After gangrape: stress on tech for quicker justice

Legal experts go into a huddle to discuss the use of technology for putting in place a better justice delivery system in India

shivangi-narayan

Shivangi Narayan | January 14, 2013



Developing a unified software accessible across the country can help track dates and details of a case on sex-related offences, and for how long it has been on trial, in an effort to speed up the justice delivery system in crimes against women, according to experts.

Addressing a seminar on “technology to enable accessible speedy justice”, organised by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and Thompson Reuters in New Delhi on Saturday (January 12), Justice Madan B Lokur said, “This (system) would help prevent cases from languishing in courts for years.”

Hailing 2007 as the benchmark year when e-courts were launched for better justice delivery, Swapnil Bangali, of the Pune-based Symbiosis Law School, said, “Such e-courts should reach the local levels (now) for central filing (of cases), e-filing, record keeping and (sending) summons through emails.”

But the seminar, organised to discuss how technology could enable courts to work more efficiently and make justice accessible to all in the backdrop of the gangrape and brutal assault on a 23-year-old paramedical student on December 16 in south Delhi, and her eventual death days later, was disappointing in that the discussion on technology remained limited to elaborating how it “could” help deliver speedy justice. Deliberations on the use of technology seemed focussed only up to email, text messages (SMSes) and video-conferencing.

There was little emphasis on the latest developments in high-end technology solutions used in the courts globally.

But enlightening it nevertheless was, as the panellists zoomed in on technology coming to the aid of justice delivery in India, albeit in a limited sense, and why it is languishing. Justice Lokur said, “The result of video-conferencing in the Northeast has seen tremendous reforms. I got an SMS about alleged trafficking of seven children in Assam and converted it into a PIL. We could thus save the lives of those children.”

Bangali said the courts should now start creating databases of pending cases, auto-generation of monthly statements and generation of reports in response to legislature questions. Besides, he noted, there should be evidence cameras, visual display devices, automatic allocation of cases and video-conferencing in local courts.

Technology still a big deal in Indian system

But a while into the seminar, one could see why technology is not the biggest concern for the judiciary in India, which is faced by far bigger challenges. Lokur said there are 14,000 courts in India today that are not fit to work in due to poor infrastructure. “The proposal is to increase (the number to) 18,847 courts. But how will we handle these courts with a budget of (only) 0.4 percent of the GDP?” he asked.

Bangali said, “Cost is a major hurdle and the government can help courts access the best of technology and the best of international practices.”

It is difficult to imagine courts with minimum infrastructure and poor working conditions to house some of the latest technological innovations in the world but judges participating in the conference were hopeful.

Some key points on adopting technology and how it could help in speedy justice were given by Justice Anderson, of the Supreme Court of Minnesota, USA, through a pre-recorded presentation. “Different databases can be integrated through the court case management system. It gives you access to system wide data,” he said. “It goes to the heart of public credibility.... If information is readily available, it gives a broad framework of what’s happening in the judiciary, which is very helpful to the people.”

Justice Anderson said the design of a court case management system should involve people who actually work in the system. “These are the people who can help with the development of an efficient case management system,” he said.

Chinmayi Arun of the National Law University, New Delhi, said technology should be adopted not only as a reactive response to the existing problems in judiciary but also as a proactive measure for an efficient system in future.  She said, “There are 2.8 crore cases in sub-courts; 42 lakh in the high courts, and 55, 000 cases with the Supreme Court. Technology can help in speedy disposition of these cases.”

She added that resources like Coutnic.nic.in are brilliant and would certainly help access information easily.

Arun also said e-courts are the way to go, as online documentation can reduce paperwork and the time taken to search, work and execute cases. “E-filing of cases and SMS facility to litigants should be provided for easy access to the judicial system,” she said.   

Apart from just adapting high-end technology, Arun suggested that workshops should be organised to train people to use it more efficiently. “We should work more proactively to change systems to work around technology,” she said.

Stressing that judicial reform story can never be complete unless we use technology efficiently, Central University of Haryana vice-chancellor Moolchand Sharma said, “There should be an e-revolution in judiciary.”

Sharma asked law students present in the audience to check websites of all courts in the country and the kind of information they provide. “Is pre-legal information provided? Are procedural guidelines available?” he asked.

Sharma said there should be a client consultative workshop where a common form for all kinds of cases could be devised and put on the websites. “E-filing (of cases) is not simple. It has kinds, forms and concepts and you need to know what kind of e filing you are talking about,” he said. 

He also suggested that the working of courts be made transparent. “Do not undermine the mischievous intentions of political houses in the country. Open courts will make sure that the people (are) watching. Technology can make that happen,” he said.

According to Sharma, judges and lawyers have to be convinced to make use of the electronic mode of evidence for a speedy trial. “It is important since judges keep on changing but the evidence needs to be memorable in each case,” he said.

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