Justice Chandrachud Bats For Digitisation Of Court Records, Lauds Orissa High Court Model

Jyoti Prakash Dutta

10 Sep 2022 4:59 AM GMT

  • Justice Chandrachud Bats For Digitisation Of Court Records, Lauds Orissa High Court Model

    The Orissa High Court observed the 'First Anniversary' of the Record Room Digitisation Centre ('RRDC') on Friday at the Odisha Judicial Academy, Cuttack. The event witnessed the virtual presence of Dr. Justice Dhananjaya Y. Chandrachud, Judge, Supreme Court of India and the Chairperson of the Apex Court's E-Committee as the 'Chief Guest'. Chief Justice of the Orissa High Court Dr. Justice...

    The Orissa High Court observed the 'First Anniversary' of the Record Room Digitisation Centre ('RRDC') on Friday at the Odisha Judicial Academy, Cuttack. The event witnessed the virtual presence of Dr. Justice Dhananjaya Y. Chandrachud, Judge, Supreme Court of India and the Chairperson of the Apex Court's E-Committee as the 'Chief Guest'. Chief Justice of the Orissa High Court Dr. Justice S. Muralidhar, Judges of the High Court and the members of the RRDC Committee headed by Justice Debabrata Dash remained present on the occasion.

    While beginning his keynote address, Justice Chandrachud expressed his immense pleasure to deliver the speech on the occasion as coincidentally he was the one who had inaugurated the Centre last year on 11th September. He said, the Orissa High Court has been truly in the 'forefront' in implementing initiatives of the E-Committee of the Supreme Court of India. He vividly remembered his last year's address at the inauguration of the RRDC and the launch of the e-filing stations and the first paperless Court in the Orissa High Court.

    Words of Appreciation for Orissa High Court:

    He said, the mark of this one year exhibits a period of continuous efforts, of hardwork and perseverance towards institutionalising the digitisation in Courts. He stated that framing of a policy in a room of policy-experts is not the most difficult task nor is its initiatives, it is important that we continue implementation of the project.

    He applauded Orissa High Court for being an 'exception' and for putting incessant efforts to institutionalise digitisation. He expressed his satisfaction over the fact that Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) on digitisation has been followed in letter and spirit.

    He said, while the onset of pandemic had radically changed the usual working of our justice delivery system, it also presented our institutions with a unique opportunity to build boldly upon this transition and put in place improved and sustainable systems of Court services. He highlighted that transformation of our justice delivery system requires the building up of Court capabilities that are scalable, stable and crucially designed for the use both by laypersons and lawyers. 

    "Today, from that perspective, I am very proud to witness the first of the many transformations in action at the Orissa High Court, which are being spearheaded by Chief Justice Muralidhar", he added.

    By establishing the record room and initiating the process of digitising records, he said, the High Court has not only created a sustainable service which can outlast the pandemic but also ensured that the initiatives are no longer in response to a difficulty but rather they are driven by an active endeavour to create a robust judicial system that is open and accessible. He expressed his satisfaction and mentioned,

    "The record room has digitised over 5,19,075 files so far. This is truly a commendable feat, which has ushered in an era of open and transparent justice delivery system."

    During the speech, an interesting thing happened. While Justice Chandrachud was speaking something, he lost his internet connection. It took moments to join back in the meeting again. After he resumed his address, he remarked, "Sorry, as with all the technologies, there is always a little glitch which we can overcome of course." This triggered a good laugh from the audience.

    Then he proceeded and told the audience that the metadata which is stored in such digitised records will further serve as fail-safe mechanism to ensure that legacy records of the pending cases are not manipulated. 

    "Once such digitisation process is standardised across Courts in India, it will ensure the inter-operability between data repositories, which will make our justice delivery system more seamless and efficient", he said.

    Three Important Features of Digitisation:

    Justice Chandrachud mentioned three important features of digitisation. Firstly, the Court is an institution of records. The mandate is to store Court records for perpetual use. It is challenging to store documents in hard form and to prevent their degradation. He said,

    "Recently, I saw images of deplorable state of Court records across the country and digitisation, therefore, is an able tool that aid us in preserving the documents. Digitisation, in a sense, has heritage value for researchers. It places all our Courts, including the Orissa High Court in a unique position in the history of our nation. The records are being digitised, commencing from the Sadar Dewani Adalat from the 1800's".

    Secondly, he said, digitisation would promote transparency, access and efficiency and third, digitisation would promote better management of knowledge and information flows.

    Initiative Taken as a Judge of Bombay High Court:

    He also shared his own initiatives as a Judge of the Bombay High Court and said,

    "When I as a Judge of the Bombay High Court, I initiated the digitisation of the library, which also included digitisation of prominent cases, such as the trial of Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak. Thus, digitisation of Court records is not really an end in itself. More than being just an end in itself, it is a means to achieve meaningful impacts, such as reducing the carbon footprints and putting into educational and literary use, to ensure that such proceedings are accessible to all stakeholders when required."

    Fallouts of Non-Digitisation:

    He expressed grief that prior to the digitisation of records and even today, there are multiple instances where Court records are not available to litigants. He said, this is either because the Court records are not stored with adequate care or the case files are so voluminous that their translated and certified copies cannot be produced without causing undue delay.

    He underlined that digitisation of Court records must go hand-in-hand with endeavours of e-filing. It is not desirable that advocates file cases using hardcopies, which are subsequently digitised by the Court staff.

     "This not only requires the engagement of all human resources, but it is also counter-productive to our aim of reducing the carbon footprints", he added.

    'Green Bench' Initiative:

    He then mentioned about his recent decision to convert his Constitution Bench to a 'Green Bench'. He said,

    "Just a couple of days ago my colleagues on a Constitution Bench and I decided that the Bench should be a 'Green Bench', where we would operate in a paperless manner. We have offered to hold training sessions for counsel so that the transition from a Court scattered with papers to e-files would be smooth and effective. I noticed a few reluctant faces amongst the Bar. I was able to relate to them. Because as humans, we tend to fear the unknown. We are often satisfied and contended with the system howsoever inept and inefficient our system may be. However, I also tell myself, we must embrace the unknown."

    He quoted George Bernard Shaw, who had famously observed, "Progress is impossible without change and those who cannot change their minds, cannot change anything." He said, the key for us is really to change our minds. Because when we change our minds, we will be able to change ourselves and the world around us.

    'Infectious Enthusiasm' of RRDC Staff:

    He expressed his deep sense of appreciation for the Court staff engaged in digitisation in the Orissa High Court, in RRDC and also across different institutions throughout the nation.

    "I saw for myself last year the almost infectious enthusiasm. The infectious dangers of COVID were, so to speak, converted into the infectious enthusiasm of the Record Room of the Orissa High Court. It just shows us how with a little optimism, the humanity can confront the most difficult times and challenges. Therefore, I must compliment all of you."

    He said that the digitisation of records is a long process which starts from the transportation of the disposed of documents from the Courts to the RRDC, the scanning, indexing and verification of the scanned copies to the shredding of documents. He was impressed by the efforts and the quality control to ensure that whatever is digitised is actually assessed in terms of its utility and value. "It is through the continuous efforts of the staffs that we are able to slowly but steadily realise the future of our paperless Courts", he stated expressing his appreciation.

    Appreciation for Odisha Govt. & Concluding Remarks:

    He joined Chief Justice Muralidhar in appreciating the State Government of Odisha, which extended all the supports to the initiatives of the Orissa High Court. Lastly, he congratulated the Chief Justice Muralidhar, the Judges of the Orissa High Court and the entire team of the RRDC on the momentous occasion of the first anniversary of the Centre. He sincerely hoped that the initiative is able initiate a meaningful conversation amongst the Bar and the Bench on the need to modernise and transform the justice delivery system for the future. He concluded by saying,

    "Before I end, I must tell you that what I have seen when I came to the project site last year and what I have seen now, has sown a seed of a thought in my own mind that perhaps we can use this not merely for the Orissa High Court, but the Supreme Court as well."

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