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Virtual Courts or e-Courts | e-Courts Mission Mode Project 

Parliamentary Panel on Law and Justice has recommended continuation of virtual courts even in a post-COVID scenario.

Virtual Courts or e-Courts

  • In its report “Functioning of the Virtual Courts/ Courts Proceedings through VideoConferencing”, the panel has argued that transfer of certain categories of cases, like cases pertaining to traffic challans or other petty offences, from regular court establishments to virtual courts will reduce the pendency of cases
  • It has suggested that a full fledged virtual court should be piloted in the first instance. Currently there are 30 million pending cases.

e-Courts Mission Mode Project 

The e-Courts project was launched on the basis of the “National Policy and Action Plan for Implementation of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in the Indian Judiciary – 2005” submitted by eCommittee, Supreme Court of India with a vision to transform the Indian Judiciary by ICT enablement of Courts. The eCourts Mission Mode Project, is a Pan-India Project, monitored and funded by Department of Justice, Ministry of Law and Justice, Government of India for the District Courts across the country.

Concerns 

  • The panel also sounded a word of caution that infrastructure needs to be upgraded especially in district courts to implement this.
  • Stakeholders including Bar Association members and others who met the committee have noted that the present infrastructure does not support virtual court proceedings. Only 3,477 court rooms are supported with facilities for virtual proceedings while 14,443 are still to be provided with them.
  • In India, almost 50% lawyers, particularly in district courts, do not have any laptop or computer facility.
  • During the recent virtual court hearings, especially during peak hours when many people log into the video-conferencing system, e-courts were subject to frequent crashes of the system and therefore, the entire proceedings can be vitiated by one glitch.
  • There were also concerns that virtual courts will compromise privacy of data as well as confidentiality of discussions and court proceedings. For instance, courts in the United States had to deal with Zoom bombing — an unwanted intrusion by hackers and internet trolls into a video conference call.

A blueprint for e-courts 

  • To achieve the goal of establishing e-courts, the government must establish an effective task force consisting of judges, technologists, court administrators, skill developers and system analysts to draw up a blueprint for institutionalising online access to justice.
  • Such a task force must be charged with the responsibility of establishing hardware, software and IT systems for courts; examining application of artificial intelligence benefiting from the data base generated through e-courts projects; establishing appropriate e-filing systems and procedures; and creating skill training and recognition for paralegals to understand and to help advocates and others to access the system to file their cases and add to their pleadings and documents as the case moves along.
  • Once the blueprint is ready, the High Courts across the country may refer the same to the Rule Committee of the High Court to frame appropriate rules to operationalise the e-court system.

Way forward 

  • This is just one of the myriad ways in which access to justice can be enhanced exponentially while simultaneously reducing the burden on conventional courts.
  • The other facilities that would help access to justice are online mediation, arbitration, counselling in family court matters, quick settlement of disputed insurance claims, and many more.