Traditionally speaking, courts in India have, for time immemorial, functioned as 'physical courts'. The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in an extraordinary and unprecedented crisis that, has affected the world at large, and has also posed many challenges on the ability of the judiciary to administer and effectively dispense justice. On the basis of the inputs and opinions rendered by experts across the world, it is more or less certain that this abrupt halt in 'normalcy' due to the pandemic is here to stay for a while. It is imperative that during such testing times, we as a community, strive towards arriving at viable and practical solutions, so as to assist the court in performing its duties. Courts are an essential service for civil society. In the wake of this pandemic, courts across the country have gone into an urgent-only, online-only mode with electronic filings, mentionings by way of e-mails and, in certain exceptional cases, conducting online hearings via video conferencing / video calling facilities. It would not be out of place to say that E-Courts have their own limitations, as has been experienced by lawyers, litigants and judges alike. However, merely providing ad-hoc solutions, in a situation where we do not have any clarity or time frame as to when the courts will be able to function at full strength again, it is necessary that we recalibrate our approach and adapt to this new status quo that has emerged. The underlying object of this piece is to supplement the already existing solutions and steps taken by the authorities strictly inasmuch as the functioning of the Hon'ble Supreme Court of India is concerned, and throw light on certain aspects that may be taken into consideration for the effective dispensation and administration of justice.
Humanity has to come through, withstand and outlast this pandemic with a solution-oriented approach. Infrastructure and technology will need to be rapidly elevated, this presently is the best way forward. The legal fraternity has never been rigid nor averse to changes. The legal fraternity have come a long way from times of typewriters to photocopies to emails to video conferencing methods in serving the society as Judges and lawyers. Justice through digital platforms is the new age phenomenon. Even the conservative traditional methods have gradually evolved and are widely accepted by all. Therefore, justice through digital platforms are going to be the new normal in times to come.
Access to justice to all and opportunity to effectively present the case is a core aspect of administration of justice. Therefore, in my opinion, a blend of both the options i.e., the hearing through virtual courts and the limited benches of physical courts will go a long way in serving the needs of the time.
Views Are Personal Only
(with inputs from Ms. Ankita Sharma and Ms. Nikita Capoor, Advocates)