November 2007

Mainstreaming ICT for Judicial Delivery System

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Computerisation of courts was initiated during the latter part of 1980s in association with the National Informatics Centre (NIC). During the last two decades, the Supreme Court of India, the high courts, city courts, district courts, sub-district courts and fast track courts have witnessed ‘informatisation’ in their administrative and management process, and have ushered in ‘transparency’ to the ‘common public’ to a certain extent.

While India has introduced significant economic reforms since 1991, it still faces significant institutional constraints in higher growth. These include legal and judicial systems that do not provide an adequate structure of incentives and deterents for a market-based economy to function. Globalisation also requires a legal system that conforms to global norms. “Post-1991, there has been a more explicit recognition that without a legal system that conforms to global norms, market-oriented reforms will not work,” according to Bibek Debroy, the noted Indian economist.

Research information systems evidently show that India suffers from a dire shortage of officers and delivery staff (police, judges, teachers, paramedics and doctors, and maintenance staff), combined with a vast excess of Class-III and Class-IV categories of workers (clerks, messengers and peons). The Class-III and Class-IV workers account for 90 percent of all government staff. This shows that Indian government has the wrong size in all directions. According to the World Bank’s ‘Doing Business 2007– Database Report’, it takes 89 days to start a small business in India, while it takes only 2 days in Australia or in Canada. Thus India ranks low – ranks 134 out of 175 countries- as per the World Bank. In spite of this, India is emerging as an ‘economic and knowledge superpower’ and in less than a decade, it has emerged as the ‘electronic back office of the world’. Knowledge economy is dominated by Information, Communication and Technology (ICT).

Judicial Reforms—To facilitate Access to Judicial Justice for All

The law reforms is a vast and complex subject, which embraces legislative reforms, judicial reforms and most importantly reforming the mindset of the judiciary- judges, magistrates and other adjudicators who form the core of a judiciary, as well as the support personnel who keep the system running smoothly. The Indian judicial system faces diverse problems of this nature: (a) slow disposal of cases leading to delays as well as accumulation of backlog and (b) very low rate of prosecution in criminal cases. The National Common Minimum Programme (NCMP-2004) of India envisages judicial and legal reforms as one of the thrust areas in promoting good governance. In addition to this, NCMP-2004 also has committed to drastically reduce delays in the high courts and lower levels of the judiciary and give fresh momentum to judicial reforms. India has one of the highest numbers of pending cases in the world, due to lack of adequate infrastructure. India is said to possess one of the fairest legal systems in the world. Measures like re-engineering the processes, technology adoption, judicious exploiting and harnessing of available talents and expertise will help achieve the goal of judicial reforms in India.

Automation and Networking of Judicial Institutions: An Important Ingredient of Judicial Reforms

The Box-1 shows the backlogs of courts cases, as of December 2005, in various courts of India. This figure does not include the pending cases in various tribunals, adalats (courts), consumer affairs courts.

Since the 121st Report of the Law Commission of India (July 1987), which has devoted a whole chapter to ‘Technological Advances and its Use in the Context of Judicial Appointments’, the country has witnessed a lot of progress in ‘mainstreaming ICT in judicial administration and management’, through the efforts of National Informatics Centre (NIC).

Computerisation of courts was initiated during the latter part of 1980s in association with the NIC. During the last two decades, the Supreme Court of India, high courts, city courts, district courts, sub-district courts and fast track courts have witnessed ‘informatisation’ in their administrative and management process, and ushered in ‘transparency’ to the ‘common public’ to a certain extent.  Indian Institute of Management (Bangalore), in its report pertaining to ‘IT in Court Work’, suggested installing Legal Assistance Kiosks (LAK) at court premises to provide assistance to public, in respect of guidance on basic procedures, information on availability of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) schemes and legal assistance. In addition to this, computerisation efforts have been taken up in land tribunals, industrial tribunals, tax tribunals, service tribunals, company law board, water pollution tribunals, air pollution tribunals, family courts, consumer affairs courts, mobile courts and Lok Adalats etc.

The Government of India launched its ‘ICT Enablement for Indian Judiciary’ programme on 5th October 2005, on the basis of the recommendations of the e-Committee of the Supreme Court of India, which submitted its report titled ‘National Policy and Action Plan’ for implementation of Information and Communication Technology in the Indian Judiciary. Hansraj Bhardwaj (Cabinet Minister in Ministry of Law and Justice) said that INR 100,000 million would be spent to strengthen the basic infrastructure of judicial courts in the country by providing computers, modern technology and facility of data and video conferencing. About 6000 ‘mobile courts’ would also be set up to ensure justice to the rural people economically and easily.  At the same time, ‘legal enablement of ICT system’ is required to achieve consumer protection over e-Governance programme of both the central government and state governments. The issue of legal enablement is being addressed by the Working Group on e-Governance Standards, constituted by the NIC, for the National e-Governance Programme (NeGP) of the Department of Information Technology, Ministry of Communications and Information Technology.

All the courts across the country need to have a data centre connected through the high bandwidth broadband connectivity with G2G (government to government) e-Governance application with interoperable messaging system in a secured environment. This will ensure detection of certain litigants filing cases in multiple courts on the same subject. This system should have connectivity to citizens (G2C – government to citizen), businesses (G2B – government to business), and employees (G2E – government to employee) for a speedy delivery of justice. From the time the case is registered (i.e. in police station), till it is disposed off with final judgment, the entire processing must take place electronically, as envisioned by the former President of India, Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam. That means that there shall be a Value-Chain Model (VCM) linking police stations, jails, and all courts across the country through e-Form technology architecture as given in the figure above.

e-Forms based on open standards are necessary for increased interoperability, faster time to market and reduced development costs, reusable components and multi-platform support. e-Form + e-Document + Workflow + Web services, over Intranet / Internet / Extranet / e-Mail,   form a complete business process. This e-Form should also be accessible to people with disability.

Initiatives such as issuance of digital signature and legal acceptance of electronically submitted documents may create a correct ground for implementation of e-Form technology.  The e-Forms may be accessed through post offices and CSCs (Community Service Centers), information kiosks, internet cafes, etc. Hybrid models may be introduced for seamless switching between modes using paper-based and electronic based forms to increase the comfort level of user. Awareness programmes may be carried out to educate the user for technology. e-Form is a solution to share knowledge globally and to bridge ‘paper-digital divide’ in e-Governance / e-Government programme, which will result in:

  • Increase visibility to the status of on-line forms submission;
  • Enhance access to crucial, relevant government department information;
  • Improved government compliance
  • Address compliance concerns of the governments (central, state and local bodies)
  • Reduce costs through improved automation of information collection, retrieval and storage
  • Reduce error introduced through hand-processing of paper forms
  • More easily shared information
  • Fewer resources spent on administration of information and data;
  • Improve multi-agency communication and collaboration;
  • Reduce costs by requiring fewer people to process paper-based forms.
  • Integration with back-end systems and processes;
  • Encourage development, delivery and take-up of new services
  • Encourage Private-Public-Partnership (PPP) model
  • Achieve data interoperability
  • Higher productivity

The Court modernisation programme, as categorised below, requires adoption of e-Form technology, to usher in profound impact on return on investment in terms of people, process and knowledge:-

  • Court case management;
  • Workflow charts;
  • Document management/imaging;
  • Office automation;
  • Internet access; and
  • Electronic case filing.

How to Make Efficient Judicial Delivery System: Recommendations

  • Design and development of Indian Court Operating System (ICOS) to be made functional in all 22 constitutionally recognised  Indian languages;
  • Digital preservation and Information life cycle management policy;
  • Judicial library automation and networking through e-Granthalaya software;
  • Submission of information using e-Forms technology within the Legal System (Client – Police – Jail – Court – Lawyer – Government)
  • Knowledge management  and sharing among the stakeholders through Intranet and Internet Solutions (e.g. IntraNIC), which shall include about 4.5 million lawyers who are regulated by the Advocates Act of 1961, research and educational institutions, law universities etc;
  • e-Court to be equipped with e-Form, e-Document, workflow management, portals based on framework architecture and digital signature;
  • Knowledge portals (judges, lawyers, cases, judgments, research information systems, judicial commissions reports) using W3C standards;
  • Court network to be a dedicated giga bit network  facilitating data, video, and audio transfer; video conferencing from any node to node for all stakeholders of the legal proceedings;
  • All the courts (supreme court, high courts and district courts) across the country need to have a data centre connected through the high bandwidth broadband connectivity with G2G (government to government) e-Governance application with interoperable messaging system in a secured environment;
  • Legal enablement of ICT systems for consumer protection;
  • Adoption of expert systems and knowledge bases for all rules and procedures; application of text based data mining tools to facilitate “knowledge discovery” in advancing judgment delivery;
  • Establishment of a ‘Centre of Excellence on Judicial Informatics Research and Training’;
  • Change in curriculum of graduate and post-graduate law studies  by introducing computer science and technology and information science and technology;

Outcome:

  • Poor man’s access to judicial justice – a reality;
  • Village-level decentralisation of judicial delivery system.

References:

  • Bibek Debroy : ‘Some Issues In Law Reform In India’, Chapter 12  in “Governance, Decentralisation and Reform in China, India and Russia”, Jean-Jacques Dethier (ed.), Kluwer Academic Publishers, pp. 339 – 368.
  • Bhardwaj Hans Raj (2006): “Rural Mobile Courts to be set up”, as published in The Hindu dated 30 August 2006
  • Abdul Kalam (2005): H.E. Dr. Abdul Kalam, President of Republic of India, in his Address at the Inauguration of the All India Seminar on Judicial Reforms with Special reference to Arrears of Court Cases”, 29th April 2005 at Rashtrapati Bhawan (New Delhi) : “Evolution : National Litigation Pendency Clearance Mission”.

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