“For availing the technology in the way we profess it to be used, we need resources like domain experts, technology experts, sufficient funds, strong institutional commitment. Government support and a sustained policy to continue with it. Fortunately, today, the Indian Judiciary has all the requisite elements of its institutional capacity building,”says Justice GC Bharuka, Chairman, e-Committee, Supreme Court of India, in an exclusive Interview with egov Magazine
What is the role of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), in your opinion, in judicial administration of the courts?
Use of ICT in courts can immensely help in implementing court management tools like case-flow management, case management, targeted clearance rates, online information of case laws, and statute laws and the like, which are key to the efficiency of judicial functioning. Automated support systems will reduce workload, delays and discretions at the registry level. All the registers, statements, returns, forms, summons and notices can be digitally generated and hard copies can be taken, as and when required. Video conferencing, digital transcription, digital signatures, digital storage of documents, document management are some of the effective tools for inter and intra-courts. e-Connectivity can greatly improve the functioning of the judiciary. It will immediately start reflecting transparency and accountability.
What factors led to the judicial reforms in India?
On 11th March, 1959, the first Prime Minister of India, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, while addressing the State Law Minister’s Conference, had said that our judicial system has become rusted and outmoded. It requires thorough renovation. The Law Commission of India, during the last fifty years, has submitted one after another 197 reports suggesting reforms, both in substantive as well as the procedural laws. A plethora of reasons has been put forth by the jurists, judges, lawyers, academicians and social engineers for delay in disposal of cases in the Indian courts. Interestingly, arrears have continued to mount.
According to the studies, the seeds of delay are hidden in the micro-level processes of decision making. These are inextricably interwoven with working of courts of all ranks and levels; which again directly and indirectly affect each others working creating a complex institutional dependency. These are happening primarily because of non-availability and non-communication of information as and when required, as also because of distance. These need to be clearly identified through in-depth study of the judicial system and then ICT should be deployed to gradually eradicate these hidden causes.
When did the process of computerisation of courts begin in India?
Computers are not new to the Indian courts. Towards the end of 1989, one low-end computer was installed in Supreme Court of India for caveat matching. Immediately thereafter, in 1990, I initiated the process of court computersation in Patna High Court, as a sitting Judge at Patna High Court. On my transfer to Karnataka in 1994, I undertook to introduce ICT in the entire judiciary of the state of Karnataka. All the 600 courts in the Karnataka state located upto the taluka level were computerised. All the judicial officers and court staff were trained. There was a complete automation from filing of a case to grant of a certified copy. Digital production of under-trial prisoners by video-conferencing was made possible in all the three court-complexes at Bangalore, which was later extended to six more districts in Karnataka. Through the Karnataka judiciary website, causelists of the High Courts and district courts was made available online, a day before, for the first time in the country. The system created has subsequently been adopted in different states in India.
Please tell us the genesis of the e-Committee?
Keeping in view the need of ICT in the judicial wing of the state, it was felt necessary that a centrally sponsored national policy be devised to equip all the courts in the country without any exception, with IT tools under a centrally sponsored scheme. In the year 2004, accepting the Karnataka system as the role model, the Union Cabinet, on a recommendation of the then Chief Justice of India, Hon’ble Justice R C Lahoti, formed e-Committee, appointing me as its Chairman for formulating a National Policy and Action Plan for Information and Communication Technology Enablement of the Indian Judiciary and suggest measures for management related changes. The mandate of the e-Committee was, inter alia, to formulate a National Policy on computerisation of the justice delivery system and to draw up an action plan with appropriate phasing for time bound implementation. This Committee was also required to concurrently monitor and evaluate the action plan on periodic basis. All technological and implementation aspects are to be taken care of the e-Committee. Besides the Chairman, the Committee has three more members, namely, Member (Judicial), Member (Technical) and Member (Management/ Human Resource).
The e-Committee prepared the Report on Strategic Plan for Implementation of Information and Communication Technology in Indian Judiciary, which was presented to the Chief Justice of India in May 2005. The Judges of the Supreme Court, senior advocates and senior executives from Department of Justice, Ministry of Communication and Information Technology as also National Informatics Centre (NIC) were present on the occasion. The Report of the e-Committee was circulated by the Chief Justice of India to the Chief Justices of all the High Courts requesting them to consider the proposals contained in the report and send suggestions as may be found advisable. Copies of the report had also been sent to the leading jurists, academicians, concerned ministers and ministries of the Union Government including NIC. The report was made available to the Law Ministers of all the states as well as the Law Minister’s Conference held at Simla in June 2005 and elaborate discussions were held thereon.
e-Committee also held detailed discussions with large section of ICT related organisations, service providers, research and development experts and leading manufacturers to ascertain the existing status of the technology, its use in the context of court related processes, pricing, availability, security, implementation, scalability, sustainability, pace of change and support systems. Based on the inputs received from persons having expertise in diverse domains relevant for change management in the Indian Judiciary, the e-Committee framed the National Policy and Action Plan for its implementation during a span of five years from the date of its effective commencement.
In August 2005, e-Committee submitted the National Policy and Action Plan to the Chief Justice of India. The project for ICT enablement of the the judiciary envisioned by the e-Committee, was launched by the Hon’ble Prime Minister of India on 5th October 2005. While launching this Policy, the Prime Minister assured that for such an important project that aims to streamline the judiciary, the government will lend its full support, both managerial and financial. In June 2006, the union cabinet declared the project to be one of the Mission Mode Projects under the National e-Governance Plan, and subsequently on 8th February 2007, gave financial sanction to the first phase of the project. It appointed NIC as the implementing agency which is required to implement the project in close consultation, guidance and supervision of the e-Committee.
What is the vision of the e-Courts project?
We want to achieve the goals of speedy, inexpensive, transparent and accountable justice, in a phased manner of implementation. All registry level activities, which has the roots of corruption, will be fully automated. The judges will be provided online access to all legal tools like, case laws, statute laws, law literature. Distant filings at anytime from anywhere would become a routine affair. The handicaps based on distances would be completely eliminated. The days of manipulating documents may be a foregone affair because of online accessibility of all official records. Management, through video-conferencing, and decision making tools will be a part of court administration. All case-related information from its filing to the disposal like case status, orders, judgements, etc; would be made available online.
What is the current status and the progress of the e-Courts project?
The project is now under implementation under my guidance and close supervision. The first phase of the e-Courts project was launched by the former President of India, Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam on 9th July 2007. I am happy to inform that the things have started happening. 12,155 laptops with customised operating system befitting judicial needs have reached the High Courts and District Courts to be delivered to every judicial officer of the country. It supports 11 regional languages. Process of providing digital connectivity to all the judicial officers at their home offices, chambers and court halls has already been commenced. Each judicial officer is being trained by one IT trainer in use of technology for two months before or after court hours. The officers are taking this training very seriously and are very positive about the use of IT. The process of acquiring video-conferencing equipments has already been initiated. Similarly, steps have been initiated for acquiring the other components of Phase I of the e-Courts project. All the High Courts at their levels as well as at District Court levels have constituted appropriate implementation committees which are all functioning excellently.
What are some of the implementation difficulties in the e-Courts project?
The court, as an institution, functions on the basis of its legal system. Any change in the system has its immediate impact on the functioning of the judges, lawyers and the subordinate staff as also the litigants. The system is composed of its codified rules, the traditions and practices regularly followed in the court and the procedures judicially recognised. All these governing rules of procedure and court management are not always uniform for all the jurisdictions. Therefore, no handy software providing whole some solutions to the legal system is commercially available. It is required to be developed under the day-to-day guidance and supervision of persons well-versed with IT and the particular justice delivery system.
Implementation of e-Governance in judicial system needs substantial finance and trained technical hands. Courts have to depend for all these on the government which again moves at its own speed and discretion.
There is a tendency of non-cooperation and/or obstruction by the functional staff at the registry level since they apprehend impeding of their interest.
Beneficiaries of the pre-existing system try to obstruct the change over to IT since it makes the legal process more transparent.
Please tell us more about the capacity building strategy in e-Courts project?
Institutional capacity building has been adopted as the dominant object of this project. This includes the capacity building of all its stakeholders as well. This is meant to enhance the judicial productivity both qualitatively and quantitatively. The only requirement is a correct understanding of the way in which the system functions and how technology can be used at every level of the system to give it a desired speed and accuracy. This is an extensive exercise. It requires a lot of expertise. It requires development of expert systems, i.e., specifically customised softwares, which we quite often call ‘adding artificial intelligence’ to the computers. For availing the technology in the way we profess it to be used, we need resources like domain experts, technology experts, sufficient funds, strong institutional commitment. Government support and a sustained policy to continue with it. Fortunately, today, the Indian Judiciary has all the requisite elements for its institutional capacity building.