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December 09, 2019

Using Technology to Increase Efficiency in the Judicial Process


- Anand Desai, Managing Partner [ DSK Legal ]

Anand-Desai

As an encouraging step, the Delhi High Court has moved towards becoming a paperless Court, doing away with case files...

In a democracy, there is a duty to protect the rights of all citizens. This includes enabling each one to secure justice, a right protected under Article 39A of the Constitution of India and several of our laws. The efficiency of Courts also impacts the economy. Here is a case for using technology to help achieve justice speedily.

Our daily lives have changed dramatically in the last 30 years. Transacting over the Internet began in the early 1990s. The mid-nineties saw the commercial use of the Internet begin to increase dramatically with ecommerce sites like Amazon. Recognizable social media sites started with Six Degrees followed by MySpace and LinkedIn in the early 2000s. PayPal began online payment services in 1998. YouTube starting in 2005, and by 2006, Facebook and Twitter became available to users throughout the world. Today, living one’s daily lives without using the Internet seems impossible.

The use of technology has transformed from collating databases, to processing and applying information for performing a multitude of intelligent tasks.

India now has the second highest number of internet users in the world after China. The Indian Government is increasingly using information technology for multiple Government functions, largely revolving around communication.

Along with the growth of the internet, social media has become a powerful tool for influencing opinions, in addition to instantaneous communication to groups of people. There are now thousands of online payment and banking services. Education and entertainment are increasingly being imparted over online platforms. Google has successfully used algorithms to put it way ahead of other search engines. Online gaming, including games of skill such as chess and bridge, are being played at sophisticated levels by computer programs. Robotics, artificial intelligence, blockchain and big data are the buzzwords of the day, and IBM Watson could be your new lawyer!

Digital-Court

Legal resources are available online, including statutes, case law, articles etc. In fact, the methodology of research amongst younger lawyers rarely includes reading physical books. It’s all available online and can be accessed on desktops, laptops, tablets, and smartphones through online searches.

India launched its e-Courts initiative in 2010, towards ensuring our Courts are IT-enabled.

The next steps should be to use technology applications to aid in dispensing justice speedily and efficiently, in addition to collating information and making it available in an organized manner. This will require amending certain laws to enable application of the range of technology available, a flavor of which is given above.

The Indian judicial system is largely process driven, guided by the Civil Procedure Code, Criminal Procedure Code, Rules of the various Courts, and precedents laid down in Court judgments. These processes are capable of being made far more efficient by using technology. Some steps that can dramatically improve efficiencies are -

1. Standardizing formats and limiting contents of pleadings to relevant facts, irrespective of which Court in India they are filed in. Pleadings can be ‘organized’ to benefit from technology, while preserving the adjudication process with Judges. A format could be:

Name and description of parties: email address of party and advocate (where available) Cell phone number of party and advocate (where available)1 Laws invoked, with sections and rules/regulations Judgments relied upon2

Date3 Place4 Event5

Legal averments on Jurisdiction:
Territorial:
Pecuniary:
Limitation:
Court fees:
Others as applicable:6
List of scanned documents / exhibits:7
Reliefs (including costs):
Interim reliefs:

Reducing procedural wrangles which take up inordinate amounts of time and effort of Courts could make software-based pleadings and arguments even more efficient, as it would reduce the variables. This would involve amending the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908, and some other laws. Our system is steeped in historic procedures, such as which proceeding should be filed as a suit, company petition, testamentary petition, writ petition, originating summons etc., and which interim application should be a chambers summons, notice of motion, application under Exhibit 5 etc. It gets further complicated at the next stage – about when can a party file an appeal, review, revision etc. The reality is that litigants don’t know and don’t care about such procedural matters and the fact is that these can inordinately delay the delivery of justice, and add to the multiplicity of proceedings that are intended to achieve the same result for a litigant. So, while some jurisdictional divisions may require to be continued (although even these could be harmonized), many procedural issues could be done away with, particularly on interim relief and appellate procedures.

2. Pleadings / affidavits / notices can be emailed into the Court’s server, and can be password protected, with the Court’s system generating individual passwords for each matter for maintaining confidentiality. Court fees can be paid electronically or even physically into a bank and the payment confirmation scanned and annexed. From the Court server, the pleadings/ affidavits can be emailed to the recipient / other party/ies and their advocates if they have email addresses. If not, physical service can be effected.

3. Evidence can be recorded and arguments advanced by audio or video-conference and transcription done by voice recognition software. This will also save countless hours of travel and avoidable expense to litigants staying far away from the relevant Court, and also automate transcription services to record what transpires in the Court hearing.

4. Judgments / orders can be uploaded in the Court system and automatically emailed to parties, and a SMS alert intimating such uploading can be sent to the cell phone number of the recipients in addition to being hosted on the Court’s website.

5. The entire record can be accessed by the Appeal Court, and only the Appeal memo and further pleadings and documents (as may be permitted) can be added, instead of making multiple sets of physical copies of what are usually voluminous records. Of course, prints of all or any part of the proceedings can be taken at any time by the Court/parties as required.

6. Software can be used for case management - dates/times available for the Judges, advocates and litigants, status of matters such as pleadings and documents filed and exchanged, inspection given, compliance with orders, and several other such matters which currently, even when not contentious, take up the time of Courts.

7. It is well-known that we understand and remember information much better when it is provided in both audio and visual formats. Business models being adopted by organizations across the globe are becoming increasingly elaborate and complex, and it would be of great help if advocates could present the factual matrix and propositions of such complex structures to Judges by delivering presentations with the aid of simple technology such as projector screens linked to the internet in the Court Rooms. Such presentations would aid all fields of litigation while advancing arguments.

8. Software can also be used for matters such as summarizing pleadings, and translating proceedings in local languages into English for the higher judiciary.

9. With the advent of coverage of public roads with cameras, many traffic offences, and crimes clearly captured on such cameras can be fast tracked, with the evidence being the film footage.

10. For laws making comparisons, such as intellectual property, software can be used to aid presenting such comparisons.

As an encouraging step, the Delhi High Court has moved towards becoming a paperless Court, doing away with case files. The move towards going the digital way both for Court records and for hearings is in the right direction. This should be implemented across Courts in India, to increase efficiencies and to reduce the burden of printing cost on parties, storage space for Courts, and to reduce the burden on the environment.

The opportunities seem endless...

1 Will facilitate service, notices, communication of judgments etc. by email and SMS alerts.
2 Will allow links through software to relevant caselaw databases and will allow clubbing of cases involving the same laws/ issues to avoid repeated hearings (sometimes by different benches) on the same issues, and reduce the likelihood of conflicting judgments.
3 Can be linked through software to a database of the Limitation Act (statute and caselaw), to throw up an alert in case the proceeding seems to be barred by limitation.
4 Can be linked through software to database on jurisdiction (statute and caselaw)
5 Will limit the organization of the pleadings to facts, which can be scanned by software to identify and bunch cases having the same / similar sets of facts which can then be heard together by one bench.
6 Will limit the organization of the pleadings here to the submissions, which can also be scanned by software to identify and bunch cases having the same / similar sets of issues.
7 Software can identify legible vs. illegible scanned documents, and throw up alerts appropriately on matters such as comparing the text in the Exhibit to the reproduced text in the pleadings etc.

Disclaimer – The views expressed in this article are the personal views of the author and are purely informative in nature.



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