Poor infra hits virtual court proceedings

City COVID-19 Governance Legal Tech

By Abhishek Saini

Bengaluru: Lack of proper infrastructure, application software, and trained personnel in the Court of Small Causes and the City Civil Court is hampering the implementation of virtual court proceedings in Bengaluru.

“I just had to show one document. Now, I’m waiting for the lawyer to get the work done. All this would have been avoided in online court proceedings,” Jabir Khan, who has a pending civil case, informed The Observer.

Prathap Gowda, who was attending a matter in the City Civil Court, said: “This court hardly has infrastructure available for online proceedings. When other institutions can get no-contact practices then why not our courts?”

In September 2020, the Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice, chaired by Bhupendra Yadav, submitted a report to the Rajya Sabha, recommending implementation of virtual courts.

The committee also noted that out of the 17,920 court rooms in the country, only 3,477 have facilities that support virtual court proceedings.

Speaking to The Observer, Kalyan B, an advocate, said: “There is no infrastructure in Bengaluru. We do not have a dedicated software to keep records. The staff is unfamiliar with technology and needs to be trained.”

The Karnataka State Bar Council, responsible for the enrolment and skill enhancement of staff in courts, has started training programmes for staff, as well as advocates.

“Our focus is not only on improving the technical abilities of our advocates, but also to train them in a way that helps them in advancing in their overall careers,” said Arun Pujar, Manager, Karnataka State Bar Council.

The smaller courts also face a problem in scheduling online hearings thus causing problem to advocates and citizens.

“The lower courts tend to be busier, therefore it gets difficult to find slots for hearings. This problem increased since online hearings have representation from both sides which took time to complete,” said Avinash S, who works in the Court of Small Causes.

The situation is better in the Karnataka High Court.

Suhas BS, an advocate practising in the High Court said: “Virtual proceedings are more convenient. We’ve been given the required set of infrastructures to function. The internet is good and the systems have been ramped up since the pandemic.”

Another advocate practising in the High Court, Srihari NS informed: “The concept of virtual courts is good, but it has some glitches. On occasions, we’ve to attend 2-3 sessions continuously which becomes difficult in online courts.”

“An update of infrastructure is certainly required and our judicial system is capable of pulling it off,” added Srihari when asked about improving the infrastructure in lower courts.

However, advocates are of the opinion that the scope for having better discussions and arguments is more in physical hearings than virtual courts.

“We get a better back and forth argument during physical hearing which is absent in virtual courts,” informed Avinash S.

“We can make spontaneous, over the bar submissions in physical courts. During online courts it is very difficult to assess the mood of the judge, so we cannot change our arguments accordingly,” said Srihari.

Maintaining decorum in online courts is another problem during online court proceedings. On March 16, 2021, the Karnataka High Court issued a fresh set of guidelines, emphasising the need to maintain decorum during online proceedings.

CS Patil, a lawyer who is currently working at the Karnataka State Law University in Hubli, and has been associated with the profession for over 30 years, feels that the pandemic has brought a perfect opportunity to switch to online courts.

“Online courts are a feasible idea now. They require basic technology that anyone can use, and they save cost and time. No doubt, there is a need for skill enhancement in courts, but our judicial system is strong enough to overcome this hurdle,” said Patil.

On August 6, 2020, Karnataka flagged off its first virtual court in Bengaluru, to hear uncontested minor traffic offences. By November 2020, the virtual court in Bengaluru had received 6,612 challans, out of which proceedings for 6,569 cases had been completed.

The aim of introducing virtual courts is to unclog the judicial system of pending cases and reduce the workload on judges in lower courts. The citizens and advocates hope for the basic infrastructural obstacles to be removed to ensure that a proper judicial system is maintained.

abhishek.s@iijnm.org

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