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The Revamping of Indian Legal System after Pandemic

The Indian legal system has evolved as a pivotal element of the world's largest democracy and confronting the battle to secure constitutional rights for every citizen. Understandably, the outbreak of Covid-19 has left its impact on the legal system in various ways, from general court closures, E-filing system to video conference hearings. Courts around the country have subsumed technology as the utilitarian method besides restricting hearings to only critical cases.

The judiciary has come under immense pressure to innovate during this pandemic to balance public health concerns with access to justice. These challenges must be turned into opportunities to bring a change in the legal world in a country where the system is already suffering under a burgeoning caseload.

The time is ripe for adoption and popularization of Virtual courts and to adopt these technological frameworks on a wider scale. However, The Bar Council of India has opposed the continuation of virtual hearings once the lockdown is lifted, on the grounds that many advocates and judges are unaware of technology and its nuances. Needless to say, that the Covid-19 crisis is far from over. Is Indian judiciary ready?

Introduction
Courts have traditionally been places where those aggrieved, because of disputes with private parties, or the state's agencies, approach for justice. The present pandemic has shown, with the way IT has been adapted by policymakers, that it is possible to dispense justice, without the interface of a court as a physical entity.

The availability of virtual courtrooms and digital filing can reshape the manner in which litigants and lawyers access them. E-filing inaugurated by the Supreme Court recently, visualizes a state-of-the-art system. Cases can be lodged by lawyers, digitally, from the comfort of their homes; elaborate protocols have been devised. Once this technique is launched and used, the mixing with video-enabled courts can yield great benefits. Further, if the pending hard copy files are also digitized and records in the Supreme Court or any high court are integrated, the transition to a completely digital environment can be easier.

Supreme Court and High Courts can formulate plans supported the supply of infrastructure to conduct virtual hearings or actual hearings, or by running courts in shifts. In case any of the courts are inclined to conduct open court hearings, they'll need to implement some guidelines.

Indian legal system and Covid-19

The spread of Covid-2019 continues unabated. Throwing open courts would mean that every court complex would be thronged by people. As an example, the foremost important district court complex in Delhi sees about 50,000 footfalls a day, on a modest estimate. Jaipur Metropolitan district has 180 courts. on the typical , during normal times, each court deals with 40 cases. Each case potentially has four people attending the court: two litigants and two lawyers.

On a rough estimate, no but 35,000 individuals would be visiting the courts daily. Even within the Supreme Court, the standard footfall is over 5,000; for listing even 80-100 cases before four or five benches, a minimum of 300-400 staff members got to attend the courts. albeit one staffer tests positive, or if a lawyer tests positive, the resulting effect on all others is serious.

Even during lockdown, benches functioned to concentrate to urgent cases; also, many cases were heard where bail was sought. Since last week, three single judge benches have held court. of those are virtual court hearings. About 365 cases were heard and orders made; judges who had heard appeals and petitions previously and reserved judgments, issued such judgments in 75 cases, which disposed of 417 matters. From 18 May, 2020, 12-14 judges are sitting each day , in five bench combinations. Each bench deals with 20 cases. Additionally, 3 single judge benches are hearing 20 cases each.

Those involved in justice dispensation, like lawyers et al. involved in related activities are affected because their normal earnings are meagre. But those concerns cannot at this outweigh the priority that opening the courts fully would expose all to a real danger of infection.

Family courts

Family courts have also seen their work grind to a halt.

Sudha Ramalingam, a family law expert, said visitation - where a parent that has not been given custody is allowed to satisfy a minor child - usually happens within the child care centres inside the court premises. "Now the centers are closed. If a parent doesn't allow visitation, the other parent cannot even approach the court," she said. this is often actually because most of the family law cases aren't considered urgent matters.

Family courts also are an enormous income generator for such lawyers. "I haven't attended any matter after March 23," Ramalingam said. "In the lawyers' circles, we often state that the overwhelming majority of lawyers are almost daily-wage workers. i'm really worried for the junior lawyers."

Young lawyers who depend upon government work for his or her income also are facing the matter of delayed payments. A Delhi-based lawyer said his retention fee of Rs. 14,000 a month from a government board has not been purchased March yet. With no hearings, this instance may continue till the lockdown is lifted.

Overcoming challenges
Once normalcy returns, it's clear that this process won't be applicable. A public function as critical as adjudication cannot believe third party proprietary software. The National Informatics Centre will get to form a platform that has features like videoconferencing and e-filing. this might benefit not just the judiciary but all other components of the justice system - a touch just like the police, prisons and lawyers - and provide more people more justice more speedily.

To be sure, creating a next-generation justice platform won't be without its challenges. For one, it runs the danger of becoming exclusionary. Though information and technology is becoming prevalent, many people should not be ready to navigate a digitally native justice system. As such, the platform must, first and foremost, serve citizens. All other features intended to ease the work of other participants within the justice system should be in commission of this need.

Implementing guidelines
As much of the Supreme Court and much of High Courts will remain closed for the summer, the High Courts can consider constituting committees, because the Delhi supreme court did, to make graded plans for the courts functioning after the lockdown.

They go to formulate plans supported the availability of infrastructure to conduct virtual hearings or actual hearings, or by running courts in shifts. Just in case any of the courts are inclined to conduct open court hearings, they'll got to implement some guidelines. One, only those lawyers/litigants whose cases are listed for the day's hearing should be allowed to enter court halls.

Two, the lawyers must enter in batches consistent with the serial number within the list. Three, thermal image cameras must be installed at the doorway of each court building, to spot risk persons. Four, all entering the court premises must install the Aarogya Setu app on their phones. Five, The Central Industrial private security force Security personnel could even be directed to use the App e-office specially designed to determine the papers and other objects carried by the lawyers/clerks/litigants without touching the said papers/objects. At the doorway of each court complex, an automatic hand wash faucet should be installed. This equipment is operated with a foot tap, which has soap dispensers.

Six, there should be regulations on the way of functioning and running of utility services, canteens, etc., within the court premises with all necessary precautions. Seven, masks, gloves and sanitizers should be made available. Importantly, as junior lawyers are seriously impacted by the lockdown, they have to receive financial assistance (even within the sort of a loan from a nationalized bank) from the Central government.

Suggestions
This may be the proper time to usher in videoconferencing permanently. A bit like many employees are going to be ready to prove the viability of working remotely during a post-Corona world, many litigants who have experienced videoconferencing and e-filing will question why these cannot continue after the pandemic abates. With time and thought, the 2 measures might be implemented better than they need been for now. The Supreme Court, as an example, initially instructed litigants to use an app called Vidyo.

Designed for the United States government, the app raises obvious security and sovereignty questions when used for judicial proceedings. Because it happened, Vidyo faced "unforeseen linkage issues", probably thanks to increased traffic. Lawyers were instructed to supply alternative methods like WhatsApp, Facetime and Skype as a final resort just in case videoconferencing on Vidyo wasn't possible. E-filing, meanwhile, is being conducted via email during the lockdown (the Karnataka Supreme Court has taken the commendable step of providing the Gmail addresses of all district courts).

Conclusion
The judiciary will need to work with mediation and arbitration institutions to tap into existing capacity in quality mediators and arbitrators. In addition, for the post lock-down phase, the judiciary must streamline the handling of all Covid-19 cases by designating specific courts (and judges) as special courts to deal with all such disputes. This will prevent the entire system from collapsing from the sheer volume of cases.

Timely disposal of cases is essential to open up stalled services and industries. More importantly, access to the judiciary is important to give respite to individuals suffering from financial, emotional and physical duress. The readiness of the judiciary will determine the lives and fates of businesses and individuals in the coming few months. Failure to require necessary measures won't only end in a judicial crisis, but also a judiciary induced crisis on an already suffering nation.

Bibliography:
  • K. Subramanian, Senior Advocate and former Advocate General of Tamil Nadu. - The Hindu
  • Justice S Ravindra Bhat, Supreme Court - Economic Times
  • Madhav Chandavarkar, The coronavirus pandemic is an unfortunate opportunity for India's judicial system to modernize, Scroll.in

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