How Technology can be leveraged for India’s judiciary

How Technology can be leveraged for India’s judiciary

The Judicial System in India is under tremendous pressure. As of May 2022, over 4.7 crore cases are pending in courts across different levels of the judiciary while nearly 1,82,000 cases have been pending for over 30 years. Inadequate infrastructure has resulted in overburdened courts, which in turn has led to a massive backlog of cases. In this context, let’s understand how technology can be leveraged for India’s judiciary.

What is the state of existing technological infrastructure in the Indian judicial system?
• Project eCourts - It aims to enhance judicial productivity, both qualitatively & quantitatively and to make the justice delivery system affordable, accessible, cost-effective, predictable, reliable and transparent.
• NICNET - In 1990, the National Informatics Centre took up computerization in respect of the Supreme Court of India. All High Courts have been computerized and interconnected through NIC’s satellite-based computer-communication network NICNET.
• Integrated Case Management System - It was launched in 2017 for integrating the Supreme Court and the High Courts of the country and enabling e-filing throughout the country.
• Shift to Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) System - ODR is the system of resolution of disputes, particularly small- and medium-value cases, using digital technology and techniques of Alternate Dispute Resolution. ODR has received impetus across Government, businesses and even the judicial processes to tide over the constraints due to Covid-19 pandemic.

Benefits of ODR system:
• Reduced Legal Costs – It has the potential to reduce legal costs by way of reduced time for resolution and by doing away with the need for legal advice in select categories of cases.
• Speedy Resolution – ODR encourages speedy resolution of cases in an informal way. It is very flexible as it eliminates the need for travel.
• Easy to access – ODR can be accessed anywhere at any time wherever internet services are available.
• ODR tools such as online negotiation and mediation are premised on mutually arriving at an agreement, they make the dispute resolution process less adversarial and complicated for the parties.
• Document storage has been replaced by the ODR mechanism as one of the most common problems faced in Indian courts.

Concerns surrounding ODR mechanisms:

Dearth of Digital Infrastructure
• For ODR integration to thrive we need robust technology infra across the country. From access to smartphones, computers to high speed data is extremely important.

Need of Digital Literacy
• According to the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, only 38% of households in India are digitally literate.
• In urban areas, digital literacy is relatively higher at 61% relative to just 25% in rural areas.
• As per Internet India Report 2019, women constitute only 1/3rd of internet users in India.

Privacy and Confidentiality Concerns
• It includes online impersonation, breach of confidentiality by circulation of documents and data shared during ODR processes, tampering of digital evidence or digitally delivered awards/ agreements.

Concerns surrounding e-Stamp certificate
• Enforcement of arbitral awards in India is complex and burdensome.
• It requires stamp duties in most of the States. The archaic requirement to attach an e-Stamp certificate to the document creates barriers in an otherwise end-to-end online process.
• Mutual consent of the parties is necessary for triggering the ODR procedure, whether through an explicit contractual clause or through a separate mutual agreement between the parties, otherwise, any decision made impartially is not legally legitimate and binding on the parties.

Following steps are essential to improve ODR mechanism:

Encourage Digital Literacy
• While providing necessary infrastructure and physical access to technology is one thing, it is equally important that the citizens are digitally literate.
• PM Gramin Digital Saksharta Abhiyaan will help ensure access to justice in the remotest and most marginalized sections of the society.

Improve Access to Digital Infrastructure
• The government and judiciary play a vital role here. While government can be a facilitator in terms of providing infrastructure, the judiciary can make good use of the same so that it improves confidence of the citizens towards its acceptance.
• National Digital Communication Policy, 2018 and National Broadband Mission aims to provide universal broadband connectivity and facilitate effective participation in the global digital economy.

Mobile friendly platform
• To maximize access ODR Platforms should be designed mobile friendly to enable their wide adoption. Further, it is also desirable to include voice prompt technology given the limitations in digital literacy.
• LIMBS is a web-based application for monitoring cases involving the central government of India, in a more effective and transparent manner.

Government and PSU’s as Role Models
• Government and Public Sector Undertakings (PSUs) are amongst the biggest litigants in India.
• Adoption of ODR to resolve inter and intra Governmental disputes would be a key step in boosting confidence in the process. This will automatically address the issue of trust in ODR processes and outcomes.

Harmonize E-Stamp
• As ODR often deals with inter-state disputes where disputing parties are residing in different jurisdictions, there is a need to harmonize stamp-duty and procedural requirements across different States.
• Online notarisation through secure e-signature and electronic notary seal can address this challenge and provide an online mode for authentication and validation.
• Digital lockers can be provided to the notaries to store and maintain all the necessary records for the documents notarised through online notarisation.
• Block-Chain Technology can be leveraged for protection of e-evidence from being tampered with.

What are the best practices adopted outside India?
• Australia - In the Australian Federal Court, documents are filed electronically on the e Lodgment system, at any time, from anywhere. They are then sealed, or stamped, electronically.
• Canada - Canada has introduced its online Civil Resolution Tribunal (CRT) which deals with small claims disputes, as well as property issues of any amount in the province of British Columbia.
• Rwanda - Rwanda is using the Electronic Filing System (EFS) to move towards paperless court services.

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