In March 2019, suddenly our life took a 360 degree turn when coronavirus a.k.a covid-19 came in India at a faster rate and suddenly all our daily routine work got stopped. This pandemic trotted out a very difficult and new challenge that was never dealt with before. Everything was put on a hold and more specifically it became a grave challenge for the ‘legal world’.
The dreadful time we are living in with the constant fear of covid-19 pandemic poses us with a complex challenge for those who work in the field of justice and law- including judges and prosecutors and to its conclusiveness and strength.
This public health situation is not going to close out anytime soon and as we all are well aware of how necessary it was to protect the society in the fight with the collision of the pandemic, it was very much urgent to take major steps to protect the society and at the same time delivering the justice at the right time which turns out to be a great hind crane for the legal society and the people associated with the same. With a lockdown being imposed on the whole nation and keeping in mind the consequences of physical gatherings, the judicial system across the whole nation started to operate the judicial system through the online video-conferencing system escorted with the establishments of e-filings and e-payment wherever is possible. To deal with the current pandemic, the court system was shifted to a digital platform in the meantime. Courts and judges are using the digital platform to support and deliver justice on time to people. In extension to this, the court system can take this chance as a favour and to change the way of working and functioning and to modify how amendments take place here.
The pandemic has produced a state of flux as far as these elements are concerned. The sole concept of ‘access to justice has been subjected to a new unique challenge, never faced before. Precisely, the judiciary has responded notably by, without hesitation, harnessing technology to ensure that access to the courts is not impeded.
Any new technological development invading the system will cause some sort of discomfort as it takes far beyond our comfort zone here.
For instance, the advent of the internet and information technology resulted in the enactment of the new statute, namely the Information Technology Act, 2000, and amendments to the age-old Indian Evidence Act, 1872. Since history is full of examples of the law adapting to ‘change’, there is no reason why the pandemic should be any different. Indeed, it is not so, as is evident from the dynamism and adaptability demonstrated by our legal system.
The bar and bench had whole souled welcomed the technological changes and ensured that the system works properly and accordingly. courts are in operation, and we can assure benefactors that the system, though brought down by the pandemic’s mayhem, has been revived. The only facet that ‘access to justice has adopted during the pandemic is ensuring ‘access’/ ‘remote access’/ ‘virtual access’, which is many steps ahead and far more positive than ‘no access.
The phrase ‘access to justice means that there will be access to courts and the judicial system without any delay in that. This requires pieces of training and other support for the judicial system to enable them to use and get indulged with such technologies.
They also need to understand the issues emerging with the new digital court system and need to support the litigants having issues in using and accessing the system.
The conventional legal method requires the court to investigate and analyses the testimony of witnesses along with their acts, which also enables lawyers to uncover the facts. It would not be feasible to do so in the case of online hearings and there would be sufficient space for the parties to testify negatively or falsely. The online platform also presents a possibility to identify fraud on the part of the parties or any third party, since there would be comparatively less human oversight compared to physical hearings.
The main advantage of virtual hearing is the minimum need to travel which will add up in greater amount towards the safety of the citizens.
Without any doubt, this situation is a win-win situation for the judicial system and a high time to accept law and technology and to promote them.
The current scenario is highly asking for the change in the system to ensure the safety of everyone and delivering justice at the same time.
Technological development has penetrated people’s lives and equally can be used by the court system to lessen the pendency of the cases and to increase the number of disposal of cases.
On the other hand, the concept of virtual hearing should only be stuck till the time of the pandemic.
The virtual courtrooms cannot vanish the importance of open court hearing process of the administration of justice. In deficit technology and inadequacies of the virtual justice system have been faced by all those who have witnessed before virtual courtrooms, and the difficulties posed by Proponents have been reported in a huge way.
Technological advancement in the administration of justice must also be incorporated in a progressive, systematic, and staggered fashion, with protections to ensure that the concept of open court hearings is achieved holistically and that it does not conflict with the administration of justice or the integrity and majesty of open court hearings or interfere with any interests of the litigants or witnesses.