"I do believe that the Supreme Court of India has truly become a national court in terms of the lawyers who appeared before us. Because day in and day out, we find lawyers from across the country, shedding their inhibitions of having to appear before the highest court and coming to us fully prepared and putting forth a client's viewpoint with a great sense of objectivity. I think we have become more inclusive through the video conferencing facility, with lawyers from Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, West Bengal, Jammu and Kashmir, Orissa and Uttar Pradesh appearing before us in the course of our proceedings", said Justice D. Y. Chandrachud on Saturday.
The Chairman of the Supreme Court E-Committee was speaking at the inauguration of the Orissa High Court Digitization Centre, Paperless Court, e-Filing Stations for Advocates, Hands-on Training for Judicial officers on conducting Virtual hearing and Hands-on Training on e-Services for the Advocates.The judge expressed that the past year has posed an unprecedented challenge and has given them an opportunity, as members of the Indian judiciary, to re-conceptualise the ways and means of administering justice in the country. While efforts to modernize the judiciary had started with the launch of the e-courts project in 2005, the past year has witnessed the transition of the judiciary into a virtual workspace. Many of the above activities which were unheard of – functioning of online courts, virtual courts proceedings for traffic and petty offences, a repository of metadata of cases in India, the payment of fines and court fees- have been made possible through the constructive use of technology. Justice Chandrachud expressed that he was amazed by the instance of the recording of evidence through a video conferencing platform in a district court.
The judge told that the website of the Supreme Court E-Committee has been re-designed on the SWAAS platform to give ownership of the same to the High Courts; there is a page on the website where all High Courts can showcase their best practices and share their experiences, their ideas and the steps that they have taken in this direction. [S3WaaS: Secure, Scalable and Sugamya Website as a Service is a website generating and deployment product hosted on the National Cloud of NIC. It leverages technology to generate secure websites using templates that are highly customizable and can seamlessly be deployed on a scalable software-defined infrastructure]
"One of the initiatives adopted by us in the Supreme Court is to provide through the auspices of the Indian Post copies of our certified orders to litigants at their doorsteps so that the litigants don't have to come and apply for certified copies and then pursue their request. This is something which can also be done. A paperless court is meaningless if opportunity is not provided to litigants to file cases electronically. It was with this goal in mind that the e-committee of the Supreme Court designed the e-filing system to save cost and increase efficiency in the management of court. The present e-filing system not only provides for ready-made templates for easy drafting of pleadings but it also ensures online submission of vakalatnama, e-signing of documents, online payment of court fees and numerous other facilities"
In the context of the Chief Justice's court in the Orissa High Court going paperless, Justice Chandrachud said that since time immemorial, a classic portrayal of the court, a judge or a lawyer has been a version of a person or an institution buried under a mountain of paperwork. "I was chuckling to myself when I was hearing the learned Advocate General (of Orissa) and watching him, because behind him I could see a pile of briefs ready for Monday morning, and perhaps opinions as well for the state government. So deeply ingrained is this image in our minds that a paperless court almost sounds paradoxical to an uninitiated person!", quipped the judge.
He elaborated that the emphasis on e-filing and transition to paperless court relies on the effective digitisation of court records of new and pending cases,
"Several months ago, I had constituted an expert committee for digitisation of court records across the country and to prepare a standard operating procedure for digitisation, because one of the pitfalls we have to bear in mind is that the technology which was prevalent just about a few years ago has now become obsolete. So the purpose of having an SOP for digitisation is to ensure that we have a truly synchronised platform for digitisation of court records across the country and which can be amalgamated and merged with the case information software. The committee is in a very advanced age of completing its work and we have associated best experts from across the country and I will shortly be circulating the SOP so that this could also be adopted in proceeding ahead with the course of digitisation of court records", he informed.
Justice Chandrachud added that the digitisation of court records, however, forms only the first generation of reforms for shifting from paper books to digital filing and that the massive investment of public money in the creation of this infrastructure must lead to more structural changes in the administration of justice.
The judge told that with the creation of the National Judicial Data Grid, the e- committee of the Supreme Court seeks to have a repository of metadata of 4.61 crore cases. The grid has a mine of data which will be helpful in innovating solutions for court management.
"For example, the Grid indicates that a total of 1.82 lakh cases are pending in the Orissa High Court and around 82% of these cases are pending at the admission stage. This is an extremely important initiative by the district judiciary and High Court in Orissa because it enables us to understand the causes for pendency and delay. This kind of data then can assist the Chief Justice of the High Court in the scheduling of cases, identifying the nature of pending cases and ascertaining the targeted solutions for overcoming bottlenecks in the judiciary. It is only when we use technologies' transformative potential will we be able to reap the benefits of the e-courts project and all its initiatives", said Justice Chandrachud.
The judge relayed that they have a new judgment search profile as part of the E courts project, the embedded feature of which allows for filtering of available results-
"As of date, 55 lakh judgments from across 19 High Court are currently available on the judgement search portal. Virtual court proceedings for the traffic challans have been completed today in 86 lakh cases and Rs. 175 crores of fine has been realised. The Grid has, for as many as 25 High Courts, data pertaining to 56 lakh pending cases and 3 crore disposed off cases. So I would request both members of the bench and the bar to use these facilities."