Continue virtual courts even after pandemic, embrace latest technology, says House Panel

Our Bureau New Delhi | Updated on September 11, 2020

The Standing Committee of Parliament on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice recommended continuation of court proceedings over video conference even after the pandemic. A report of the panel, headed by BJP leader Bhupender Yadav on the “Functioning of the Virtual Courts/Court proceedings through video conferencing” said virtual Courts have their own shortcomings, however, “they constitute advancement over the existing system, and therefore, on the overall, they are worth embracing.”

‘First Covid impact report’

The report was submitted to the Vice-President M Venkaiah Naidu on Friday. Rajya Sabha secretariat said the report is the first of any standing committee to be presented on the impacts of Covid-19 pandemic.

The Committee held a series of meetings with Secretaries of Departments of Justice and Legal Affairs, Secretary General of the Supreme Court and representatives of the Bar Council of India, Delhi High Court Bar Association and Delhi District Bar Association related to the functioning of Virtual Courts.

‘Antiquated working’

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

The panel argued 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.

It asked the Centre to enable necessary infrastructure for integrating virtual courts into the country’s legal ecosystem and to address shortcomings.

The panel recommended that virtual proceedings can be extended permanently to various Appellate Tribunals such as TDSAT, IPAB, NCLAT which do not require personal appearances of the parties/advocates. On matters relating to administrative and other tribunals too, the panel said personal appearance can be limited to the time of final hearing.

Infrastructure gap

Representatives of lawyers told the panel that over 50 per cent of advocates, mostly at the district and lower courts, do not have either a laptop or a computer and lack skills required for virtual proceedings.

Over 14,443 court rooms in the country are yet to be supported with facilities for virtual proceedings. “Virtual Court facilities have been operationalised between 3,240 court complexes and corresponding 1,272 prisons for conducting remand matters and to prevent movement of prisoners between Courts and jails,” Rajya Sabha secretariat said in a media release.

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Published on September 11, 2020
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