Significance Of Virtual Court Trial And Anodic Testimony Amidst the Nationwide Lockdown
The Coronavirus pandemic and the nationwide lockdown has highlighted the pressing need for large- scale adoption of technology to conduct judicial proceedings.
Mechanism and Precepts of Virtual Court
During the period of the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Supreme Court on 06th April 2020, passed the guidelines for the conduct of court proceedings across the country via video conferencing. Interestingly, in a deviation from regular practice, on 07th April 2020, the High Court of Telangana passed certain directions for the conduct of hearings via video-conferencing in the state during the period of COVID-19 lockdown. On 08th April 2020, the Bombay High Court issued special directions in connection with the live-streaming of matters.
The concept of ‘Open Court’ is mentioned in Article 145(4) of the Constitution; and Section 327 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, in our law system.
Complications and Issues in Open Justice
There’s a huge gap in connectivity between the states depending on their network infrastructure. While Delhi and Mumbai assert about 2.20 crore and 1.5 crore Internet connections respectively, the other part of the country like the North-East region has only about 4.3 lakh connections. There are still a majority of citizens who would continue to suffer due to a lack of basic infrastructure. Yet, the High Courts across the country face a shortage of IT infrastructure. To make such drastic technological advancements in practical use, there should be an exhaustive digital literacy and training to be given to all judicial officers, advocates, and other court staff related to all the procedures, including those in charge of filing and presenting files before the appropriate court.
Other challenges are regarding the demeanour of witnesses and false evidence. When a person is physically present particularly during cross-examination, it leads to the easy discovery of truth, as it can serve important expressive functions. An inability to cross-examine properly may lead to a high increase in error risks. Further, the threat of identity theft by either party or even by a third party is a challenge regarding this. In standard practice, litigants typically identify themselves before their counsel before filing anything before the courts and the counsels are required to identify their clients. In non-virtual proceedings, hearings are still held in court before a judge, so it is more difficult to steal another’s identity. But this concern increases when more activity is conducted online, without human supervision.
The Lawyers' opinion about the virtual court is regarding various problems they face, especially related to the proceedings, from sending a PDF file of their applications to address their arguments through video link.
Avenue of Changing Justice as Prone to Modifying Transition
Just like a coin has two faces, the system of online proceedings has pros as well as cons. From a positive point of view, the likelihood of video-conferencing is expected to stay with Judges noticing its time-saving potential and ability to fast-track cases. It will make justice accessible, available, and affordable to a large section of the population and help in overcoming physical and logistical barriers that prevent many litigants from seeking justice.
It is the work of praise for such quick adoption of virtual courts by the Apex Court and few High Courts, but the video conferencing strategy raises some serious and complex concerns. It is not going to easily encounter problems, especially when the majority of the citizens do not have even simple access to the internet or any form of digital literacy. Of course, there are many hurdles to be crossed in terms of infrastructure and technology networks, privacy and confidentiality, and most importantly, changing people’s mind-sets. Here a lot of drastic changes will be required like proper training and awareness, a user-friendly technology platform, better connectivity, and strict security protocol.
Virtual Courts are not going to take the place of traditional court proceedings. As the Supreme Court Judge and e-committee Chairman Justice D.Y.Chandrachud said, “virtual courts cannot replace open court hearings. Open court hearings constitute the spine of the judicial system. But it is the need for a pandemic crisis that warranted reliance on technology and it would continue to play a major role in speeding up justice dispensation.”
By concluding this concept, the Virtual courts and online hearings will become a permanent part of the future. This doesn’t mean that physical courts will completely vanish or virtual courts are going to be an alternate for the open court hearings. But the future scenario will be different where virtual and physical courts are going to co-exist, with technology transforming the entire judicial process.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Richa Kumari is a student at the Central University of South Bihar.
Edited by: Swathi Ashok Nair
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