Virtual Courts - The Need Of The Hour - Sahiti Somanchi
Updated: Nov 29, 2020
The world has come to a standstill due to the coronavirus pandemic. Everyone had to stay at home except for the forefront workers. All the Courts and Tribunals had to be shut during this pandemic. But to ensure justice is delivered and to continue fulfilling legal obligations, The Supreme Court under Article 142 directed all the High Courts to frame mechanism and turn into virtual court during this pandemic.
Virtual Courts is a form of a court which is not present physically but is conducted by video conferencing and teleconferencing. Currently, the virtual trials are taking place in the VIDYO platform. E-court is another subset of virtual courts. They include e-filing and other components which facilitates the digitization of the courts.
The e-committee of the Supreme Court had formulated a National Policy and Action Plan for the implementation of Information and Communication Technology back in 2005 and launched the e-courts project. E-courts project also facilitated online checking of case status and pay court fees through the e-pay facility. A software known as Case Information Software allows court data such as past cases to be uploaded and viewed.
l Introductions of e-courts across the country
In 2016, Hyderabad High Court inaugurated the country`s first e-court.
In 2019, the Tiz Hazari Court became Delhi`s first E-court and allowed people to pay traffic challans and also includes cases under the Negotiable Instruments Act and Motor accident claims.
l Judgments regarding virtual courts:
In the case of Meters Pvt ltd. Vs Kanchan Mehta, Court held that certain categories of cases can be held online.
Also, in the case of State of Maharashtra and P.C Singh vs. Praful Desai, the court held that recording of evidence can be done through video conferencing.
l Virtual Courts reduce the time, distance, and even money of the litigants as
conducting court proceedings at home will reduce the travel time of litigants
and the judges to go to court.
l Also, it will reduce the need for court expenses such as infrastructure and other costs for running the court if trials are conducted virtually. This will help save a lot of money and may be used elsewhere in the development of the country.
l It will also reduce the workload of the policemen as many policemen are employed on a day to day basis for security purposes or delivering of summons.
l The virtual court system is very efficient and can also be conducted 24/7. This will help with the huge backlog of cases the courts in our country currently has. Presently, a bench in the Supreme Court hears around 20 cases in a day. Justice Banumathi observed that now in virtual courts, around 40 cases can be heard in a day, which shows the speediness and efficiency of virtual courts and will also help in reducing the backlog of the cases in our country.
l While virtual courts have ensured that the justice-making process is not fully stopped during this period of pandemic still it has many problems which prevent the virtual courts in continuing beyond the pandemic.
l The virtual courts are very difficult for people who are technologically handicapped to conduct a virtual trial, a high-speed connection is required which may not be available for everyone and in all parts of the country. For example, at present, Kashmir does not have an internet connection, so virtual courts cannot take place.
l Majority of the judges come from a non-tech-savy generation, who are finding it difficult to shift to virtual court. Even the Chief Justice of India stated that he had many problems in conducting virtual trials and the overall process had been disappointing.
l The system of e-courts is not very well set up in our country and still needs some further work to ensure a smoother experience. Although virtual courts are very efficient and ensure speedy justice. But it has to ensure that speedy justice does not result in unfair justice.
As a result of the pandemic, courts all over the country are taking up only urgent matters such as death penalty matters or family law matters through online hearings, Tele-conferencing and video conferencing.
Courts have also fully adopted to e-filing, mentioning by way of emails. Justice Chandrachud said that e-filing will enhance the rights of a citizen to effective justice delivery. During this period, using e-filing, 820 matters and 552 documents were filed.
Also, around 470 matters were heard through Video conferencing in Patna High Court.
STEPS TOWARDS VIRTUAL COURTS IN FUTURE
A roadmap needs to be laid down towards regularization of Virtual hearing in courts. Judiciary and digitization need to come hand in hand for a smooth transition towards Virtual Courts, IT infrastructure for judiciary needs to be developed.
Creating public awareness: People need to be made aware of the alternative of physical courts and be told about the advantages of virtual courts so that the matters which are suitable for virtual courts can be shifted to virtual hearing on a regular basis and there is no crowding in courts.
Familiarity sessions for Judges and lawyers: There need to be workshops, seminars etc for judges and lawyers to make them more familiar towards the virtual court and help them conduct efficient court proceedings.
Earlier, virtual court proceedings were considered a distant concept which could not be applied in a country like India. Even though efforts were being made towards digitization of court proceedings still they were not very much successful.
Now, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, virtual courts were given a much-needed push in the right direction and was used by the Courts across the country to provide justice. It assured us that Justice is not only provided in physical court but can also be provided in virtual court proceedings and now more people are familiarized with the idea and open to conduct virtual trial.
Although virtual courts help provide justice during the pandemic, we are still not yet ready to fully convert our courts into virtual courts. But for now, after the lockdown ends, a combination of physical courts and virtual courts seem ideal.
 E-courts, available at:https://services.ecourts.gov.in/ecourtindia_v6/static/about-us.php