With the pendency of cases in crores, there is an immediate need of an action plan and a streamlined process from the highest to the lowest courts of justice.
- The Supreme Court and High Courts are qualifying certain matters in the category of “Urgent Matters” and “Emergency”.
- The lower courts do have an online system of filing cases, but there is no provision to bring those cases on board because of a lack of technology infrastructure.
- Bar Council of India has claimed that over 90 percent of the lawyers are completely oblivious to the technology.
- Access to the Supreme Court and High Court is right now only confined to PILs relating to the pandemic.
“Justice delayed is justice denied” this is exactly what the people are facing today amid the Covid-19 chaos. When the pandemic started disrupting lives and economy, it also shook the most important pillar of democracy – the judiciary. It was just the beginning of the nationwide lockdown in 2020, when the Supreme Court of India decided to put a stop to physical hearings. This led to the beginning of virtual hearings.
With the fear of the system collapsing, the court decides whether a particular case falls under the “Urgent Matter” or “Emergency” and then takes it ahead. Now the question arising here is that what about a person who is waiting to get the bail? Does he or she qualify for the “Emergency” situation? These questions have put the whole system in ambiguity as lawyers are facing tremendous pressure.
Increase in Pending Court Cases during the Pandemic
|Date||Supreme Court||High Courts||District and Taluka Courts|
|March 2020||60,603||46.43 lakh||3.21 crore|
|June 2020||60,628||47.96 lakh||3.29 crore|
|Jan 2021||65,086||56.62 lakh||3.72 crore|
|May 2021||67,898||57.84 lakh||3.84 crore|
Fiasco at the grassroot level
While India is struggling with the disruptive second wave, the district and taluka level courts are fighting for transition from physical to digital format of the courtroom. Over a year has passed since the pandemic began and the pendency of cases hit a frightening record number of 4.4 crores by April 2021. The reason behind this alarming number is that, there is only provision to file the cases online at this level as the courtroom drama has come to a standstill.
The pendency of court cases has hit a frightening record number of 4.4 crores.
Due to the lack of infrastructure and mindset to accept the change, the lawyers are unable to function smoothly in lower courts. The incompetence in understanding the technological intricacies is not only constrained to the network, connectivity, and infrastructure. The lawyers are just not comfortable and accepting in putting the technology to use. Because of these accessibility issues, many lawyers had written to the Chief Justice of India to ensure the return of the physical courts. Not just that, the Bar Council of India has claimed that over 90 percent of the advocates and lawyers are completely oblivious of the technology.
The struggle of the Apex Courts
The vital function of the Supreme Court is to see the constitutionality of the legislation, review petitions, and uphold the constitutional rights of the citizens. But with the demanding times, the apex courts have become confined just to PILs and are giving guidelines to the center. PILs concerning to oxygen beds, vaccination, Covid-19 medicines have resulted in giving directions to the ministry by the High Courts.
And finally, the worst has happened, the litigations have piled up into an insurmountable challenge for the courts. This situation demands amendments. But who is responsible to do so? Be it the manpower or technological implementation or budget allotment, an arrangement must be made in the judicial system. The delivery of justice must be considered as a necessity just like other essential Covid-19 services such as medical care, food, and employment. Since people’s livelihood depends on it, an attitude of neglect is disruptive to people’s belief in justice.
The delivery of justice must be considered as a necessity just like other essential Covid-19 services.
It is commendable how the USA, Italy, Singapore and Turkey have already established Virtual Courts that handle matters right from minimal civil disputes to complicated criminal cases. The Parliamentary Standing Committee (PSC) of the Department of Personnel, Public Grievances and Law and Justice submitted a report on Virtual Court. The report mentions, “In Virtual Courts, Plaint and other documents are filed electronically, arguments are heard over videoconferencing/teleconferencing, evidence is submitted digitally, judges decide cases online either presiding from the physical Courtroom or sitting in some other place.” Despite the setting of Virtual Courts, the question for examining the witnesses is still there.
Have we missed the bus?
Instead of just doing the talks, it is now time to implement and ensure these plans are working at the grassroot level as well. Just like other countries, the technological revolution in the judiciary should have taken place years ago. That would have hugely helped today to this pillar of democracy in times of the pandemic.
Here’s is one real-time solution to this issue. Under the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987, the Lok Adalats hold a statutory status and are deemed to a statute of the civil courts. These courts are fulfilling the motto of “Justice at Doorstep” right from the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic by conducting e-Lok Adalats. And 15 states have successfully organized it. This initiative is not only cost-effective and also excludes all the organizational expenses. Then why can’t these e-Lok Adalats be made more functional and accessible to citizens?
There is an instant need for this transition and all the lawyers, judges and litigants should be brought under a training program which is user-friendly. Justice is for us to be stronger and not miserable. As citizens, getting justice is a fundamental right and no one should be deprived of it. On that note, a massive change is the need of the hour.