The present circumstances propelled by a worldwide health emergency has necessitated all in the justice delivery system to look into 'better' use of technology to ensure administration of justice even at an adverse time , bearing in mind that maintenance of law and order by Courts is an equally essential service for smooth functioning of a nation.
The Courts all across India have certainly risen up to the occasion to deal with the sudden vaccum created by the need for an immediate lockdown in the nation, limiting its functioning to urgent matters alone.
This initial step has recently been evolved to give room to methods such as E-filing and videoconferencing. What has been however a cause of greater concern is the need to take long lasting steps in a manner that ensures smooth functioning of courts in the face of any further / other calamitous situation(s). Such a concern , among other things, most certainly stems from the existing backlog of cases.
Does this mean that under normal circumstances there should be no steps taken to better the efficiency of Court systems by adopting technology already available in the market. We think not, more so as such measures for 'better' use of technology in courts could prove to be an environment friendly measure. But having said so, certain important concerns surface . One, if e-filing must be promoted to avert crowding of filing counters, how does one procure signed vakalatnama and affidavit with proper notarization. Second, how many filings must be permitted to prevent any possible system damage due to overloading. Third, parallel amendments must be introduced in the Supreme Court Rules 2013 for documents and affidavits authentication, and a provision made for permitting digitization of signatures of the Advocates-on-Record.
All judges and lawyers would agree that 'crowded courtrooms' have been bothersome. This indeed can be eased off by having the courts function in two shifts (if not on all days), atleast on Mondays and Fridays, hearing 15 matters with intervals of 10 minutes, to be followed in Courtrooms uniformly. In the Supreme Court for instance , on Mondays and Fridays , traditionally admission cases days , the court rooms can function in two shifts and from alternate rooms . For eg : first shift court rooms numbers 1,3,5,7,9,11,13,etc till 1:30 and from 2 pm court rooms 2,4,6,8,10,12,14 etc can function .
On weekdays, have limited matters to avoid crowding of courtrooms, and in case of batch matters - to have only those lawyers in court. This would be crucial to court management as courts reopen, until normalcy resurfaces.
As a rule, only 3 or 4 lawyers be allowed to enter the courtroom per case for either side, with their names given in advance. Lawyers maybe allotted time slots, for example, 10 minutes for admission and 1 hour for final arguments.
Everything else must be placed in written form and handed over prior to arguments , limited by number of pages as may be prescribed.
A decision on admission or dismissal of SLP could be reserved.
If a SLP is admitted, then leave must be granted without retaining the same on board limiting the arguments on stay , if prayed for , as is done with review and curative petitions in chambers.
The other aspect is conduct of court hearing through video conferencing. If this system is recommended to continue perhaps for lawyers in general, a certain age-group of lawyers and / or ones with a certain handicap, steps need to be taken to enable advance circulation of list of books, short notes and any other relevant literature for the court hearing. Written notes in advance with citations to be relied upon, should be insisted .
Views Are Personal Only
(Authors are senior Advocates at Supreme Court)