Indian judiciary is infamous for its delayed justice system. With around 30 million undecided cases burdened on merely 21000 judges, a rather unfair deal is struck in the adjudication process! In addition to that, new litigants introduce fresh set of cases every year, and the courts get stuck in the vicious circle of logjam. As a result, people are often left with a massive disbelief in the judicial system- thus goes the saying, “justice delayed is justice denied”.
Severe shortage of courts and judges has been generally cited as the main cause of the pendency of cases. However, there are various other factors often overlooked, such as the lack of efficient court systems, frequent adjournments, lengthy manual procedures, redundant paperwork, and so on!
A possible escape from this vicious circle can be facilitated through technology. Technology in law can enable new facets of dispute resolution and can even assist the judiciary in discharge of its duties. At a recent event, Prime Minister Narendra Modi also urged tech startups to find ways to use technology to reduce pendency of Court cases.
Currently, following are the technologies that are used worldwide to assist courts in better adjudication of matters:
e-Courts- These are paperless electronic courts which physically exist but only use computerised systems to conduct proceedings. Indian government is currently initiating this programme at a rather slow pace. Soon, centralised filing centres, digitisation of documents, adoption of document management systems, creation of e-filing and e-payment gateways will be enabled. Video conferencing facility between undertrial prisoners and the magistrate, digital archiving of cases and court records, etc are some of the many features that will be added to e-court system.
Virtualization- Virtualized proceedings are deployed to overcome distance, logistics, and the associated scheduling inefficiencies. The advent of paperless courts, with its attendant reduction in costs, is a necessary first step. Obvious next steps currently being taken around the world include the introduction of electronic systems for sharing of case documents and access to evidence and bundles. Further, an increasing amount of communication between litigants and the Court will take place through online means of communication in order to reduce delays caused through postal services.
Online Dispute Resolution- There are numerous examples of various court procedures or dispute resolution mechanisms, for example, the Money Claim Online and Possession Claim Online systems in England and Wales, which support full electronic transactions, or the Vancouver Civil Resolution Tribunal online system for adjudication of homeowner construction disputes.
Audio-Visual Aids- Use of Video conferencing in order to facilitate the testimony of witnesses situated in far off locations or overseas would save the time of the Court in disposing off cases. Many witnesses, due to safety risks and threat to their lives are often placed under witness protection programmes and video conferencing can be used to secure testimonies from such witnesses. Courtrooms are equipped with electronic equipment which will assist judges and lawyers in producing and evaluating evidence. A recent example is that of the San Diego Superior Court in which the District Attorney issued Ipad’s to all the jurors and produced electronic evidence through these tablets.
Neurosciences- Technologies for imaging the brain have advanced rapidly, to the point where it's possible to infer, for example, what object a person has stolen based on that person's neural activity. Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) is one promising technique for determining a person's guilt. The technique detects changes in blood flow that highlight which parts of the brain are active. Using brain scans, scientists can detect when a person is lying with 70 to 90 percent accuracy.
Robo Judges- Scientists have developed an Artificial Intelligence Computer that is able to look at legal evidence as well as scrutinize ethical questions to decide how a case should be decided. This software was used to analyse a multiplicity of cases of the European Court of Human Rights, and the software predicted the results with 79 per cent accuracy. Although researchers working on the project have stated that the robot judges are not likely to replace real judges, but they can be used prioritise cases or identify patterns in cases which could lead to reduction in the pendency of cases.
There is no doubt that technology will greatly influence future courtroom and litigation practices, but the extent to which change will occur is something that is yet to be witnessed. It will take time for various parties to the court process, such as court administrators, judges, litigants, witnesses etc to get acclimatised to these systems and software. However, given the rapid advancements in technology, along with the initiative taken by various Governments in reducing this backlog through technological and information technology means, we should see a drastic positive change in the manner in which Courts function, which will consequently reduce the pendency of cases.