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Thursday, September 24, 2020

Virtual courts cheaper, faster: Parliamentary panel bats for ‘digital justice’

This was the first report to be presented by any parliamentary panel on the impacts of Covid-19. The interim report was submitted to Vice-President and Rajya Sabha Chairman Vankaiah Naidu.

By: Express Web Desk | New Delhi | Updated: September 11, 2020 4:50:52 pm
The order was passed by the bench of Justice Arun Kumar Tyagi, while hearing the anticipatory bail plea of Bittu Ram, who has been arrested under Section 379 of the IPC, 1860 (for short 'the IPC') and Section 21 of the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulations) Act, 1957 at police station Koom Kalan, Ludhiana. (File)

A parliamentary panel Friday recommended the continuation of virtual courts, which began in March due to the pandemic, saying “digital justice is cheaper and faster”. The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Law and Justice, headed by Rajya Sabha MP Bhupender Yadav, opined that the court was “more a service than a place”, and that advocates must “keep up with the changing times” as technology will “emerge as a game changer”.

This was the first report to be presented by any parliamentary panel on the impacts of Covid-19. The interim report was submitted to Vice-President and Rajya Sabha Chairman Venkaiah Naidu.

“The parliamentary panel strongly pitched for virtual courts stating that digital justice is cheaper and faster besides addressing locational and economic handicaps; ensures safety of vulnerable witnesses providing testimony; expedites processes and procedures and are an improvement over traditional Courts as they are most affordable, citizen friendly and offers greater access to justice,” a press note read.

The committee also noted that “in coming times, technology will emerge as a game changer and advocates would be required to use technological skills in combination with their specialised legal knowledge and therefore, they should keep up with the changing times.”

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In response to reservations raised by representatives of the Bar, the panel acknowledged that virtual courts had “shortcomings”, but said “they constituted advancement over the existing system”, and were “worth embracing”.

“It is time, the courtroom which is often regarded as the last bastion of antiquated working practices opens its doors to latest technology,” the panel said.

Lawyers had raised the limitations of infrastructure for virtual court proceedings — they claimed over 50 per cent of advocates didn’t have laptops or computers — and argued that it favoured “tech savvy advocates”. They also said it deprived lawyers of the opportunity to alter the course of argument based on the “changing dynamics of a case during a hearing”.

“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… Evidence recorded by means of video conferencing may distort non-verbal cues such as facial expressions, postures and gestures,” they had told the parliamentary panel.

Also read | What the EC has said on voting during the Covid-19 pandemic

The panel suggested that various Appellate Tribunals, like TDSAT, IPAB and NCLAT, move to a system of complete virtual proceedings as they do not require personal appearances of the parties or advocates.

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