January 2006

IT accelerated judicial administration

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The use of a suitable Information Technology Architecture in keeping with excellent e-Governance practices has the potential to transform the functioning of judicial system in many developing countries. In particular, streamlining of judicial processes that are routine, or time critical, coupled with a citizen-centric interface would contribute immensely to bring about greater levels of transparency and information dissemination to litigants. The system would be an “Integrated Case-filing and Monitoring System”, allowing litigants to check the status of cases, schedule of next hearing, etc

Developing countries have witnessed rapid changes in the last few decades, with technology increasingly becoming an integral part of daily life. This is evident with the increased penetration of mobile phones and computers in rural areas. Governments, which usually deal with large populations, are beginning to realise the potential offered by various technologies for delivering improved citizen services, while offering increased transparency and convenience.

Though various Government departments like the Police, Health, Municipalities, etc. desperately need to incorporate e-Governance for their improved functioning, even the “Judicial Systems” in developing countries need to prioritise on the e-Governance 'must have' list. Until now, judicial systems in most of the developing countries have been working manually for filing and monitoring of cases thus leaving scope for corruption at various stages besides keeping petitioners on tenterhooks while tending to make the entire process painstakingly lengthy and tedious.

As such, countries like India have already initiated the process of replacing existing manual operations with computer-assisted functions in order that back office processing be effectively streamlined thereby increasing the efficiency and functioning of the overall system.

A critical glance of the Manual system
The manual system (Figure 1) generally adopted by courts for filing, registration and listing of case is open to exploitation. Since the entire listing and registration process is done manually, quite often,
due to human errors, information related to a case is either not correct or may not be processed because of illegible handwriting etc. The cases filed incorrectly could be found gathering dust in court offices. Even cases running in the court could not be followed up due to insufficient information about the petitioners and respondents.

The Suggested IT-Roadmap

a) Functional
The system should be jointly designed and implemented by the Apex Court, IT-consultants and the implementing body. The computerisation of an Apex Court would envisage a centralised filing counter for streamlining the entire filing process. As soon as a case is filed at the filing counter, it should automatically be available at the registration counter for registry of the case with the apex court, and a receipt should be provided to the litigant/advocate. After registration of the case, the system should determine when to post the case and assign it to a judge based on the existing procedure. At the end of each day the system should generate a list of cases filed for that day in a format similar to the one maintained in the manual register system.

To avoid litigants dealing with a multitude of sections in order to establish their case status, a query counter should be opened at the apex court. The preliminary details entered in the computer system should be made available immediately at the computer terminal provided in each courtroom. The judge should have a list of cases posted by the computer on that date to his/her court. As the computer system would be storing the orders of the court, any further modification suggested by the judge, could be easily carried out within a short time. The staff of the court should update the database by feeding the operative part of the judgment on the system. In case a notice is to be served, the system should automatically generate the notice and be immediately available at the query counter terminal.

b) Technical
A 3-tier architecture is proposed for such a system, which would save a lot of users' and system's processing time. In the proposed 3-tier architecture (Figure 2), it is essential to note that boundaries between the tiers are logical. It is technically feasible to run all the three tiers on one and the same (physical) machine. In 2-tier architecture all of the application logic is executed on the personal computer, and all those machines (maybe thousands) have to be updated in case of a new release. This can be very expensive, complicated, time consuming and prone to error. In case of 3-tier architecture, if bottlenecks in terms of performance occur, the server processes can be moved to other servers at runtime. Because of the advantages of 3-tier architecture in complex development environment, it is suggested to use 3-tier architecture.

An important point to note here is that the system should be neatly structured, and that there should be a well planned definition of the software boundaries between the different tiers.

In the technical setup, it is proposed to choose a database, which supports full parallelism without any restriction over DML (Data Manipulation Language). The system should run on portable, compatible and powerful RDBMS (Relational Data Base Management System). The RDBMS should be high performance, fault tolerant, and especially designed for online transaction processing for large database applications. The system should be highly secure owing to the fact that it would support the country's apex court.

The computerisation of an Apex Court would envisage a centralised filing counter for streamlining the entire filing process. As soon as a case is filed at the filing counter, it should automatically be available at the registration counter for registry of the case with the apex court, and a receipt should be provided to the litigant/advocate.

Prototype of the automation
Based on the roadmap, following is the prototype of the new system:

a) Workflow of case filing in the  apex court
As shown in Figure 3, a case in the apex court may be filed either through an advocate on record, or by petitioner in person. The case would be then presented at the filing counter for its filing. The user at the counter would check the fulfillment of the mandatory requirements. A computer generated case number would be assigned to the filed case. A receipt on pre-printed stationary would be generated. All relevant details can be recorded and the entire data can be scrutinised for all the defects by various users. The case (after rectification of defects if any) would be then sent to the registration counter for getting registered in the proper category. If it is still found defective it may be sent back for re-processing under existing system.

b) Registration of cases in the apex court
After successful filing, (Figure 4) the case would automatically be available on the registration counter. After entering the relevant details like category, case type etc., a computer-generated registration number (type wise) is assigned to the case and gets recorded in the data file. Thereafter, the case would be identified by its registration number. The lower
court particulars, if any, would be fed in the system at this point. It would check the similarity of cases on the basis of certain attributes, and would connect all the fresh cases automatically by relating specified keys. The case would then automatically be recorded into the fresh data pool for its allocation before the appropriate bench.

The case file then proceeds to the judicial section concerned.

c) Updation of cases in the apex court 
The judicial section that maintains the file would also be responsible for updation till the file is disposed.  When a case is heard in the court, the section can generate various types of notices and subsequently send the dismissal letters to the respective lower courts for the information. After disposing a case, the section would be responsible for sending the case file into the record room for its consignment.

d)  Allocation of cases in the apex  court
In the listing section, the system would allocate the cases for a date and would prepare the cause list (Cause list is the list that contains cases to be heard by different courts on a particular listing date). Further, the cases would be automatically allocated to the Coram concerned on the basis of their listed categories.

e) Record room
This section would maintain all the disposed-off files arriving from all the judicial sections. The movement of the files would be recorded in the system on day-to-day basis. The computer-generated reports would indicate the cases ready for their 'Weeding Out'.

f) Query
The Information Search on the cases would be extremely simplified. The information about a case may be accessed by putting just one or more parameters. Some of the parameters may include
Case number,  Registration number,  Title (petitioner/respondent),  Advocate, and Case category. Any updation made by judge would be available at the query counter immediately.  

g) Statistical Report
A system would be developed for generation of statistical reports on institution, disposal and pendency of various types of cases in the apex court. These reports would be generated on monthly and yearly basis. It would help in working out strategies for fast disposal of cases in any particular court.

h) Cause List Generation
The cause lists of the apex court include daily, weekly and supplementary lists and can be made available on the Internet. With the help of this application, the advocates may immediately access cause lists on computers. The important feature of this application is to enable the advocates to generate their own cause list in case they have their cases in the main cause list. By using the query facility one may access the cause list by party's name (full or part), case number, judge sitting in a bench, court number, advocate etc. It would be facilitated by downloading or printing of the entire cause list.

Advantages of the System
This computerisation and networking program of the apex court would benefit the management, the judges, the advocates and the litigants. The advantages include monitoring of case flow would be easy; case related information would be available to the litigants, advocates at one place; posting of cases to the various courts would be transparent; litigants would get certified copies instantaneously; accurate statistical information would be generated; cause lists for each court would be generated automatically; caveat matching would take place at the filing stage itself; all required notices would be generated automatically; preparation of orders/judgments would become simpler; and introduction of IT (Information Technology) tools would bring a better work culture in the apex court.

The proposed system would incorporate the best e-Governance practices, while adopting the optimal IT-Architecture in order to aid over-burdened judicial systems existing in developing countries, such as India. The primary goal of the systems should be to automate trivial or procedural tasks, allowing courts to focus their efforts in resolution and disposal of cases. Besides this, the system would also help to change existing mindsets regarding the role of government and delivery of services to citizens. Such systems would not only be hugely successful but popular as well. Success of such e-Governance Application would be an example for other countries as well as increase the demand for similar systems in other spheres of governance. This is particularly relevant in the Indian context, where Governments provide a large number of services to its citizens.



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