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The first-ever virtual court in India was inaugurated in Delhi on 26th July 2019 at the Tis Hazari Court. With the need to increase the lockdown in the country rises, the necessity to increase the number of virtual courts in the country becomes the need of the hour. Through these distressing times, the judiciary launched two more virtual courts in the capital to keep the fire of justice alive. These courts were inaugurated to digitally capture traffic violations. On 13th May 2020, Supreme Court Judge, Justice Dhananjaya Yeshwant Chandrachud addressed the inauguration ceremony through video conferencing in the presence of the C.J of Delhi High Court Justice D.N Patel and other High Court judges which included Justice Rajiv Shakdher, Justice Sanjeev Sachdeva, Justice Prathiba M Singh and Justice Navin Chawla.
Virtual courts are the distant justice delivery courts with the help of advanced software and tools. The initial aim to introduce such courts was to reduce the necessity of human presence in the court so that the settlement doesn’t get delayed because of the unavailability of the litigant or the client or the court staff. However, with the pandemic situation virtual courts becomes a requirement. Apart from virtual courts, e-courts are also present which can be said as a subset to virtual courts. They refer to websites, mobile applications, and various other software.
- The system consists of an e-challan software, payment gateway, and a court software that enables a person to access his or her case through phone number, CNR, party name, or police station making it accessible to all.
- Secretary-General of Supreme Court, Sanjeev Kalgoankar, encouraged the use of an app named “Vidyo” to organize proceedings through video conferencing.
- The system saves a healthy amount of paperwork thereby taking the whole judicial system to an eco-friendly paradigm against the conventional model.
- The software is developed and maintained by National Informatics Centre, Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology, Government of India.
- This system of the virtual court is protected by secure encrypted login access available to the respective judges and officers of the court.
Procedure for traffic violation cases: –
The procedure involved in virtual courts is accessible and convenient.
- A public portal was developed which is easily accessible through the internet. The first thing to do is to search the particular case which can be done with the help of challan number, mobile number, vehicle number, case number, CNR number, or just by party name also.
- Traffic challans get acknowledged in Virtual Courts, after that the admin user has to verify the challans and register them. The admin users have been given two options to allocate the case; either by district or area or by the type of vehicles.
- Once the allocation is done, these cases are presented before the Judge for proceedings. The Judge and the admin are provided with secured access to login, for this they need to have inter-net connectivity.
- The proceedings are complete when the Judge decides the amount of fine to be paid by the violator. He can change the amount of fine as per his discretion. After that, a statement under Sec 208 of the Motor Vehicles act is generated and an SMS and email notification are sent to the violators with the relevant details and fine amount.
- The violator has to find the relevant case, once it is done, he has to enter the OTP to see the intimation or summons. The fine can be paid on the E-Pay portal by using Government mechanisms.
Judicial precedents regarding virtual courts
1. Krishna Veni Nagam v. Harish Nagam [Transfer Petition (Civil) No. 1912 Of 2014]
This case is dealing with the transfer petition. It was a matrimonial dispute case, in which both the parties were not present in the same location i.e. within the jurisdiction of the same court. The Hon’ble Court held that video conferencing technology is suitable to use when both
the parties are facing problems to appear physically in the court. A virtual court arrangement can be done at the request by one or both parties.
2. Santhini v. Vijaya Venketesh [Transfer Petition (Civil) No.1278 Of 2016]
This case overruled Krishna Veni Nagam VS Harish Nagam and held that “in transfer petition video conferencing cannot be directed”. But there was a dissenting opinion of D.Y Chandrachud and he highlighted the advantages of using video conferencing:
- “The Family Courts Act, 1984 was enacted at a point in time when modern technology which enabled persons separated by spatial distances to communicate with each other face to face was not fully developed. There is no reason for the court which sets precedent for the nation to exclude the application of technology to facilitate the judicial process.”
- “Imposing an unwavering requirement of personal and physical presence (and exclusion of facilitative technological tools such as video conferencing) will result in a denial of justice.”
3. M/S Meters and Instruments v. Kanchan Mehta [Criminal Appeal No. 1732 Of 2017]
The Hon’ble court, in this case, highlighted the necessity of using advanced and modern technology. Categories of cases should be made and those cases which can be resolved online should be separated. Traffic challan cases and cases of section 138 of the NI Act or cases which do not require serious dispute questions can be held online. Virtual courts are necessary for paperless courts as well as to mitigate the overcrowding of courts.
To meet the challenges produced by the pandemic, judicial and quasi-judicial bodies are trying to make use of the technology in the best way possible. The judiciary is under an obligation to continue their work for the smooth running of democracy.
Virtual courts are cost and time effective as this will eliminate the physical presence of the parties and the parties can save their money as well as time. Apart from parties’ costs, court costs are also saved in terms of infrastructure, reduced court staff, security, and transportation cost.
Many cases are being piled up in the courts and delay in justice gives rise to more and more offences, therefore the implementation of this technology can promote flexible hours and encourage the court to work 24/7. In this way, justice can be delivered in a time-bound manner.
Justice Chandrachud commented that “this virtual court has been able to liberate energies of 20 judicial officers”, now these officers are free to devote their time to other judicial work which holds more importance.
The other side of the coin is that there exists a fair doubt on the functioning of the courts as the digital platforms do not have a well-defined fool proof system for allotment and listing of cases and there is room for biases and arbitrary listing of the case before the Hon’ble Court. Furthermore, if we look at implementing the e-courts to the ground level it raises doubts about the feasibility in the trial courts where most of the matters are evidence-driven and it does not technically sound to post every piece of evidence and investigation before the Hon’ble Court through online medium. If the e-courts model is implemented to every dimension of the judiciary, it makes the important shed of documents and digital data prone to software hacking and tampering which may result in grave miscarriage of justice.
A progressive step ahead
In a country like India, where the legal fraternity has quite a broad ambit, the introduction of a technological measure is not self-sufficient in itself. It is essential to sensitize the whole fraternity with the futuristic developments to ensure the collective and holistic good of the society. This step can be executed in two folds firstly, the upcoming generation of legal professionals can be reached through seminar papers and credit courses on virtual courts through the university curriculum itself. Secondly, to reach out to the existing old school generation of legal professionals’ seminars and onsite camps can be organized in collaboration with the Bar Council. This will ensure a smooth transition from conventional modes to a digital paradigm for the legal fraternity.
Virtual courts imbibe the principle of “open courts”
Even though many have criticized the viability of the concept of virtual courts as it may defy the principle of “open court”, as per which “Openness of Courts, the Supreme Court has said, is a tool to ensure procedural fairness and transparency, so that the ‘rule of law’ dictum of an impartial and uniform adjudicatory process is adhered to and achieved”. However, open courts don’t necessarily imply unlimited or unregulated access to the public at large for its functioning to be witnessed and validated by them. The presence of Advocates, litigants, and media is secured in the Virtual Courtrooms and “presence” does not specifically mean a physical bodily presence these people can join the portal to be a part of the hearing.
The study as a whole is an analysis of the various dimensions and nuances of the new paradigm of judicial paradigm in India. It is a bold progressive move amidst the pandemic by the courts of the national capital to ensure the scales of justice in these distressing times. In the changing times, when the world stands still in the wake of a pandemic the judiciary has resorted to a technologically driven approach to ensure a phase-wise functioning of the justice delivery system. However, if we critically examine the minor details of the virtual courts, there are many flaws and faults which make its complete application currently a bit sceptical.
In the long run, there are various questions which the concept of virtual courts has still to answer concerning transparency, privacy, and the principle of open court. There can be different views on the feasibility of the concept of virtual courts but to make it more accessible, sensitization to the whole legal fraternity to the digitalized judicial tools is paramount. To make sure, the Indian judiciary makes the time shift to the futuristic mode of justice delivery mechanism, all the fonts are needed to be worked upon and an amicable environment shall be provided to the public at large to adapt to the digitized judiciary to make an impact on the society.
Author: Soumya Agrawal from OP Jindal Global University.
Editor: Harinie.S from Symbiosis Law School Hyderabad.