Technology adoption for delivery of timely justice
The Government is implementing a project for computerization of District & Subordinate Courts in the country and for up gradation of ICT infrastructure of the Supreme Court and the High Courts under the e-Courts Mission Mode Project (MMP).
Under the project, 12000 courts in 2100 court complexes are expected to be computerised by 31.3.2012 and 2249 courts in 969 court complexes are expected to be computerized by 31.3.2014. The total estimated cost of phase I of the project is Rs. 935.00 crore. The National Informatics Centre (NIC) is the implementing agency of the project.
An E-Committee of the Supreme Court was constituted which is chaired by the Chief Justice of India to give overall policy directions to fulfilment of e-court programme. An Empowered Committee has been constituted in the Department of Justice to provide strategic direction and guidance to the e-courts Mission Mode Project. This Committee also has representative from the E-Committee of the Supreme Court.
Courts of Tomorrow
To give effect to the extensive computerisation plan as laid down by the e-courts MMP, the Courts of Tomorrow initiative will assist the judges and the registrars to obtain the best in-class ICT tools, to aid them in the dispensation of justice and administration of courts. The initiative seeks to act as a force multiplier to the on-going ICT enablement initiatives of the Judiciary, Courts and the Government.
The ‘Courts of Tomorrow’ initiative suggests the following ten interventions based on the study and analysis of existing initiatives in the Indian courts and with inputs from Judges and Registrars of the Delhi and Bombay High Court. These recommendations are directed towards technology adoption for delivery of timely justice.
1. Information Infrastructure for the Courts: Broadband Network and National Data Centre
2. Interconnection of Courts, Prisons and Police Stations
3. ICT enabled Court Rooms
4. Integrated Case and Document Management System
5. Digitisation, E-filing and E-service
6. E-orders, E-copies and E-cause lists
9. Provide Citizen Centric Services
10. Managed Services Model for the Judiciary
1) Information Infrastructure for the Courts: Broadband Network and National Data Centre
The on-going ICT enablement of the Indian Courts is bringing forth the emerging need for a highly secure, reliable and high speed network connecting all the courts in the country. It is suggested that all courts should be brought on to a unified network and a national data centre be made available exclusively for the courts. A disaster recovery plan also needs to be put into place.
2) Interconnection of Courts, Prisons and Police Stations
All Courts, Prisons and Police Stations should be connected on a unified, highly secure, reliable and high speed network. Apart from a high bandwidth network, suitable facilities for video conferencing and for audio-video deposition of evidence should be made available. This will allow witnesses (especially high‐risk witnesses, child witnesses, old and infirm witnesses) to be present via video conference in the court. It will also encourage audio-video depositions of evidence (supplemented by digital transcriptions; authenticated by the witness and the judge using digital signatures/bio‐metric devices such as signature pads and fingerprint readers). Video conferencing can also be used to bring in experts from the forensic sciences lab, hospitals, etc.
3) ICT enabled Court Rooms
ICT enabled court rooms will revolutionise the way justice is delivered in the country. It will not only decrease the hassles of the court staff, the litigants and the lawyers but also increase the efficiency of the Judges. It will also seamlessly connect the Judiciary with the Police Stations and the Prisons. The following steps need to be taken to realise the vision of the Courts of Tomorrow.
The courtroom to be fully equipped with computers and other courtroom technology which may include:
I. One computer for the judge with LCD touch‐screen display monitor – large enough for reading pages one at a time. The Judges, depending on their requirements and the provisions made by the court, may be provided 2-3 screens, each used for a different purpose. One of these computers may be loaded with case search and retrieval software.
II. One computer for the typist/reader/court master. The output of this computer could also be relayed to the Judge’s additional screen so that the Judge can view and/or modify the same.
III. One computer or provision for one computer for the arguing lawyer/advocate.
IV. Facility for video‐conferencing along with audio/video‐recording of oral evidence and large LCD panel for display of evidence. If the Judge and/or the court permits, audio/video recording of the entire proceedings could be done and made available to the Judge and to the court archives.
4) Integrated Case and Document Management System
a. The document management system has to be integrated with the case management system. This integrated solution may be hosted at the National Data Centre for each court.
b. The system will also provide an inbuilt Case Tracking and Monitoring system along with a time table for each case. These additional features may be used as per the need of the respective Judge or the court.
5) Digitisation, E-filing and E-service
I. Digitisation: A dedicated effort towards digitisation is required at the courts, as a first step towards paperless E-courts. As detailed under recommendation no. 10, providing of trained manpower and machines to the courts to accelerate the digitisation efforts should be done by means of a managed services model. All existing cases and court records must be digitised in a phase wise manner as decided by the respective court. The digitised records must be search friendly and should be indexed by key parameters for easy retrieval.
II. E-filing: While the old and existing cases must be digitised, the next obvious step for E-courts is to move towards E-filing, so that new cases need not undergo the tedious task of digitisation and the process of filing is simplified for the litigant and the lawyers. The following must be done to ensure a move towards paperless filing:
a. Filing of the plaint, petition, appeal, application etc., in electronic form
b. On‐line via internet or via e‐kiosks in the court premises; or
c. On other media such as CDs, DVDs, USB pen‐drives, SD or Micro SD cards etc.
d. Digital authentication of Affidavits, Vakalatnams, paper documents with physical signatures through suitable bio‐metric devices or through digital signatures.
e. On‐line payment of court fees, process fees etc.; State Governments have to make provision of e‐stamps for court fees.
f. Generation of e‐filing receipt.
g. On‐line scrutiny and verification of the e‐filed documents by the court registry.
h. Preparation of the e‐case file/placement of a new document in the e‐case file utilising the document management system.
a. Service of summonses, notices, warrants can be done through email/SMS for those who have provided their email IDs/mobile phone numbers.
b. In cases where recipients do not have email IDs or do not have access to the internet, a hybrid system could be used whereby e‐mails would be sent to the nearest post‐office/courier office where it would be printed out and served on the recipient locally (Ahmed, 2009). The digitally authenticated service report would be transmitted to the court registry via e‐mail.
c. To create an authentic proof of the delivery of the notices and summons, hand-held devices can be put to use to tag the delivery location via GPS and also photograph the location/individual. The use of hand-held devices will make the entire process more effective, transparent and will also cut down the time taken in completion of service which is a major contributor to delay in court cases.
6) E-orders, E-copies and E-causelists5
I. E‐orders: Order and judgments dictated in open court or in chambers are keyed in by the typists onto their computers which can be accessed by the Judge and corrected without requiring any draft being printed on paper. The finalized orders/judgments would be signed by the judge using his digital signature and would be added to the relevant e‐case files.
II. E‐copies: Digitally signed copies of orders and judgments would be uploaded instantly onto the court website. E‐copies of entire e‐case files would also be made available on‐line to the parties or authorized personnel. Certified copies either in paper form or digital form would be provided by the court registry.
III. E‐causelists: The courts should move towards online cause lists which would be made available through the court website and kiosks in the court complexes. Parties and their advocates could be alerted of their next dates via e‐mail or SMS.
The court administration will also need to be ICT enabled along with the use of ICT in the courts. To turn the administration into paperless would need a document management system and digitisation efforts to convert the existing documents. Further, e-meetings should be encouraged, where members could participate virtually via video-conferencing and all meeting documents, agendas, etc. could be circulated online. Authentication of documents would be done by using digital signatures. The e‐meetings could be fully archived in an indexed database for easy search and retrieval.
National and international judgements, law journals, and databases etc. must be made available to the Judges and their affiliates. This E-library should be made accessible to all courts in the country and other relevant institutions such as the law schools, Judicial training academies, etc.
9) Provide Citizen Centric Services
a) IVRS System for public queries regarding case status and any other details.
b) Informative Website6 which should provide
a. General Court information
b. Cause lists
d. Display Board
e. Court fees
f. Case status
g. Orders and judgments
h. Online forms for applications for urgent listing, inspection, process fee etc.
i. Certified copies
j. Online filing
k. Office circulars
m. Virtual tour, Map and Directions
n. Webcasts of Court functions and special events or cases
o. FAQs Section for Litigants
10) Managed Services Model for the Judiciary
It is suggested to turn to a managed services model under the functional control of the Courts to increase the efficiency of the system and speed up certain processes. The following human resource needs of the courts could be serviced:
a. For Digitisation (man and machine)
b. For encouraging and supporting e-filing
c. IT Manpower for maintenance, troubleshooting and support
d. Judges Support Centre
i. Secretariat Support
ii. Research Support (for Judges or their affiliates for legal research)