Virtual Courts may not be the Substitute to Physical Courts, but They have Come to Stay

The more we get aged, the more diffident we become in adopting the new technology or anything new because our mental blocks often come into the play. This is what we find in the functioning of the courts as most of the judges and the lawyers have been pursuing a set pattern of filing, removing defects, appearing, and arguing before the courts. Most of us have become habitual of the system that has been in the vogue for decades together. Judges have also followed the same trend year after year. This is the reason that most of the aged and comparatively old judges usually pose mental resistance in adopting the new technology. The same is the case with the elderly lawyers, court staffs and the persons manning the registry.

Although the introduction of modern technology in the courts have started for quite a long time it has not got expected result and speed until very late. We have been hearing about the paperless courts but to the best of our knowledge, only a few of the judges of the Delhi High Court has been able to dispense with the paper files. These judges certainly deserve kudos for being technology savvy. Majority of the judges have, however, been using the files in the physical form to which they have been accustomed to for many long years in the profession. In the Supreme Court, the E-filing was introduced nearly 15 years ago but it was more only for the namesake. Most of the advocates have been filing their cases in the physical form (hard copy) as it has been easier for them. The new generation of lawyers and the registry staff have albeit, been very enthusiastic in changing over to the new system propelled by the new technology.

Thanks to COVID 19, everything has gone topsy-turvy. The efforts for change over to new technology have started with all seriousness in the last two and a half months. Credit goes to young and enthusiastic engineers of information technology and the strong desires of some of the judges, who have been able to transform the functioning in the courts by removing the hurdles and obstacles with breakneck speed. Many judges have really worked extremely hard for switching over to the new system of Virtual Courts where everything is done by the technology. Hopefully, in the days to come it will become indispensable and the most-liked form of conducting the cases right from the Supreme Court to the lower courts. The problem, in fact, in lower courts may not be as difficult as in the higher courts because the new breed of the judges, who get their entry at the younger age and is more adaptable to the new technology. There is no doubt that the technology will help in the expeditious disposal of the cases ensuring un-delayed justice to litigants.

Here I wish to narrate my personal experience. Although I have been using the PC for more than three decades and the Laptop for two decades, yet it has been mostly remained confined to sending and receiving emails or for composing works. Except for personal emails, almost all other composing work has been done by my assistant colleagues in the office. WhatsApp and Twitter came very late and I am still not very conversant in handling the different aspects of WhatsApp and the Facebook etc, What has, however, aroused and stirred me to write on it, is my first experience of the Virtual Court, which I have had it the day before yesterday i.e. on 26th of May. I was informed by the text message from the Registry of the Supreme Court, two days in the advance about the case which was listed in my name before Virtual Court number 8. I was asked to upload my appearance on the given email and on the morning of 26th May, half an hour before the hearing started, I was given a link to get myself appeared before the court. I must confess that it could not have been possible for me to tide over the initial glitches without the help of my young lawyer son Utkarsh Pandey. He made me amazingly comfortable and told me that when the item number was called, I must show myself. Lo and behold! the magic screen was opened, and I presented my case. All the nervousness was gone and got converted into a thrill and excitement.

This is certainly not something to boast of, but the purpose of this post is certainly to enthuse and inspire all advocates and implore them not to be hesitant in arguing and conducting their cases before the Virtual Courts. Some minor problems may crop up, but they will certainly instil a new sense of confidence. The more we get accustomed to the new technology the better it is for the advancement of the judicial system.

There are many advantages which can be enumerated in the introduction of new technology. It is bound to bring more transparency and would be quite helpful in eradication of the corruption. My friend, Advocate Shreepal Singh agrees with the Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari that technology will work wonders in the days to come. Everything will be so open that the danger to privacy will become real. The biggest gain will be in maintaining the competence of the high standards. The paperless offices and courts will save thousands of tons of paper every year. Trees will be saved, and the balance of the ecology and the environment will be easy to maintain. Corruption is an inherent part of human handling, but technology will ensure transparency and non-manipulation at different levels. It may be noted here that only a decade ago a Non-Resident Indian litigant from London sat on a dharna outside the Supreme Court because he had found that his case, which used to be listed on many dates was getting deleted without assigning any reason thereof. He had doubted that some persons were able to get his case deleted by greasing the palms of some persons in the registry. Now when there will hardly be any human interface, the chances of corruption will be considerably minimised.

However, there will be many insurmountable difficulties for the lawyers. It will be difficult for them to find the cases for conducting without face to face interactions with the clients. The bantering, the wits, the warmth, and the repartees will be missing in the Virtual Courts. It is always a pleasure of meeting the lawyers in the courtrooms and barrooms and exchanging pleasantries and learning many nuances of advocacy in the courtrooms. Here my son tells me that it can be compensated to a large extent if the all the proceedings of the courts are live-streamed; so that anybody can watch them. The live streaming of the court proceedings will, undoubtedly, instil and inculcate more confidence of the people in the judiciary. Besides, it will be more meaningful and useful for both lawyers and litigants as well. Virtual Courts may not be the substitute to the physical courts, but they have become inevitable when the technology is moving inexorably.