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Long-distance marriage,online divorce: Technology to the rescue

One may dismiss this as impossible,but both these matters were settled in one hearing each. Technology made it possible. Using video-conferencing,the parties appeared virtually before the court...

More and more family disputes are being settled through video-conferencing in Delhi courts

* Married in 1995,Sujata and Rahul had developed temperamental differences after a couple of years. When they separated in 2000,the court had granted the custody of the couple’s son to Rahul under mutual agreement. But Sujata took him along when she shifted base to New Zealand,though with Rahul’s consent. Schools in New Zealand,however,did not give admission to the child on this ground. While the matter required to be settled before a local court,and her divorce petition,too,was still pending here,it was difficult for Sujata to fly down at regular intervals owing to job constraints.
* Vijay and Preeti met on the Internet and got married. Differences arose between them soon and they moved a local court,seeking divorce by mutual consent. While Vijay was a resident of the US,Preeti lived in Delhi,and according to the established legal procedures,both parties had to be present in the court for the divorce to be granted.

One may dismiss this as impossible,but both these matters were settled in one hearing each. Technology made it possible. Using video-conferencing,the parties appeared virtually before the court,their statements were recorded and orders passed. While Rahul handed over the legal custody of their son to Sujata,Vijay and Preeti got a divorce and moved on with their lives.

Of late,video-conferencing has emerged as a strong tool for the courts to decide not only criminal cases but also family disputes.

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Though video-conferencing for judicial proceedings is not new in India — fake stamp paper kingpin Abdul Karim Telgi’s complete trials in as many as five cases were conducted through this method — its use in resolving family disputes has gained prominence only in recent times.

The first divorce through video-conferencing in Delhi took place at Karkardooma courts in September 2006,almost a year after the technology was introduced in trial courts. It was a petition for divorce through mutual consent. Since the wife worked at a multinational company in the US,she faced difficulties in flying down to India for every hearing. As a result,the case could not proceed expeditiously. Additional District Judge (ADJ) Deepak Jagotra then suggested video-conferencing. The hearing was fixed for September 25,2006,and the court passed the decree of divorce the same day. The woman had given the power of attorney to her father,who signed on various documents on her behalf.

Media reports about the first online divorce had even drawn the attention of the then President A P J Abdul Kalam,who invited ADJ Jagotra to visit him and apprise him of the modalities of the proceedings through this technology.

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Subsequently,in a first,ADJ Kamini Lau had given her nod to video-conferencing in a case pertaining to the custody of two siblings. In March 2008,the court recorded the statement of an NRI doctor,seeking the custody of his two minor daughters. The doctor had sought exemption from travelling to India,following which the court asked the Ministry of External Affairs to arrange for video-conferencing to facilitate a speedy disposal of the case filed in 2001. Lau had also allowed the doctor to interact with his daughters through the webcam installed at the Tis Hazari courts.

The most recent decision through video-conferencing came in April when ADJ Arvind Kumar allowed the transfer of the custody of Rahul’s son to his mother. The child was required to have a resident status in that country,and a legal decree according absolute guardianship to the mother was a must for his admission in a school there. The court held a hearing through video-conferencing and settled the matter.

Vikas Singh,former additional solicitor general of India and a Supreme Court lawyer,said the Indian legal system was adapting to modern know-how. He said: “The use of video-conferencing should help decide the cases that have been pending for years only because a litigant cannot be brought to India.”

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By reducing the need for transporting high-security prisoners,Singh added,the entire courtroom experience could be made shorter,safer and more cost-effective.

The technology,however,is in its nascent stage and requires a lot of improvement. Durgesh Rao,a lawyer who appeared in the custody case in April,pointed to a number of hitches that prevented optimum use of the technology. “There is confusion over the software to be used in the proceedings. Connectivity problems coupled with a lack of trained hands in the court act as major impediments,” said Rao.

*All names of litigants have been changed to protect their identities

Video-conferencing: The knowhow

Video-conferencing enables a litigant to be involved in a hearing from a remote location. A witness can record a statement and produce evidence before the court via a video link. The technology needed to establish the link is relatively simple. A screen and a camera with a microphone are required at each location. An ISDN telephone line is used to electronically transmit pictures and sound between the locations. A connection is made by dialling the telephone number allocated to the relevant location.

First published on: 11-05-2009 at 02:24:45 am
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