Magical Proceedings of Justice during Covid Times
I had heard innumerable stories where a “Jinn” would come out of Magical Lamp to grant one’s wish but during these Covid days I have witnessed even the court reaching out to the common people magically. Open your computer and swoosh, like magic, the court, advocates and staff or even parties are magically presented to present their case. They can even get instant justice! This is what I call magic by the magical court, for the people, by the people through magical proceedings.
As has been rightly said, “Necessity is the Mother of Invention”. Covid compelled to have innovative approach for the courts too. As the old saying goes, “Brain is Mightier than Sword”. After all, who can have more brains than our Hon’ble judges and respected lawyers. They immediately thought to resolve the reach and approach issue for the public and its functioning. After these gestures, everybody has understood that “Court is more like a service, than a place”. To answer this like big corporate house which works globally based on video conferencing, the courts in India also adopted the Video Conferencing approach and again resume functioning. Nothing stopped during this period for courts to keep functioning and enable people approaching the courts in difficult times or times of need.
Nation’s demand for social distancing and Covid’s traumatic experience for the entire world is known to all. It could have led to a broken Judicial delivery system, but Courts, by timely adapting the Virtual Court (VC) system, established better rule of law and for prompt relief in deserving cases.
Indian courts realized that it was time, the Court room which is often regarded as the last bastion of antiquated working practices opens its doors to latest technology. Therefore courts taking the responsibility, adopted the system and thus ensured "Virtual Proceedings” were the best way to maintain social distancing, to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and to ensure continued administration of justice too.
Courts were aware that this VC will create psychological pressure on judges, lawyers and staff but they were equally aware that in coming times, technology will emerge as a game changer and this would require all stake holders to use and adapt to the technological skills, in combination with their specialized legal knowledge and therefore, everyone should keep up with the changing times.
Despite all odds, and Covid spread, nothing stopped the courts and lawyers from functioning endlessly day and night. Indian courts have achieved what no other country has achieved - maximum disposal in the entire world. Maximum disposal herein as referred means “Qualitative Disposal”. It is not easy to stay glued on screen for maximum hours, lawyers do one matter or two or max 20 matters in a day, but our judges normally do more than 40-50 cases in a day with only sole aim to give accessible justice.
Hearing on VC is not easy. Many a times, one is faced with such hilarious instances where the “Mic” is left on, of the participating party enabling us to hear voices which disturb the decorum of court and delay the VC proceedings. Sometimes network and other niggling problems happen. In this entire effort of maintaining patience and upholding the majesty of court, both Judges and Lawyers have done wonderful work which commands a salute.
The work of court and lawyers does not end with attending VC or court proceedings, the real story begins just after that. The Judges have to read eFiles, dictate judgments virtually or on audio calls, sign the orders and judgments digitally. Similarly, for lawyers - they have to prepare their case; now here preparing case is not just reading because it involves many things in this digital age. They are required to first get it typed, annex documents, convert to PDF i.e. readable file formats and then get them passed by mentioning the matters before officers of the court registry. All this involves greater coordination and teamwork where the court staff also works very hard and endlessly supports the court and lawyers to make things workable.
During lockdown period and for many months thereafter, everyone was working from home and all things were brilliantly coordinated. Weblink for VCs were generated and court used to assemble on time.
In lockdown period Supreme Court of India heard as many as 7,000 cases and delivered 132 Judgments till June 2020. Our High Court heard 42,377 cases from 23rd March 2020 till 17th October 2020 and passed judgments in many cases. Our district courts were not behind, they heard 6 lakh cases, disposed 50,000 cases and 85,000 applications during this period of lockdown and unlock. Delhi International Arbitration Center (DIAC) also did commendable job in organizing arbitration cases. Arbitrators functioning independently also worked to achieve disposals through VC.
To facilitate the proceedings our high framed Delhi High Court Video Conferencing Rules on 1st June 2020, I will say framing these rules during Covid times was a remarkable achievement by Delhi High Court.
All these efforts prove excellent merger of digital world with physical world and a giant leap towards future. This all started in Covid times and have produced successful results. The way we used to look at court has not changed, the Court today is magical – it is everywhere, wherever you are with your computer, mobile, handheld device or laptops. The only things required are internet, discipline and dignity of court.
I would say that it is a silver lining in the dark clouds brought in by Covid-19 that has fast tracked the process of connecting courts and litigants.
These VC proceedings have made communication easy for everyone. Officers and individual parties involved can join while sitting from office, home or anywhere. Advocates can devote time to other office work and be more productive, thereby cutting their working hours in the day. It helps environment too as the pollution is also substantially reduced because neither one has to use vehicle to travel nor papers are to be printed or photocopied for multiple sets.
As the Covid situation improved, courts have started moving towards Hybrid System of hearing. Hybrid system gives opportunity to participate either physically or virtually making things even easier for lawyers and judges. The Courts have understood that there can never be an experiment with human health and lives, all protocols of hearings have to be followed and it for this reason even digital pass system has been introduced.
It is rightly understood by courts with the introduction of hybrid system, when we have the technology, the opportunity and the experience that validates the switch to virtual hearings for courts at the very least, litigants and lawyers should be given the choice of whether they want to attend a hearing physically or virtually.
Nobody knew that in less than a year, telepresence in Courts will be mainstay judicial proceedings. Matters are decided on merits, it does not matter whether they were decided in physical court or virtual court because now we all know what is “new normal”.
Essentially, technologies alone do not improve the system, people do. We the lawyers, we the judges, we the staff have done what no one could have achieved. We lawyers learnt that we need not interrupt when we feel the arguments of counterparts are factually inaccurate, we thus gained control over our emotions. We have disciplined ourselves and improved our basic performance. This is the real magical performance of magical court. Today we are in era of digital world where everything is in our palms, thus Indian Courts combined with process re-engineering and optimization of court processes, both in its physical and virtual form, are ready to deliver accessible justice in future with immense possibilities in innovation, development and in the benefit of eco-friendly environment.
Lastly, I will emphatically say that we all have upheld the majesty of court from the inception of Covid and now we also have advantage of hybrid system prevalent in court.
Justice always prevails.
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