This article is written by Anand Singh, a student from the Hidayatullah National Law University (HNLU), Raipur. In this article, the author discusses the ongoing digitalization going on in the Indian legal industry, and its impact on the Indian judiciary. Further, the article also talks about the lack of knowledge about digital services in the help desks of the court, how it affects the digitalization of the courts, and what possible steps can be taken to tackle it.
Table of Contents
Information Technology (IT) advancement has always been a transformative force in any business industry. The focus is on enhancing customer service and utilizing data for improved decision-making on a global scale. The digital India initiative launched by the Indian government is also assisting in the revolutionization of the Indian industries. The legal industry in India has not remained uninfluenced from its effects, but it is still at a nascent stage in the context of digital growth. As legal departments and firms are becoming more conscious of the cost efficiencies provided by IT, the effect of legal technology is quickly transforming their way of operating. Despite the rapid growth of digitalization in the Indian legal system, the lack of digital expertise among the help desks of courts poses a great challenge. The importance of imparting digital education among the help desks of courts cannot be overlooked as in accessing the benefits of virtual or online courts these help desks play a very crucial role.
Growth of digitalization in India and how the legal system is adapting to it
Due to the Coronavirus pandemic, a large component of the legal framework has shifted to an online approach in the last year. As a result of the digitalization of the legal industry, multiple new trends have emerged. The following are some of the revolutions in the Indian legal industry:
Artificial intelligence/ robot advocates
The legal system of India is filled with repetitive paperwork and many other kinds of routine work. Since its inception, Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been able to modify the legal industry and minimize monotonous work such as contract management, and legal research. Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas, one of the leading law firms of India took a major step by establishing a platform for the country’s maiden artificial intelligence project.
Online legal services
With the advancement of artificial intelligence legal services have become more easily accessible. The number of online platforms providing potential clients with the opportunity to connect with lawyers for basic legal services is steadily increasing, ranging from trademark registration, registration, and execution of wills, leases, contracts.
Improved client service
New possibilities for optimizing the lawyer-client interaction are being established by legal technology. The client experience is getting enhanced by a variety of portals and collaboration platforms, such as virtual presence and availability, awareness about the state of the case, and document exchange.
Virtual courts – a great step towards digitalization
The government is also encouraging the digitization of legal practice, with various initiatives underway to integrate technology into the Indian judiciary. The e-courts mission project, guided by the Supreme Court e-Committee as part of the National e-Governance Plan (NeGP), began the digitization of Indian courts intending to create a more accessible, inexpensive, dependable, and transparent judicial system. The e-Courts initiative has so far been divided into two phases, with the Supreme Court e-Committee seeking proposals for Phase III in 2021, to accelerate the digitization process in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.
In essence, Phase I of the e-Courts projects was primarily concerned with hardware installation, or the computerization of the courts till April 2014, with a total expenditure of Rs. 935 crore. The main objective of Phase I was to extend specialized services to litigants, advocates, and the judiciary by computerizing all district and subordinate courts across the country and strengthening the judicial system’s Information and Communication Technology (ICT) capabilities.
The main aim of Phase II of the e-Courts project, which began in 2015, was the betterment of software of the digital infrastructure. Phase II was executed, with a total budget of Rs. 1670 crore, to upgrade infrastructure based on increasing technological advancements and remedial action based on data gathered in Phase I, such as access to video conferencing in all the courts and legal aid offices, regular update of data on the National Judicial Data Grid (NJDG), which enables people to track the status of cases all around the country, optimal case process automation, digitalization of case records, etc.
The implementation of Phase III is yet to begin. In the Draft Vision Document of e-Courts Project Phase III released by the e-Committee, the primary goal is to establish an “ecosystem” model in which systems interact with one another. The document proposes a digital case registry, a database of case laws, intelligent scheduling, a digital case management framework, e-filing, and open digital proceedings, among other ambitious initiatives, which will be based on an intelligent system that makes decisions based on judicial data.
Key benefits of digitalization of the Indian judiciary
E-filing of cases
Filings are documentation that outlines the facts of the case as well as the legal problems at hand. Before the case is heard by the judges, lawyers must submit these documents to the court registrar. The Indian courts are clogged with innumerable files and limitless stacks of paper, because of the archaic procedures of filing cases. In Singapore, e-litigation is prominent, and incorporating technology into courtrooms has resulted in a significant reduction in paper consumption. It has an electronic filing service (which allows users to file court documents electronically), a service for obtaining information electronically, which enables lawyers to get court document copies. This facility aids the Court in reducing its paper trail, but it also assists lawyers in keeping track of all Court records.
Digitalization of court records
The process of digitizing court records implies scanning previous documents and case information and transporting them to a database. Courts can also utilize technology to minimize crowding, particularly in instances involving minor offences such as traffic violations. A National Data Center will aid in the storage of all information about pending activity, filings, stages, and resolutions, and case subject matters. The technology would compare and assist subordinate courts in efficiently delivering justice in situations where precedents exist.
Online court proceedings
Selected cases can be followed by parties engaged in the case along with public stakeholders such as journalists via the video conferencing service. Live broadcasting of judicial proceedings can assist in eliminating physical obstacles to reach courts, reduce crowding and congestion in courtrooms, encourage greater understanding, and educate public as well as law students about how courts work, and result in the notion of open courts being extended. Courts have also begun to adopt cross-examination and testimonies with the usage of electronic means.
Lack of digital education among the help desks of court – a drawback for the legal system
Despite efforts like digital India, there are still numerous cases pending in the courts, which is a harsh reality behind this mini-revolutionization of law and justice in this digital era. It is because a vast majority of the Indian population is digitally untrained to comprehend and utilize technological advantages. The ambition of virtual courts will not be realized to its max potential until the general public is adequately educated to take full use of their benefits. Help desks in the Indian courts can play a critical role in addressing this problem. However, despite the digital transition of Indian courts, the help desk services are still far from being fully digitalized due to a lack of digital knowledge among them. The present state of the support help desk is as follows:
The lack of motivation among help desks to upgrade to a more advanced digital infrastructure
For the time being, the help desk’s digital transition is still behind schedule. We are no longer in the 1980s, but despite the emergence of digital transformation projects and technology, users still prefer to reach desk support through phone calls, and even litigants and lawyers prefer to call the IT-support help desk when they need assistance.
Additionally, when some employees are approaching retirement age, they are forced to learn new knowledge and skills (in IT and programming) in order to cope with technological renewal in automation and digitalization. Thus, they lack the motivation to educate themselves about technological advancements. Self-service portals are becoming more popular, still, they are quite rudimentary in their services. There is a significant disconnect between this digital transformation plan, and the use of more efficient digital procedures and AI chatbots.
Even end-users have difficulty in deciding which form to fill out from an IT service management (ITSM) platform or navigating through a bundle of frequently complicated or outdated documents on a portal or knowledge base.
Automation is still not common
The amount of automation at court help desks is still in its early stages, and more than half of the inquiries are not addressed automatically without human involvement. At the help desk level, the adoption of ITSM solutions such as robots, bots, chatbots, more advanced Virtual Agents with Artificial Intelligence, and machine learning is still restricted. Therefore, every little query needs to be addressed by a human, adding unnecessarily to their workload and preventing them from learning about more advanced technological systems.
Consequences of the drawback
The fundamental concern with this issue is that not everyone is comfortable with the new tools and means of justice delivery, even if everyone has access to decent internet services. The primary aim of the e-Courts project was to make justice more accessible to every section of society, but the lack of expertise of the help desk services, as well as the lack of automation, makes the courts even more inaccessible to the general public. Moreover, the cost-effective factor is also compromised, as, in the end, people have to seek guidance from professionals, due to the lack of knowledge among help desks.
Future ahead and the possible ways to cope with digitalization
Steps that could be taken to address these issues:
Setting up a national policy
To overcome the existing issues regarding help desk services, by far the most necessary step is to develop a policy that encourages the establishment of more skilled help desks. It is vital to have a well-defined and pre-determined policy framework since it will aid in the development of a definite roadmap and direction for India’s e-courts system.
The need for a better infrastructure
The necessity to improve the current infrastructure is another essential requirement. The government must identify and create the necessary infrastructure for a better functioning automated help desk service that will take up the burden of routine work, to facilitate the e-court initiative.
Organizing training programs
To manage all of the e-data, the government must invest significant resources in workforce training. These include keeping accurate records of notification, summons, warrants, bail orders, order copies, e-filing, and other similar activities for future reference.
Increasing awareness of e-Courts through speeches and seminars can help bring the benefits and convenience that e-Courts can provide in the limelight.
To conclude, enhancing the quality of courtroom technology is a prerequisite for virtualizing the courts. The fact is that, due to the enormous number of intricacies involved in hearing cases, online delivery of court services is not as straightforward as setting up a videoconference. The total digitization of courts, both at the upper and subordinate levels, can only be achieved through educating help desk services about the IT and digital infrastructure.
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