Chief Justice of India Sharad Bobde Saturday described the pandemic-induced digitisation of justice dispensation as an irreversible change that needs to be further expanded to cover the entire country to remove the inequalities that it has unintentionally thrown up due to its current limited coverage.
He was speaking before a select audience after inaugurating the country’s first “e-resource centre” (NyayKaushal) at the Judicial Officers’ Training Institute (JOTI) here.
“After the onset of pandemic, hearing cases physically had become dangerous. So, we got down and chalked out plan for e-hearing and managed to continue the functioning of SC. I am very proud to say that we have been able to contend the court’s functioning and maintain the rule of law,” Justice Bobde said.
He, however, added, that “technology-dependence of justice delivery is here to stay. But this had also unintentionally created inequality between those who can access justice and those who can’t. We have heard about some lawyers being forced to sell vegetables and some even contemplating suicide. So, it is necessary that this technology (e-hearing) be made available everywhere. Removing these inequalities should be our next emphasis.”
The programme was attended among others by Chief Justice of Bombay High Court Dipankar Datta, SC judge Bhushan Gavai, Administrative Judge of Nagpur bench Justice Ravi Deshpande and Justice D Y Chandrachud of the Supreme Court, who is Chairman of SC’s e-committee, who joined by e-link.
E-resource centre is a faculty that facilitates filing of cases in Supreme Court, High Court or District Court sitting at Nagpur. It would also facilitate online hearing of cases. This will save time, energy and money.
Justice Bobde also inaugurated four chambers for lawyers at JOTI that can be used for online hearing of cases.
He also inaugurated a virtual court of Transport Department, which would deal with cases of traffic challans, from Katol town of Nagpur district.
Saying that the creation of e-resource centre at Nagpur was a step in that direction, Justice Bobde further said,”It started here not because I am from here but because India’s Zero Mile is located here. This has to be spread all over the country as soon as possible.”
He also read out figures of cases settled at various benches of the Bombay High Court by e-hearing during the pandemic. Justice Bobde also pointed out how limited e-hearing facilities have created “unintended inequalities” at the Bar.
“Juniors lawyers don’t get exposure during hearings. We must face the reality of what had happened because of what we are doing. E-resource centre is a step in the direction of mitigating these problems. Now SC can be accessed from any court in India. But more small centres need to be opened to ensure access to justice for all. I would appeal to you that you should mobilise all state governments to ensure that the technology reaches the villages.”
Alerting the judiciary to “a post-pandemic flood of litigations”, Justice Bobde also emphasised on greater stress on alternative dispute redressal (ADR) mechanism. “Let’s make mobile vans with internet connection and generators available for mediation, not just litigation,” he said.
Justice Bobde reiterated his insistence on using artificial intelligence in justice dispensation. “With an AI system in place, we can read up to one million characters in one second. That can quicken the availability of necessary information. This is our future direction. We must ensure that it is used,” he said.
He specifically advised the use of AI in disposal of accident cases. “Thirty percent of pendency of litigation is of these cases. With AI, these decisions will not take more than 2-3 months for disposal. This can be also applied to Negotiable Instrument Act (cheque bounce) cases,” added.