June 12, 2024

Syllabus: General Studies Paper 2 (Governance)

Context:

In popular perception, indian courts aren’t associated first with the delivery of justice, but with long delays and difficulties for ordinary litigants. Consistent with data released by the supreme court within the june 2020 newsletter of the e-committee, 3.27 crore cases are pending before indian courts, of which 85,000 are pending for over 30 years.

E-courts project:

  • The e-committee of the supreme court of india recently released its draft vision document for phase iii of the e-courts project.
  • Phases i and ii had dealt with digitisation of the judiciary, i.e., e-filing, tracking cases online, uploading judgments online, etc. This has helped in easing justice delivery procedures.
  • For example, phase ii of the e-courts project saw the development of the national service and tracking of electronic processes, software that enabled e-service of summons.
  • Despite some hiccups due to the covid-19 pandemic, the supreme court and high courts have been able to function online.
  • Phase iii of the e-courts project, reaffirms its commitment to the digitisation of court processes, and plans to upgrade the electronic infrastructure of the lower judiciary and enable access to lawyers and litigants.
  • Most importantly, the phase iii proposes an “ecosystem approach” to justice delivery.

Right to speedy trial:

  • The supreme court has ruled out that the right to speedy trial in all criminal prosecutions is an inalienable right under article 21 of the constitution.
  • This right is applicable not only to the actual proceedings in court but also includes within its sweep the preceding police investigations as well.

Concerns:

  • Poor implementation of electronic solutions: the e committee of the supreme court launched a mobile application called national service and tracking of electronic processes (nstep) expeditious service of notice and summons. But it is seldom used.
  • Also, there is a big digitaldivide between courts, practitioners and clients in metropolitan cities and those outside.
  • Increasing class inequality:it has been pointed out by organisations such as the criminal justice and police accountability project that the icjs will likely exacerbate existing class and caste inequalities that characterise the police and prison system.
    • Police’s discretion in data creation:this is because the exercise of data creation happens at local police stations, which have historically contributed to the criminalisation of entire communities through colonial-era laws such as the criminal tribes act of 1871, by labelling such communities as “habitual offenders”.
    • The data collected, shared and collated through the e-courts project will be housed within the home ministry under the icjs.
  • Data privacy: the “seamless exchange of information” relies on large-scale gathering and sharing of data.
    • The supreme court must take care not to violate the privacy standards that it set in puttaswamy v. Union of india (2017), especially since india does not yet have a data protection regime.
    • Data can be a useful tool for solving complex problems.
    • For example, to address the problem of cases pending simply for service of summons, phase ii of the e-courts project saw the development of the national service and tracking of electronic processes, software that enabled e-service of summons.
  • Profiling and surveillance: no clear explanation has been offered for why the home ministry needs access to court data that may have absolutely no relation to criminal law. This process serves no purpose other than profiling and surveillance.
    • Unfortunately, there has been a dangerous trend towards creating a 360-degree profile of each person by integrating all of their interactions with government agencies into a unified database.
  • The government is the biggest litigant.
    • There is too much litigation from the government side
    • Poorly drafted orders have resulted in contested tax revenues of rs 7.58lakh crore.
  • Judges’ vacancies: high courts currently have a sanctioned strength of 1,080 judges and are working with only 661 judges, leaving 419 posts vacant. This approximates to a 39 per cent vacancy and is a worrisome figure given the level of pendency in the courts in india.
  • Poor funding: the budget allocated to the judiciary is between 0.08 and 0.09 per cent of the gdp.
  • Low technology awareness in lower courts: about 87.54 per cent of the total pendency of cases is in the district courts where judicial activism does not exist.
    • Lower judiciary has not adapted to technological solutions
  • Archaic laws or vague drafting of laws: the delay is also because of stay orders granted by the courts primarily due to poorly drafted and poorly reasoned orders.

Conclusion:

The progressive approach of the supreme court, the rapid adjustment to online courts, the work being done across several spectrums by the government of india, and a fast evolving landscape in law and technology make this the most critical opportunity for transformative change. We have known the problem all along. Now we can actually work on solutions for tangible and sustainable outcomes.

https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/the-promise-and-perils-of-digital-justice-delivery/article34773168.ece

Question- digitisation of courts will provide immense boost to our justice delivery system. Comment ?

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