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What challenges were faced due to virtual hearings in the pandemic?

7 min read

By Samanta Rao

Published On: October 15, 2021 at 14:21 IST

Introduction

Justice delayed is justice denied.

During the period of COVID- 19, Judicial Court system were faced the challenges of handling an ever- increasing caseloads. Virtual courts were previously only used for a few cases like remand of prisoners. The pandemic, on the other hand, prompted the entire justice system to move to a virtual environment. In modern times, digital courts ensure that the essential requirement of a civilised society is not jeopardized.

This article attempts to discuss the negative and positive impacts to virtual hearing during the COVID crisis and highlight that how judicial court system can solve and handle the problem of pending cases. This article will also cover the challenges that lawyers experienced when providing legal services during the pandemic.

Challenged faced in virtual hearings due to COVID-19

  • Delay in the justice system

However, in a normal physical courtroom, to pass a judgement for a specific case after examination of the proof of witness question of law, the judgement for an ordeal takes a long time if it’s far both a summary case or a summon case, and a trial case takes much less time, but in a warrant case, it can take years.

supposedly a warrant case required a physical appearance in the court with the requirement of documents and proves but in a virtual hearing it takes the judiciary a of time in passing a judgement of the case due the inadequate resources, technical glitches, adjournments, and lack of the evidence or witness. Under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, the fundamental right of a person demanding for speedy trial.

  • Presence of witness to proof evidence

According to the Section 273 of Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973Evidence to be taken in presence of accused. Except as otherwise expressly provided, all evidence taken in the course of the trial or other proceeding shall be taken in the presence of the accused, or, when his personal attendance is dispensed with, in the presence of his pleader”[i],

Both lawyer and the accused, along with his evidence, must be present in court before the magistrate. Due to the apparent continuity, there may be possibility of the witness being tampered with, as witness may be found in video conferencing along with his counsel, and thus counsel may coerce witness so that it will acquit them. 

  • Technical difficulties.

Due to poor connectivity, echoes, and other disruptions, Virtual Courts experience technical interruptions during hearings. Other concerns could include the litigant’s lack of confidence in the process as a result of their remote location.

This is also one of major drawback of delay in the process of the justice.

  • Proffering of material and documentary evidence virtually.

Due to the safety measures of the COVID crisis and the absence of physical hearings It was very difficult to prove material and documentary evidence as it was mandatory that the police send their documents of evidence in a scanned manner, and the second difficulty was that the material evidence had to be couriered or submitted physically to the magistrate. So, this drawback would also cause latency in the process of justice.

  • Difficulties faced by the advocates and litigants.

Virtual courts offered a significant difficulty in India, as the majority of the population lives in rural areas and is disadvantaged. IT infrastructure is still a problem for several high courts. Some advocates’ digital literacy is still insufficient to enable them to learn a new system on their own.

Recently Advocate K M Riyaz Ahamed states that an “advocate gets to understand the mood of the judges and stands a better chance at convincing them during physical hearings. However, online hearing creates a psychological pressure on both the advocates as well as the judges.”[ii]

Advantages

  • There is little waiting for some cases to be resolved. If the judge needs to reschedule or postpone the hearing, everyone can wait comfortably in his or her home. This saves on travel costs. There is no need to reserve a room in a courtroom or office.
  • It is easier for lawyers as well as judges to set a specific time for a hearing.

Disadvantages

  • Facing control issues, the judge can’t see what’s going on behind the camera lens. It is harder to enforce the rules when are conducting court virtually.
  • There is a greater risk that many people’s records, including psychological evaluations, medical reports, and other information, can be hacked when you are on a video conference.

The privacy and security of medical records due to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPA) may also be one of the major issues being faced.

E-Committee of the Supreme Court 

The E-committee of the Hon’ble Supreme Court has been functioning since 2005. The panel acknowledged the challenges of virtual courts, but it also said that these courts could bring considerable advancement.

The E committee recommends that the submission of documents such as complaints, affidavits, etc., be done electronically. This will eliminate the need for lawyers and court cases. India needs 12,500 tons of paper, equivalent to the destruction of 3 lakh trees for its court action. Virtual listening should continue even after the COVID-19 epidemic.

It is suggested that even after the COVID-19 pandemic, virtual courts can undoubtedly reduce the backlog of cases and prove beneficial to both the public and the judiciary. It all depends upon litigators and lawyers to adapt to this new normal. A lot of time will be saved, and there won’t be overcrowding in the courts.

What is E-Court Project?

The project was launched at the Indian Judiciary in 2005. It is presented by an e-committee of the Supreme Court on the basis of the National Policy and the Information and Communication Technology Implementation Plan. The aim of the project is to introduce technological advances in active courts.

The concept of the e-court project is divided into two phases.

Phase-1: This phase started in 2007. The main aim of phase-1 was to enterprise the implementation of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in the judiciary system. Facilities were provided to the courts like computers, working internet connection via LAN (Local Area Network) and required hardware and software like printer and scanner etc. Apart from this, digital signatures were introduced, judges were given laptops with internet connection, and district courts’ websites were made functional so that citizens could check their status, daily orders, and final order sheets through these websites.

Phase-2: Case information software has been created which will upload all the court dates associated with the past cases. Video conferencing facilities in courts and mobile applications such as e-court service for district and Talika courts, and JustIs Mobile App for judicial officers have also been developed.

CJI’S Views

The former Chief Justice of India, SA Bobde, held a meeting on March 15, 2020, where it was stated that if video conferences were held in court, then the gathering would be small and the effect of COVID-19 would be reduced. The chairman (Judge DY Chandrachud) of the e-committee of the Supreme Court has announced that the e-mail submission has been received 24 hours and the court proceedings will continue with a video conference.

Chief Justice of India (CJI) N.R. Ramana has expressed his displeasure with the open court over the software that has recently been placed in the Supreme Court for virtual hearings.

“Take out this software and bring the old one. I am very unhappy with this one”, Chief Justice Ramana was heard telling the technicians and court officials present in the courtroom.[iii]

Despite the fact that the court transformed from physical to virtual mode over two years ago without missing a single day of work in the face of a debilitating pandemic, it appears to have yet to find suitable software.

Conclusion

During the period of lockdown amid the COVID-19 pandemic, citizens faced numerous problems with regard to virtual hearings. Judgment for an ordeal takes a long time if it’s both a summary case and a summons case. A warrant case requires a physical appearance in court with the requirement of documents and proof, but in a virtual hearing it takes a lot longer. Due to poor connectivity, echoes, and other disruptions, Virtual Courts experience technical interruptions during hearings.

In such situation the Supreme Court of India changed its operating system into an electric court, that is, e-courts, by establishing an e-committee. The Hon’ble Supreme Court e-committee recommended that filing of documents such as complaints, affidavits, etc., should be done electronically. India needs 12,500 tons of paper, equivalent to the destruction of 3 lakh trees for its court action. Virtual hearings should continue even after the pandemic.

E-courts are developer solution for filling online written statement, plaint or any documents related to the case. Both criminal as well as civil cases can be filed before the High Court or District level of the country.

Spreading awareness of e-courts through lectures and seminars can help illuminate resources and facilitate easier access to courts.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

This article is written by Samanta Rao, a student studying in her final year pursuing BBA LLB from the Center for Legal Studies – Gitarattan International Business School, GGSIPU, New Delhi. The author is an ambitious, confident and hard-working law student. She is very passionate about work. She is highly innovative with a keen interest in writing articles and analysing judgements.  

Edited by: Aashima Kakkar, Associate Editor, Law Insider

References


[i] The Code of Criminal Procedure,1973, s. 273

[ii] Virtual courts and the challenges faced, (Last visit on 5, October, 2021)

[iii] Krishnadas Rajagopal, CJI dissatisfied with new virtual hearings software (Last visit on October 6, 2021.)