing methodology citing reasons for the age gap and general confusion. To quote the Council’s request letter, “There is a humongous difference in the technical knowhow of persons often according to the age gap, and often according to a difference in mode and manner of education, and resources and technology available from place to place”.
Many lawyers also complained about chaotic hearing processes taking place wherein cases involving multiple lawyers, resulted in some lawyers being muted by the coordinator resulting in inefficient proceedings.1 To add onto the problems, there were also reports of many files filed through the E-Filing methodology resulted into some files not being present with the bench. Many such problems made it virtually impossible for the lawyers of the Supreme Court to support this technological integration into the justice delivery system.
It is extremely difficult to pull off technological upheaval out of thin air in such a limited amount of time. The integration of such technology can only be done in an efficient manner if done one small step at a time while ironing out the creases with every step taken. This integration would have not received a positive response as it was a sudden radical change into the status quo that left the lawyers and officers of the court high and dry. Even if the brunt of this is faced primarily by the Court officials, the ultimate victim is no one but the general public. We should also not forget that an extremely efficient system is always manufactured with costs as to its malleability. An efficient system is also called the most vulnerable as its efficiency comes with meticulous and careful crafting of each and every element of the system and hence a failure of one tiny aspect can lead to a massive fallout which would be unprecedented. We as a society need to decide what trade-off yields a better administration, the answer to which only time will furnish. However, circumstances have shown us that these changes, if done correctly, should only be encouraged for the betterment of the justice delivery system and the overall development of this nation.