The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has been identified as a "public health
of international concern by the World Health Organization. One thing
is for sure that it will not end soon even it is reappearing in some countries
again and again after its extinction. Due to this pandemic, a complete
nationwide lockdown was declared. The crisis which is going to flood while the
world grapples with the coronavirus is unimaginable.
The COVID-19 era has forced
us to change our lifestyle and courts rooms are no different. Everything is
eventually being done virtually. Therefore, a proactive approach is needed to
insulate legal system from breakdown, for this even in such troubling times, the
Supreme Court is working towards making virtual litigation a reality, and for
this it has evolved with new ways to set up more virtual courts to ensure that
the lockdown and apprehensions over the spread of Covid-19 do not adversely
impact timely delivery of justice.
Before proceeding further first let's know about what actually virtual
hearing/virtual court means?
A letter from the Supreme Court Registry states that:
- Virtual court is a concept aimed at eliminating the presence of
litigants or lawyers in the court and adjudication of cases online
- A virtual court means a location in which matters of law are adjudicated
upon, in the presence of qualified judges and which has a well-developed
- Virtual Hearings allow injured workers, attorneys/representatives,
witnesses and other participants to attend hearings online. Participants
will no longer have to travel to a hearing site to attend their hearing.
Supreme Court of India
shall continue functioning through the virtual court system for the present,
with further direction that the matters may be listed before hon'ble
judge-in-chambers as well as before the court of the registrar, through virtual
court system only, to enable wider participation of learned advocates.
During initial phase of lockdown only urgent matters were taken into
consideration but now it has been extended to non-urgent matters also. The
COVID-19 hasn't left us with any option except digitization of courts without
giving us a time to consider the pros and cons of e-courts, but the alternative
chosen needs to be assessed to ensure justice without any havoc. Now let's focus
upon what are some of the hindrances because of which e-courts are less
effective and what measures can be taken to make it more efficient as well as
Virtual hearings prove to a costly affair as, some of the advocates may not
have smartphones or laptops. During this pandemic many advocates are already
struggling to make both ends meet, they are not in a condition to afford a
premium on advanced handsets or laptops. With the virtual courts proceedings
proper internet connectivity must be there and not only connectivity but a fast
speed also matters a lot and in India where majority of its population belongs
to rural area and is underprivileged, virtual courts posed a great challenge for
Also, with the digitization of world many other problems such a hacking
and cybersecurity may be of huge concern. Proper infrastructure stills remain a
problem and because of which vast majority of people are suffering. It is
apropos to mention that there are still some high courts that faces shortage of
IT infrastructure. Additionally, digital literacy of some advocates is still not
up to the mark that they can learn all by themselves and be habitual with the
new system within days or weeks. Psychological pressure also creates a hurdle in
Recently Advocate K M Riyaz Ahamed states that he believes that physical hearing
trumps virtual system when it comes to the nuances of the trade. 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
explains. To buttress his point, Ahamed recalls watching a video on social
media wherein a single judge of the High Court Bench shared his experience on
virtual hearings. The judge said that during the initial days of
video-conference hearings, he lost his patience and scolded a young advocate.
The reason he attributed for the outburst was the tension while adapting to
virtual hearings. The single judge took recourse to yoga and meditation to
prevent any such outburst in the future. Absences of human insight and empathy
are also a barrier in virtual hearings. Adversity in recording witnesses is also
one of the major issues. When it comes to recording of witness, courts used to
be much cautious as because the destiny of the matter is decided mainly on the
deposition of witness recorded in his witness.
However, imagining recording of witness through video conferencing may face
many difficulties, as in trial court, many trial courts are not well equipped
with internet infrastructure and facilities & during recording of the witnesses
of plaintiff/defense has get prepared well in advance & need assistance during
the deposing his witness like refreshing the memory which evidence law provides,
even the court would miss the facial expressions, gestures. Delay in streaming,
may create doubt on recording of testimony.
Also managing to get clients and arguing cases successfully in the virtual
courtrooms also does not guarantee payment of fee. �Due to lockdown,
face-to-face interactions with clients have become limited. clients too are the
victim of this pandemic so they cannot be compelled to pay. Other issues might
involve the litigant's lack of confidence in the process due to lack of
What can be the way forward?
To summarize it can be said that, virtual hearings can be a alternative for
judicial system during this global pandemic but not an absolute solution, and
for that we can take some measures to make it more successful. To address the
challenges the First and foremost thing is to upgrade the present state of
The government need to identify and develop infrastructure that would be
required to support virtual court programmes. People and litigants who are
having problem in accessing the digitalized judicial system can be imparted with
training sessions. Creating awareness around e courts can help people knowing
the facilities and ease which e-courts can facilitate.
The government must make dedicated efforts in the training of personnel to
maintain all the e-data which includes maintaining proper records of e-file
minute entries, notification, summons, warrants, bail orders, order copies,
e-filing etc. for ready references. Another important aspect can be focused is
the deployment of robust security system for data protection. Therefore, finding
more such mechanisms will help to move it in a right path.
One must remember that the revolution that is the virtual court system is
because the outbreak of COVID-19 & not preplanned execution; hence the courts
are treating virtual court as an option not as absolute.