“The concept of Virtual Courts has gained immense ground during COVI D-19 Pandemic times and it is and will remain a new reality and the new normal. Integration of Virtual courts into the legal ecosystem will have a significant impact on all stakeholders. Virtual Court System Can Increase Access to Justice”
Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievance, law and Justice has submitted its 103rd Report on Functioning of Virtual Courts Proceedings Through Video Conferencing (Interim Report). The Committee is headed by Shri Bhupendra Yadav, Member of Parliament.
The Committee had taken up the subject’ Functioning of the Virtual Courts/ Court Proceedings through Video Conferencing’ after the COVID-19 pandemic. The Committee traced the history of Virtual Courts, as far as bach, since 1997, when Frederick I Lederer who is currently the Director, Centre for Legal and Court Technology, United States, emphasised upon the infusion of Virtual Courts in traditional Court Rooms.
It has also been noted in the report that various countries like USA, Singapore, Turkey, Canada and Italy, have already adopted the complete Virtual Court Rooms system, and are successfully running it.
Challenges of Virtual Courts mentioned in Report:
- Digital Divide: Large number of advocates and litigants especially those living in rural and remote areas lack basic infrastructure and high-speed internet connection required for virtual hearing of cases and that this digital divide makes access to Justice unaffordable and inaccessible for a vast majority.
- Technological Competence: majority of advocates are not well conversant with the use of information and communication technology so as to effectively use them 120 present their cases on a Virtual platform and that there is a concern that virtual Courts unfairly benefit tech-savvy advocates and law firms which have access to a stable internet connection and high quality vi videoconferencing facilities.
- Poor Digital connectivity: Technical glitches are plaguing Virtual Court hearings, especially during peak hours when many people log into the video conferencing system, how it often crashes.
- Open Court principle: Virtual Courts threaten the constitutionality of Court proceedings and undermine the importance of Rule of law which forms a part of the basic structure of the Constitution.
- Data privacy and Data security: Virtual Courts will compromise the privacy of data as well as the confidentiality of discussions and Court proceedings. For instance, Courts in the United States had to deal with Zoom bombing.
- Indigenous Hardware and Software: There should include indigenous hardware and software available free of cost for lawyers and litigants to use Virtual Court Method.
- Tardy progress of E-Courts Integrated Mission mode project: The Digitalization of Files and Courts is progressing at a tortoise’s pace.
Recommendations of the Committee:
- The present system of Virtual Courts started during the pandemic lockdown, should be allowed to continue on an experimental basis. However, the consent of all parties for specific categories of cases like Appeals etc. and final hearings, where the physical presence of the parties is not required, and online virtual hearing alone is sufficient, should be taken.
- Virtual Courts can be extended permanently to various Appellate Tribunals like TDSAT, I PAB, NCLAT, etc., located across the country which does not require personal appearances of the parties/advocates.
- Permanent Virtual Courts can also be established for hearing matters relating to Administrative and other Tribunals at the time of the final hearing.
- Necessary Amendments may be brought in-laws to legalise Virtual Courts.
- The principal benefits of Virtual Courts are that they expedite processes and procedures which would otherwise be protracted and laborious.
- Virtual Court system can increase access to justice by addressing locational and economic handicaps.
- There should be some mechanism to segregate simple cases from complex ones.
- Full Fledged Virtual Court should be piloted in the first instance.
- Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology should employ globally tried and tested tools for Virtual Courts.
- Such matters where personal presence may be dispensed with can be transferred from regular Court establishments to Virtual Courts.
- Concept of Virtual Courts may well be extended to cover arbitration hearings, Conciliation and Summary trials.