Virtual courts can aid in distributive justice by ensuring accessibility and affordability: Bhupender Yadav
A department-related standing committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice headed by Bhupender Yadav, a member of the Rajya Sabha (RS) and the national general secretary of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), on Friday suggested that virtual court proceedings should be allowed to continue beyond the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic as well.
The panel said virtual proceedings can be extended permanently to various appellate tribunals such as Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT), Intellectual Property Appellate Board (IPAB), and National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT) etc located across the country, which do not require personal appearances of the parties and advocates.
In an interview to HT, Yadav spoke about the need for virtual courts and what interventions are needed on the ground to make them work. Edited excerpts:
Are virtual courts here to stay?
There is no alternative to physical courts. Courts are a place for administration of justice. Virtual courts provide services in terms of filing of documents, presenting evidence and other procedural mechanisms. It can at best be called a supplemental toolkit for speedy and effective dispensation of justice by reducing the pendency of cases. The idea is to find a balance between dispensation of justice, pendency of cases and giving speedy justice to the public.
There were concerns expressed by the Bar Council of India (BCI) and Delhi High Court Bar Association that virtual courts may leave out many litigants who are poor with no access to the internet. How have you addressed that?
It is true that a majority of advocates and litigants, especially from the rural parts of the country, do not have adequate infrastructure such as computers, laptops and high-speed internet connection required for virtual hearing of cases. This problem spans across accessibility, connectivity and want of skill and knowledge quotients.
The main challenge is to bridge the divide in terms of accessibility, connectivity and skill-set required to use digital platforms.
To address these issues, many steps such as establishment of e-seva kendras in the HCs and in district courts to provide assistance and information to lawyers and litigants and facilitating e-filing have been taken.
Did the committee borrow ideas about virtual courts from other countries?
From technological advancement the earliest reference of virtual courts is found in other parts of the world and countries such as the United States of America (USA) and Singapore have used them. We have also done a lot of work on this aspect like conducting remand matters through virtual courts to prevent movement of prisoners between courts and jails.
We have effectively used virtual courts during the Covid-19-induced lockdown period, where more than 18 lakh cases were registered across the country, of which nearly eight lakhs have been disposed of. So, we will use the technology for the administration of justice in our case as well.
In the absence of a vaccine for Covid-19, there is a perception that the pandemic is here to stay. Courts being places where social distancing norms are hard to practice; how does the committee plan on striking a balance between virtual and regular hearings?
We are amid a pandemic but certainly have to resume our normal functioning. There is no denying that technology is very effective in ensuring transparency and good governance. After the 1990s, our laws have developed more on the regulatory mechanisms framework. Especially with the coming of Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC) and other such laws have helped us improve our ease of doing business rankings.
We have to strike a balance between effective dispensation of justice and expedited disposal of cases. Thus, under Phase II of e-court projects we propose to have dedicated central video conferencing infrastructure for courts, advocates, strengthening of e-filing infrastructure and many other things.
But in all this, lawyers are essential stakeholders and they will be part of every consultative and decision-making process.
High pendency rates in courts are a long-standing concern. Do you see a role for virtual courts here?
Justice delayed is justice denied, but justice hurried is also justice buried. I believe that virtual courts can be an effective medium to balance between these two extremes and provide expeditious and quality justice. We can transfer certain categories of cases to virtual courts to effectively reduce the pendency of overburdened physical courts. Virtual courts can aid us in distributive justice by ensuring accessibility and affordability and location and economic factors should not be an impediment for those people living in remote and far-flung areas from access to justice. The virtual courts would also help achieve our national commitment of achieving sustainable development goal (SDG) targets such as access to justice for all.