The traditional hearing of cases is changing in these tough times. The courts are hearing arguments of cases online due to lockdown in the country. Many institutions and companies have changed their working style due to COVID-19 situation. The courts in India have also changed their working style due to the present condition. This change occurred due to the prolonged lockdown in the country. The courts could not be closed for too many days. The cases started piling up, and urgent matters had to be taken up and addressed. Thus, the courts started digitalisation of its procedures.
Judges started hearing urgent matters through video conferencing. With hearing cases, filing procedures also started online. Development of e-filing took place to file cases before High Courts and District Courts. Advocate filed applications and written arguments online. A copy of this is given to the opposite advocate online. All courts in the country started adapting to the digitalisation of court procedures.
E-Filing and Video Conference Hearing
Hearing of arguments in all the courts is by video conferencing. The advocates connect to the concerned judges before whom their cases are filed, from their homes and argue cases at the given time. The opposite advocates also join at the given time to hear the arguments. Thus, the hearing of cases takes place online.
The courts in India have incorporated e-courts through the Integrated Mission Mode Project (E-Courts Project) as part of the National eGovernance Plan (NeGP) formulated by the Government of India. E-courts provide for filing of cases online in all High Courts and District Courts of India through e-filing option.
Advocates have to register to ‘E-Courts Services’ website to file cases online by providing their details. Certified copies of the applications filed by the opposite advocate in a case are got online through this website. Court fee is paid on this website while filing new cases. The e-filling option enables the police stations across India to e-file charge sheets and papers relating to criminal cases.
The Government of India maintains the e-courts services website, which helps courts to digitalise procedures. While filings take place here, the question of security of data comes up. It has to be adequately maintained to protect essential data. The government has taken care to protect data by providing an encrypted password to the user and industry-standard measures to safeguard information.
Law and Information Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad stated that “The e-filing process in the Supreme Court has made it easy to file cases. During the lockdown period, 640 advocates on record have registered for e-filing cases in Supreme Court. This is a move towards digitisation of the judicial process.” His statement shows that the courts and advocates of the country are welcoming and accepting digitalisation of courts.
The Pros And Cons Of Digitalisation
The digitalisation provides for a new way of the working of courts. The traditional system was followed for a long time without making use of present technology in the courts until now. With the arrival of COVID-19 and lockdown, courts and advocates had to shift to technological ways and bring change in the working of courts. Due to digitalisation, advocates need not travel long distances to courts. It helps in saving time for the advocates and litigants.
As time is fixed for hearing cases, the litigants and the advocates can connect at that time without coming and waiting the whole day at court premises. It helps in reducing the crowds in the courts. There is a reduction in the use of a lot of papers, as e-filing is facilitated. Huge documents in the case files are prevented as these documents are stored digitally in data form.
While digitalising court procedures has a lot of pros, it doesn’t come without cons. There are interruptions during video conferencing due to internet connectivity. Courts have to maintain proper servers and high-speed internet to facilitate video calls. Similarly, advocates should have correct connectivity. There is a problem for fixing time for calls as it has to match the schedule of judges, advocates and litigants. Since every document and information is uploaded online, there is a need for high protection of data. Security of data should be rigorous. Website maintenance is essential. The status of applications and cases filed should be updated regularly.
The digitalisation of courts is slowly picking up the pace in the country. While many are supporting for digitalisation to continue after COVID-19 times, many still doubt its working. The e-courts project is in Stage II, and Stage III is yet to take place. The pandemic situation has brought technology to the court environment. Digitalisation is a profound change, and there is much to be developed for efficient and proper implementation.
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