Chairperson of the e-committee, Supreme Court judge, Justice DY Chandrachud said on Tuesday that electronic filing of cases will have to eventually take over physical filing at some point of time.
While the shift to e-filing will begin slowly, eventually there will have to be a cut-off date when physical filing “in paper form” won’t be accepted, Justice Chandrachud stated.
In this regard, he highlighted that a committee has been set up to formulate a standard operating procedure for the digitisation of court records, which is being chaired by a distinguished scientist.
“One important thing we came to know is this – at some point in time, we have to ensure e-filing takes over paper filings. We can at least start with small things like applications that are presented to the court, vakalatnamas, small applications for executable orders…so, we have a cut off date beyond which we would accept those applications only in the e-filing mode. Because digitization should not mean we are doing all our work in the paper form, scanning those paper documents and then uploading them for being digitised. Digitisation must also postulate that after a cut-off date we would be gradually accepting in the electronic form” he said.
From that perspective, E-Sewa Kendras and the training of advocates is crucial, he added. He also observed that while there is a certain degree of resistance to technology, once advocates get to know that it is so simple and for their benefit and the benefit of litigants, the process of e-filing and digitisation would be considerably simplified.
Justice Chandrachud was speaking at the virtual inauguration of three E-Sewa Kendras for the Patna High Court, Patna Civil Court and Panchayat Raj, Lakhnaur.
The Supreme Court judge also acknowledged that many of the problems faced in India today are inherited from the structure passed down on the eve of the country’s independence.
“But over 70 years down the line, as we approach the third quarter of the century, I think we should now be making an effort to modernise the Indian judiciary …set it (judiciary) on a platform, and using technology truly to convey the benefit of the services which we provide to common citizens for whom we exist,” he opined.
In the course of his address, Justice Chandrachud spoke of the crucial role played by E-Sewa Kendras in bridging the gap between the Court and litigants.
“E-Sewa Kendras show that technology is for the benefit and use of every citizen…Very often it is said that the Courts speak an elite language, English… E-Sewa Kendras represent an effort (by the court) to access citizens (instead of it being the other way round)… they represent a citizen-centric technology, which provides confidence in the judicial process… where citizens understand the court process without the help of an intermediary,” he said.
Justice Chandrachud detailed the various E-Court services made accessible to litigants through E-Sewa Kendras. He further informed the audience that Rs 12.5 crores has been given to all High Courts to establish E-Sewa Kendras. 22 High Courts and 249 District Courts presently have E-Sewa Kendras, he noted. Kerala presently has the most number of E-Sewa Kendras, followed by Orissa, he added.
He went on to highlight that it is not enough that E-Sewa Kendras are established. Rather, awareness should also be spread about the existence of these facilities, he said.
He further pointed out that advocates also need to be trained in using the E-Court services available, through E-Court training programmes. Advocates are among the most important stakeholders in the system, he remarked. On this note, Justice Chandrachud also informed the audience that there is data to show that 93 percent of the advocates who undergo training programmes become confident enough to train others, thereby becoming master trainers.
The E-Sewa Kendras inaugurated today will serve the cause of access to justice for all stakeholders, even in the remotest areas, Chief Justice of the Patna High Court, Sanjay Karol said.
Justice Ashwini Kumar Singh of the Patna High Court observed that the E-Sewa Kendras were designed with the aim of liberalising accessibility to e-court services, with each Kendra to serve as the first point of contact for a litigant.
Justice Shivaji Pandey of the Patna High Court spoke of how the E-Sewa Kendras would help poorer litigants and litigants from rural villages as well, by ensuring that equal justice and free legal aid are not denied.
Appreciating the challenges overcome after the COVID-19 lockdown
The fact that the virtual inauguration event took place a year after the COVID-19 lockdown was first announced in India (on March 24, 2020) was also not lost on the dignitaries.
Chief Justice Sanjay Karol began his address by paying tribute to the lives lost amid the pandemic. He observed that while anniversaries of adversities are generally not celebrated, it is important to look back and see what has been overcome and to look forward with a renewed sense of commitment to ideals. Judges always have to keep the wheels of justice moving, he said.
“… from the last year, we have come a long way from petitions being typed on typewriters to e-filings and e-hearings“, Chief Justice Karol observed, adding that this shows that there has been a great tectonic shift of the human mindset.
He added that this would not have been possible without Justice Chandrachud’s efforts. He also commended the success as being a result of the joint efforts of the Bar, the Registry and judges, all of whom deserve thanks. The Judiciary must continue to evolve, Chief Justice Karol said, adding that the “past year has shown we are capable of doing so.”
Justice Chandrachud observed that between March 24, 2020 and March 20, 2021, 1 crore and 22 lakh cases were registered in District Courts across the country. Over 71 lakh cases were disposed of, he added.
Solving more problems using NJDG, technology
Justice Chandrachud also spoke on how the National Judicial Data Grid (NJDG) can aid in monitoring pending cases and the reasons for their pendency. In Bihar, for instance, he pointed out that one of the oldest criminal cases is from 1971, which has been pending for the last 40 years because the “accused is absconding.”
“The virtual statistics available at our command can help us to better manage and track pending litigation,” Justice Chandrachud said.
He added that such electronic information can also be used to asses the district judiciary, in lieu of the Court and judges having to submit paper registers to the High Courts.
“The amount of time that is consumed by judicial officers in sending these periodical reports to the High Court and the amount of paperwork which is involved – much of this paperwork can now be obviated by electronic inspections of our district courts. The manner in which we assess our district judges can be fundamentally changed by recourse to technology,” Justice Chandrachud said.
Patna High Court’s Registrar General, Navneet Pandey rendered the welcome address for the event. The event came to a close after the vote of thanks by District Judge at Patna, Sunil Dutt Mishra.