Role of Technology in Facilitating Speedy Justice

Ankita Bisen

Abstract

In every federal country, an independent judiciary is a sine qua non. An effective justice system ensures the liberties of the citizens and safeguards the federalism. Indian Constitution establishes federal structure with a strong centralizing tendency, where the independent and effective justice system becomes more significant and the largest democracy like ours cannot survive without it. The apex court has also time and again reiterated that ‘justice delayed is justice denied’ but the judiciary itself is overburdened with numerous pending litigations. There is more than two crore pending cases before the courts and a paucity of more than five thousand judicial officers across India. The courts in India are not only marred by the pendency of matters but also by the overburdened judges, scarcity of courtrooms, space, and resources. The only savior in this scenario seems to be the technology; it has introduced new methodologies in the justice system which has made the process swifter. It has made a tremendous impact especially in the criminal justice system as filing the first information reports has become less cumbersome with the introduction e-FIR system in many states. The latest development in the form of the Integrated Case Management Information System (ICMIS) has been a major breakthrough in the Indian legal system. It has made the working of the courts more organized and accessible. Through various judicial pronouncements, the judiciary has also widened the ambit and role of technology in the field of evidence. Thus, the technology and its advantages injustice system are omnipresent. This paper seeks to analyze the role played by technology in imparting speedy justice and in achieving the goal of access to justice for all.

Introduction

The surge in technological developments in every walk of life has enhanced the effectiveness, coherence, productivity and overall quality of almost every human activity. Nowadays, the use of computers, internet, web and other similar technologies have equipped humans to overcome many shortcomings and have reduced the effort and time involved in carrying out their tasks.

The vast reach of information technology and its extensive and exhaustive use by various private and public bodies and institutions have facilitated better utilization of available resources. This has enhanced the accuracy of outputs and catalysed the process saving a lot of time and money. A large volume of data is processed within seconds and its analysis is produced within minutes. Exchange and communication of information have become swift and easy with the increased use of technology in the form of e-mails, fax, video conferencing, etc. This has resulted into a more efficient and responsive administration of not just the private organisations, but also of the judicial, governmental and other public systems[1].

A democratic country like India where an effective justice system is a sine qua non, the delay in justice can cause irreparable losses to the litigants. In response to this delay in justice, technology has been incorporated in the justice delivery system so to render justice swiftly. Thus, the justice system in India is no exception. The technology has permeated the legal system in our country in the last few years. The rampant use of technology in facilitating and providing justice has engendered a ray of hope that justice would no longer be delayed. The colossal difficulties which are being encountered by the judiciary due to pendency, delays, the paucity of time, etc. can be diminished, if not totally resolved, by the extensive use of technology in the legal system.

Although it cannot be denied that there are many inroads in this path, but the pace at which the technology is being incorporated in the justice system, we can expect a drastic change very soon. With the successful introduction of e-courts project and the Integrated Case Management Information System, the judiciary is paving the way for technological advancements in the justice system. The subordinate judiciary, however, is lagging behind as far as the use of technology is concerned but there have been serious attempts to bridge the gap which may yield constructive results. Further, filing of e-FIRs, the use of technology in forensics and other forms of investigation have made a huge difference. Various online legal databases make judgments, orders, statutes, citations, etc. available at a click of the mouse, similarly, cause lists are also easily available on the websites of the respective courts.

National E-Governance Plan

The idea of computerization of courts was in vogue since 1990. Under the National e-Governance Plan, the computerization of courts has been made a Mission Mode Project (MMP) and it has been proposed to implement information and communication technology in three phases over a period of five years. The scope of this project is to develop, deliver, install and implement automated decision making and decision support systems in the courts.

The main objectives of the MMP are as follows:

1. To help the judicial administration of courts in streamlining their day to day activities.

2. To assist judicial administration in reducing pendency of cases.

3. To provide transparency of information to litigants.

4. To provide access to legal and judicial databases to the judges.

The implementation of the project was initiated in December 2004 and an e-Committee was constituted to oversee its implementation. The national policy and action plan were formulated by the e-Committee.

E-Courts Project

E-courts project is playing a key role in delivering justice swiftly and easily. In 2010, the Indian government initiated the E-Courts project to establish technology-enabled courts, promote automation of case management processes and provide online systems for payment of fees in lower courts. The objective was to reduce delays by increasing transparency for litigants and providing access to legal databases to judges. The concept of e-Courts Project was developed 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 e-Committee, Supreme Court of India with a view to revamping the Indian Judiciary by ICT enablement of Courts.

E-committee was constituted (as mentioned above), in pursuance of a proposal received from Hon’ble the Chief Justice of India, by the Government of India, to assist in formulating a National policy on computerization of Indian Judiciary and advise on technological communication and management related changes. The e-Courts Mission Mode Project, as discussed above, was a Pan-India Project monitored and funded by the Department of Justice, Ministry of Law and Justice, Government of India for the District Courts across the country.

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The E-Courts project envisions-

  1. To provide efficient & time-bound citizen-centric services delivery as detailed in e-Court Project Litigant’s Charter.
  2. To develop, install & implement decision support systems in courts.
  3. To automate the processes to provide transparency inaccessibility of information to its stakeholders.
  4. To enhance judicial productivity, both qualitatively & quantitatively, to make the justice delivery system affordable, accessible, cost-effective, predictable, reliable and transparent.

Phase-I

The Phase-I of the e-Courts Project initiated in 2007, a huge number of Court Complexes, Computer Server Rooms and Judicial Service Centres were established for computerization of the District Courts. The District and Taluka Court Complexes which were incorporated in Phase-I were computerized with the installation of hardware, LAN and Case Information Software (CIS), for providing basic case-related services to the litigants and the lawyers. Many of the District Courts launched their own websites for the convenience of the different stakeholders. The Change Management exercise was undertaken to train the Judicial Officers and Court Staff in the use of computers and Case Information System (CIS) was successfully implemented. The Judicial Officers were trained by the Master Trainers trained from amongst them for a continuing training program. The CIS Master trainers have trained District System Administrators (DSAs) in the use of CIS. The District System Administrators have trained other Court Staff in the use of CIS. The data entry for all pending cases reached an advanced stage of completion. The Process Re-Engineering exercise was initialized to have a fresh look at the process, procedures, systems and Court Rules in force in the different District Courts under High Courts. The Phase-I concluded with extended timelines up to 30th March 2015.[2]

Phase II

On 8th January 2014, the Policy and Action Plan Document Phase-II of the e-courts project received the acquiescence of the Hon’ble Chief Justice of India. The project was then sanctioned by the government of India on 4th August 2015. In Phase-II, the courts which were covered were then installed with the additional hardware with (1+3) systems per Court Room, the courts which were not incorporated in the Phase-I and the newly established Courts were provisioned with (2+6) systems per Court Room and the Court Complexes were also installed with hardware, LAN, etc.

This dynamic implementation structure provided for greater participation and cooperation between the e-Committee, the Department of Justice (Government of India), NIC, DietY, and the Ministry of finance. It rendered the High Courts as Implementing Agencies, of the project under its jurisdiction. The Infrastructure Model provides for adopting Cloud Computing Architecture which is efficient and cost-effective while retaining the present Servers Rooms as Network Rooms and Judicial Service centers as Centralized Filing Centers. A Provision has been made for computerization of office of District Legal Services Authority; Taluka Legal Services Committee, the National Judicial Academy and the State Judicial Academies for efficient delivery of services and training. Continuing with the implementation of Free and Open Source Solutions (FOSS), Phase-II has adopted the Core-Periphery model of Case Information Software, the core being Unified as National Core, while the periphery developed according to requirement of each High Court, with NIC, Pune continuing to be the Centre for Software Development and related applications, ensuring software compatibility and interoperability, both horizontally and vertically, with the data including metadata to be unified and standardized.[3]

In Phase-II, all the remaining Court Complexes are provisioned to be connected with Jails and Desktop based Video Conferencing to go beyond routine remands and production of under-trial prisoners. It will also be used for recording evidence in sensitive cases and gradually extended to cover as many types of cases as possible. With an emphasis on Capacity Building of Judicial Officers and Process Re-Engineering, Phase-II provides for Judicial Knowledge Management System including Integrated Library Management System and the use of Digital Libraries.

Phase-II of the project lays great emphasis on service delivery to the litigants, lawyers, and other stakeholders. The websites will be Accessible Compliant and to the extent possible, the information will be available in the local languages. The applications for mobile phones, SMS and emails are extensively used as platforms for dissemination of information. The kiosk will be provided for every Court Complex. Certified copies of documents will be given online and ePayment Gateways will be provided for making deposits, payment of court fees, fines, etc. The National Judicial Data Grid (NJDG) will be further improvised to facilitate more qualitative information for Courts, Government, and Public.

On 7th August 2013, Hon’ble the Chief Justice of India launched the e-Courts National portal ecourts.gov.in of the eCourts Project. More than 2852 Districts and Taluka Court Complexes have secured their presence on the NJDG portal ecourts.gov.in and are providing Case Status, Cause lists online with many of them also uploading orders/judgments. The data of more than 7 crores pending and disposed of cases and 3.3 crore orders/judgments of District Courts in India is available on NJDG at present.

With dynamic real-time data generated and updated continuously, the NJDG is serving as a source of information of the judicial delivery system for all the stakeholders. It is regularly analyzed for meaningful assistance in policy formation and decision making. The NJDG is working as National data warehouse for case data including the orders/judgments for Courts across the country with full coverage of District Courts.[4]

The Online Analytical Processing, and Business Intelligence Tools will help in the summation of multiple databases into tables with summarized reports for preparation of informative management systems and dashboards for effective Court and Case Management. The Judicial Management Information System will be helpful in litigations and adjudication pattern analysis and also the impact analysis of any variation in governing factors relating to law, amendments, jurisdiction, recruitment etc. It will also serve as a judicial performance enhancing measure for policy makers to be used for decision support system.[5]

To supplement this effort of E-Courts, three new initiatives began last year. The Nyaya Mitra program, like the E-Courts program, targets judges and court administrators. In this project, retired judicial or executive officers with legal experience work as “friends of the law,” or Nyaya Mitras. They provide legal assistance to resolve cases that have been pending for more than ten years, as identified from the National Judicial Data Grid across select districts of India.

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Two other programs are intended to provide litigants with better access to expert lawyers. Pro bono Legal Services is a web-based platform where lawyers can register to handle pro bono matters. The idea is to plug the information gap by creating an organized database of such lawyers and more importantly, reward pro-bono work by giving those who provide such services priority in appointments to judicial roles. The Tele Law portal connects lawyers with subject matter expertise with clients from marginalized social sectors through video conferencing facilities at centres set up by state legal services authorities. Village-level entrepreneurs operate these facilities and paralegal volunteers schedule and coordinate lawyer-client meetings.[6]

E-Fir and Complaints

People usually hesitate in going to the police station to report a crime, some are scared, some believe they will be harassed, some are simply ashamed. Also, it’s a general perception that filing the first information report is a cumbersome and tedious process. Thus, introducing the concept of e-FIRs and complaints has been a revolutionary step that provides relief to these people and also gives them an alternative mechanism to report their grievances.

When one approaches the police to report a crime, a First Information Report (FIR) needs to be lodged. This document records the victim’s narration of the crime which is registered by the designated police officer. The provision relating to FIR is given under Section 154 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973. FIRs can be lodged by the person against whom the offense is committed, by the person who knows that the offense has been committed, or by the person who has seen the commissioning of an offense. A complaint is an allegation made orally or in writing that some person (whether known or unknown) has committed an offense. A complaint is addressed to a Magistrate.

An e-FIR can be filed only for cognizable offenses like murder, rape, dowry death, kidnap, etc. In these cases, the police can make the arrest without the court order. In non-cognizable offenses, like assault, cheating, stalking, etc., only a complaint can be filed online. It can be later escalated into an FIR by the police after seeking permission from the Magistrate.

Some of the states have allowed for online submission of FIR/complaint namely-

  1. The Tamil Nadu government has provisions for filing online complaints, checking the status, etc. The government also has a missing person search option.
  2. The Himachal Pradesh has provided for filing online FIRs as well as complaints. The state government’s online form needs the person to describe his/her problem in detail. All complaints must be restricted to 2000 words.
  3. The Jharkhand government also allows for the filing of online FIRs/complaints. But the person is required to fill in the Aadhaar number to proceed with the complaint/FIR. Although it is allowed only for four districts as of now.
  4. In Maharashtra, the online complaint can be filed only in Mumbai.
  5. Delhi police have a website as well as an app where people can file FIRs for specified offenses.
  6. On the website of Madhya Pradesh Police, people can submit their complaints online. One must provide details about the district and police station, type of complaint, suspect’s information, etc. Personal details are also required.
  7. Haryana Government also allows the filing of e-FIR/complaint. Here one needs to enter the details of the suspect as well while filling up the form.
  8. Other states like Orissa, Bangalore, Patna, and Kolkata also have some restricted facilities to file FIRs online.

This has opened an alternative for the aggrieved people to approach the police without actually going to the police station. This, however, have its own difficulties there is the paucity of resources, lack of technical staff, etc. which act as a hindrance in making this initiative a success.

Whatsapp/Facebook Chats Treated as Electronic Evidence

In India, a drastic change with respect of admissibility of electronic evidence came by the amendment to the Indian Evidence Act in 2000. Sections 65A and 65B[7]were introduced into the chapter relating to documentary evidence. Section 65A provides that the contents of electronic records may be admitted as evidence if the criteria provided in Section 65B are complied with. Section 65B provides that they shall be considered documents, thereby making it primary evidence, if the computer which produced the record had been regularly in use, the information fed into the computer was part of the regular use of the computer and the computer had been operating properly. It further provides that all computer output shall be considered as being produced by the computer itself, whether it was produced directly or indirectly, whether with human intervention or without. This provision does away with the concept of computer evidence being hearsay.

Thus, with the amendments introduced into the statute, electronic evidence in India is no longer either secondary or hearsay evidence but falls within the best evidence rule. In light of the recent surge of terrorism in the world, involving terrorists using highly sophisticated technology to carry out attacks, it is of great help to the prosecution to be able to produce electronic evidence as direct and primary evidence in court, as they prove the guilt of the accused much better than having to look for traditional forms of evidence to substitute the electronic records, which may not even exist. As happened in the Ajmal Kasab case[8], terrorists these days plan all their activities either face-to-face, or through software. Being able to produce transcripts of internet transactions helped the prosecution’s case a great deal in proving the guilt of the accused.

Similarly, in the case of State (NCT of Delhi) v. Navjot Sandhu alias Afsan Guru[9], the links between the slain terrorists and the masterminds of the attack were established only through phone call transcripts obtained from the mobile service providers.[10]

Lately, Courts have started treating WhatsApp and Facebook chats as electronic evidence and they are admitted as an acceptable form of evidence if they comply with Section 65B of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872. Recently, a trial court of Haryana convicted three miscreant law students of O.P. Jindal University in Sonipat for blackmailing and gang-raping a junior from their University.[11] The Additional Sessions Judge said that “WhatsApp chats running into pages are so abusive and vulgar that the extracts of the same cannot be explained and put into the judgment and what only can be concluded through the WhatsApp chats is that the prosecutrix (victim) was totally under the control and dominance of the accused”.[12]The conviction was done by relying on the extensive and detailed WhatsApp conversation between the rape victim and the law students.[13]

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Courts Can Now Send Summons through Whatsapp

Various courts across India are using technology in judicial processes especially for serving official documents.

The Hon’ble Supreme Court of India in the case of Central Electricity Regulatory Commission Vs National Hydroelectric Power Corpn. Ltd. & Ors.[14], directed that in commercial litigation and in those cases where the Advocates seek urgent interim reliefs, service of notices may be affected by E-mail, in addition to the normal mode of service. The Courts have inducted the “electronic means” in their respective rules in order to speed up the summons process. The Delhi High Court notified on February 9, 2011, “Delhi Courts Service of Processes by Courier, Fax and Electronic Mail Service (Civil Proceedings) Rules, 2010” wherein service by fax and electronic mail was provided for. Similarly, Bombay and Andhra Pradesh High Court have amended their rules for the same. This helps cut down the cost & effort that goes into serving notices to defendants, especially those who do not want to be found.

The Delhi High Court has approved the use of technology and social networks like WhatsApp, SMS, and email to serve a summons in judicial proceedings in the matter of Tata Sons v. John Doe(s) and Ors.[15]. It was held that “double tick on Whatsapp is a prima facie proof of delivery of summons”. The Courts after these landmark judgments have added WhatsApp to the list of electronic means trying to tackle the problem. The first one to send summons by WhatsApp is Financial Commissioner (FC) Court in Haryana, a quasi-judicial body. In April 2017, Senior IAS officer Ashok Khema ordered that summons in a partition suit be served via WhatsApp.

In the same month, Justice Gautam Patel, of the Bombay High Court set a precedent allowing the serving of summons through WhatsApp in a copyright infringement case. The case concerned allegations of copyright infringement against Producers of the Kannada movie ‘Pushpaka Vimana’ that was released at the beginning of 2017. Justice Patel said “It cannot be that our rules and procedure are either so ancient or so rigid (or both) that without some antiquated formal service mode through a bailiff or even by beat of drum or pattaki, a party cannot be said to have been ‘properly’ served. The purpose of service is put the other party to notice and to give him a copy of the papers. The mode is surely irrelevant. Where an alternative mode is used, however, and service is shown to be affected, and is acknowledged, then surely it cannot be suggested that the Defendants had ‘no notice’

This has been a humongous breakthrough which will speed up the delivery process of summons, thereby speeding up the judicial process.

Supreme Court’s Integrated Case Management Information System (Icmis)

Integrated Case Management Information System is basically a digital repository for case-related information. In May 2017 the apex court went digital. The Prime Minister launched the Integrated Case Management Information System (ICMIS) for Supreme Court and appreciated the effort of Apex Court to go paperless. The Supreme Court Registry started filing of cases following this system in the first week of July. Justice Khehar said: “To ensure transparency, ease the working system and to reduce the backlog of cases, digitization is very much required. It will help litigants to file only one case and the same will be transferred to higher courts automatically due to the digitization of documents.” “Nobody can manipulate the documents. A litigant can track the status of the case and also orders. Everything about the case can be monitored.”

All the High Courts were also encouraged by the then Chief Justice to go paperless. Although most of the High Courts have their own websites where the status of the cases can be checked, orders can be retrieved, cause lists can be checked, etc. These websites also help the litigants as well as lawyers to quickly access the relevant information and hence quickens the judicial process.

Conclusion

The use of technology in the Indian legal system has increased leaps and bounds recently, and it has been quite effective in delivering speedy and swifter justice. India has come a long way since the first initiative for the computerization of courts was taken in 1990. The positive changes it has brought are vividly evident and it has clearly made justice more accessible and speedier. It has not only helped the aggrieved persons and other litigants but also the lawyers to participate in the process of law. It has also been helping the judges in ensuring speedy justice. It has considerably reduced the delay in various aspects of the judicial process and has reduced the amount of pendency and backlog of cases. This has also given a platform to victims and other aggrieved persons to share their grievances with the public institutions.

However, there exist many hindrances and hurdles which need to be eradicated in order to ensure adequate utilization of information and communication related technological resources. These hindrances once removed would further reduce the time elapsed in judicial processes. The judiciary is trying to the best of its potential for implementing modern technologies to ease off and hasten the judicial process and also increase its efficiency and responsiveness.


[1] Lawctopus, Use of Technology in Judicial Process and Alternative Dispute Resolution, (November 19, 2019), https://www.lawctopus.com/academike/use-technology-judicial-process-alternative-dispute-resolution/.

[2] E-court services, services.e-courts.gov (November 19, 2019), https://services.ecourts.gov.in/ecourtindia_v6/static.

[3] ibid

[4] ibid

[5] supra note at 2.

[6] ibid

[7] Indian Evidence Act, 1872

[8] Ajmal Amir Kasab v. State of Maharashtra, (2012) 9 SCC 1

[9] State (NCT of Delhi) v. Navjot Sandhu alias Afsan Guru (2005)11 SCC 600

[10] ibid

[11] Judgement dated 24/05/2017

[12] ibid

[13] LawRato, How technology can helping deliver swifter justice in India, The Better India (June, 29, 2017, 4:58 p.m.) https://www.thebetterindia.com/105894/how-can-technology-help-in-reducing-pendency-of-cases/

[14] Central Electricity Regulatory Commission Vs National Hydroelectric Power Corpn. Ltd. & Ors. (2010) 10 SCC 214

[15] Tata Sons v. John Doe(s) and Ors. CS (COMM) No. 1601/2016.