Access to justice
Legal marginalisation is prevalent in varied extent in the developed, developing and underdeveloped world. Democracy in itself is not a comprehensive guarantee to attain justice. Ignorance about the basic rights, human rights, fundamental rights, laws of the land, compounded by the problem of illiteracy, deprives the socially and economically marginalised people of justice. Lack of awareness about legislations and ‘jargonisation’ of law act as additional obstacles. With legal literacy being low in India, people with adequate knowledge of law exploit the legally illiterates. Imagine the day, when a poor, illiterate and voiceless person walks down to a friendly information kiosk in his/her village with his/her problems and walks out empowered with justice. For the first time in India, the State of Andhra Pradesh, is on its way to provide justice to the common man, by presenting the key legislations in a simple manner, simplifying relevant judgments and certain procedural regulations, enlightening citizens on the existence of alternative remedies and making the same available to the general public through information kiosks. The ‘e-Justice’ initiative offer enormous potential for transformation, which might be of immense and lasting benefit to everyone, especially to the marginalised, deprived people.
‘e’ in Justice
While globalisation, social trends and other factors present new demands on many traditional systems, technological and communicational advances offer opportunities to the policy makers to bring changes to systems, making them more accessible, transparent and effective. Following that trend, the judicial system is going to be ‘hi-tech’ and ‘e’ oriented to assure ‘good governance’ through more transparency, accountability, participation and better management.
During the last few years, ICT interventions have been both directed at the Supreme Court and lower court levels in judicial and administrative areas. Most of the nations, all over the world, have taken steps towards the modernisation of the judicial administration system in order to improve the quality, efficiency and effectiveness of the management of judicial processes. The use of ‘eTools’ have already proved to be an effective mechanism to improve the quality, efficiency and effectiveness of the management of judicial processes and, at the same time, to provide support to good governance. Many areas of operation in the Judiciary are already computerised in the developing countries.
Global trends and practices
With World Bank and other support, the Iberoamerican countries’ supreme courts have launched a web based network ‘IUDICIS’ to facilitate communication and learning among judges, which is spearheaded by a group of countries including Spain, Costa Rica, Colombia, Argentina, Panama, Guatemala, The Dominican Republic, El Salvador and Brazil, and is facilitated by the Venezuela Supreme Tribunal of Justice.
The eJustice project in Europe, which started in March 2004 and is scheduled to end in February 2006, supported by the EU’s IST Programme, has unveiled a demonstrator programme that offers a step forward in secure workflow processing. There are already plans in place to ensure that eJustice finds further expression in future projects in areas such as security, identity management, and ICT systems for judicial procedures.
This e-Justice project has linked up with an existing Austrian initiative called eRecht. The development of Pambazuka News, a weekly electronic news and discussion forum for social justice, has made us remember once more that ICTs should not be left to those who want to make profits, but should be grasped as a powerful tool for social justice. Pambazuka News has been used as an advocacy tool in a number of forums, and also to adopt the protocol for the rights of women in Africa.
ICT interventions in India
The President of India, Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam has listed a 12-point agenda for the Indian judiciary to clear up pending cases, this agenda include capacity enhancement of existing courts through multiple sessions, more alternative courts like Lok Adalats and fast track courts and adopting e-Judiciary by putting laws and judgements on the Internet. The Union Communications and IT Minister of India has recently stated that the Centre has earmarked Rs 200 crore for modernisation and computerisation of the country’s judiciary. The concept of paperless courts will commence in the Madras High Court from mid of 2006 when the court will start receiving cases through e-mail. ‘e-Filing’ will start from June.
Multiple Action Research Group (MARG), a Delhi based organisation, is working in the field of generating and disseminating legal awareness in India through its Legal Literacy Programme. As part of this programme the task is achieved in two ways: (1) by making legal manuals simplifying various laws that affect our daily lives and (2) by conducting legal literacy workshops with grass root workers. It has already produced audiovisual programmes and legal manuals to generate legal awareness among the community.
National Informatics Centre (NIC) India, has developed Judgment Information System (JUDIS), which consists of complete text of all reported judgments of Supreme Court of India from 1950 to till date. Emails can be used for filing of the affidavits and replies to the courts. The courts can also serve the notices, intimate the date and time of hearings, and communicate the judgments through email/SMS saving time in communication thus increasing the productivity of the courts.
Initiated by the Bihar government in partnership with NIC, a project was undertaken in order to mitigate the plight of detainees that had been languishing in prison due to delays in the hearing of their cases. Video Conferencing was used to expedite trials of pending cases. The new system of delivering justice has accelerated the case disposal rate, helped reduce jail overcrowding by releasing some detainees, and helped save on transportation costs.
e-Justice project in India
According to UNDP, there exists a crucial link between rule of law, poverty eradication, human rights and sustainable human development. In a democratic set up where continuous increase in population creates numerous problems and inequalities in various aspects, effort needs to be made to eliminate the obstacle called ‘legal jargon’ which distances a layman from understanding and utilising law as a tool for empowerment and redressal of problems. According to the Director, Rural Management Resource Group, CGG, Mr.V.K.Parigi, the vision of ‘e-Justice’ project is to create citizen centric approach for providing access to justice through ICT. The mission is to create awareness among the citizens residing in the rural and semi-urban areas about the legal provisions and the roles and responsibilities of the governmental functionaries, involved in the administration of statutes.
The Centre for Good Governance (CGG), Hyderabad, which works closely with policy makers like ministers, officials, experts and other stakeholders, especially citizens, to promote Simple, Moral, Accountable, Responsive and Transparent (SMART) governance in Andhra Pradesh, is about to launch pilot initiatives in Shadnagar mandal in Mahbubnagar District of A.P. in December this year. Eight mandals each, from Mahbubnagar and Krishna Districts, will get the benefit directly from this project by March of 2006.
Broadly, the objective of the ICTD project, funded by UNDP, is to pilot initiatives in the areas of e-Government and e-Governance. These include new initiatives or replication of projects implemented successfully in one part of the country in another part. The project will help break the vicious cycle of disempowerment perpetuated at the cost of ignorance of law, complicated by inaccessibility to knowledge relating to law.
The project is in consonance with the objectives of CGG which strives to be among the very best in the world in the area of practical reforms to foster growth-oriented and people-centered good governance. The goal of this project is to facilitate access to justice through legal awareness and greater interaction between the actors involved in the justice delivery system and the litigant or any person who has a legal query. It will also put together a framework which is interactive and user friendly using the available machinery and involving both governmental and non state actors. The objectives of this project are:
promoting legal awareness through an electronic interface by presenting the key legislations in a simple manner and by simplifying relevant judgments, certain procedural regulations and enlightening citizens on the existence of alternative remedies and making the same available to the general public through information kiosks, rural e-Seva centres etc.;
coordinating with other actors and to involve their participation so as to create a framework integrating the existing state and non-state actors in the administration of justice;
providing a feed back mechanism and elicit suggestions from people.
CGG will develop a legal database, to establish links between different stakeholder groups for ensuring access to justice in all the Mandals covered, to establish legal aid clinics to spread awareness on legal matters touching the common man, by way of camps and distribution of published matter on rights and how to fight for justice.The content is being developed through consultations and workshops with MARG being actively involved.
The e-Justice project targets to generate awareness among rural citizens about the existence of various support agencies and groups namely Legal Aid Cells, the Legal Services Authority, social workers (counselors) and other activists. The target beneficiaries are citizens accessing Mandal Samakhyas, Mandal/Taluk Legal Services Authorities, rural e-Seva centres, Civil Society Groups and the legally marginalised. The approach is to conceptualise relevant legislation, its administration and remediation of problems involved in a simple and citizen friendly manner, and communicate the same, using ICT.
A Project Advisory Committee consisting of legal experts, members from the Bar Council, legal academicians, non govermental organisations and retired High Court judges has been set up to guide the functioning of the project management team of CGG and to assist the CGG project management team in conducting workshops, brainstorming sessions and capacity building programmes. This committee will monitor and evaluate the progress of the work, provide necessary inputs and will organise lectures for the legal policy and framework cell to guide them in the proper direction in simplification of laws. Pro Bono lawyers in both the districts have been identified to assist the CGG project management team in conducting brainstorming sessions, workshops and training sessions for the Mandal Samakhyas and the rural e-Seva kiosk operators. The Mandal Samakhyas are going to be involved as they have been instrumental in various developmental activities directly, involving people at the grass root level.
Pilot phase of e-Justice
The time is not so far when people of Shadnagar mandal in Mahbubnagar District in Andhra Pradesh will experience legal aids and services, provided by the kiosks, operating as a part of e-Justice project. The project will be piloted in two districts, Mahbubnagar and Krishna in Andhra Pradesh State (India). Mahbubnagar is one of the most backward districts of Andhra Pradesh with the biggest rural population in the State. With the lessons learned from the pilot project, the project will be rolled out in the remaining Districts of the State. As the project covers a major component of the cost of content development for the legal database, the incremental cost of replicating the model in the remaining Districts will be minimal.
The primary stakeholders of the project include the rural and semi-urban community, self help groups, community based organisations and Mandal Samakhyas based in Mahbubnagar and Krishna districts chosen for piloting this initiative. The Legal Services Authorities and the Bar Council of Andhra Pradesh are also actively involved as the objectives of the project are in consonance with those of the statutes governing them and their functions.
National Academy of Legal Studies and Research (NALSAR), which is a premier institute of law in the country is also involved in the project from its inception. NALSAR will provide guidance to the project management team and act as a knowledge bank to provide the necessary legal information. NALSAR will also be associated with the capacity building and training programs conducted during the course of the project.
Civil Society Organisations and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) involved in legal service assistance will propagate the concept and generate awareness about the existence and usage of the e-Justice application. The Mandal NISG and i4d reserve the right to reprint articles produced for the ICTD section of the i4d magazine and website, with due credits to NISG and i4d. Please write to the editor for any request of reprints.Samakhya, which is identified as the primary delivery channel for the project is formed in all the 64 Mandals in Mahbubnagar District. In Krishna District the Mandals Samakhya is formed in 18 mandals out of the total 50 Mandals in the District. The Village Organisations and the Self Help Groups are also fairly active in both the District. The Mandal/Taluk offices of the Legal Services Authority are also present in the District.
The project will enable access to legal information through a query based e-Interface available through kiosks or rural e-Seva centres. The information will be made available both in English and the local language (Telugu) giving a choice to the user. Once the legal information system is in place and made available through the Mandal/Taluk offices of the Legal Services Authority, kiosks operated by the Mandal Samakhyas and rural e-Seva centres, the public at large can approach them and obtain the required information. Special emphasis shall be made to focus on problems faced by women, children and other marginalised sections of the society. The information available to the citizens will make them aware of the various modes of redressal, whether through the courts or through Alternate Dispute Resolution mechanisms such as Lok Adalats.
The e-Justice portal (ejustice.org.in) which has already been launched provides lot of information related to human rights and issues frequently raised in the citizens’ life, especially in the rural areas of India. The website is in English and the regional language, Telugu. The portal provides links to various commissions such as the Human Rights Commissions, National Women’s Commission, Backward Classes Commission, Scheduled Caste/Tribe Commission etc, enabling a citizen to file a complaint directly to them for appropriate action. Thus the e-Justice portal provides an interface wherein the citizen is made aware of the legal information and also facilitates access to justice delivery mechanism for redressal of his problem in an effective manner.
This portal will soon facilitate the citizen to file an online application to the Legal Services Authority seeking its involvement in guiding him/her through the proper mode of resolving the problem. Once the Legal Services Authority considers the person eligible for its services, then depending on the nature of the grievance, the Legal Services Authority will propose the options available, i.e., whether the dispute is entitled to be referred only to the Court System or to Lok Adalats, or both. The Legal Services Authority will direct the case to any of the advocates on its panel to represent the citizen in the appropriate forum. A mechanism will be put in place to ensure that the advocate is required to submit a report on proceedings of every hearing to the Legal Services Authority who shall in turn forward the same report to the web portal which can be accessed by the concerned citizen to know the status of his case.
The outcomes of this project can be summarised as follows:-
(i) creating general legal awareness among the citizens; (ii) identification of the legal problem faced by the citizen; (iii) creating awareness on the existence of various legislations, procedures, case laws etc, pertaining to the problem faced by the citizen; (iv) creating awareness on the availability of various redressal mechanisms; (v) providing links to the agencies which facilitate access to the justice delivery systems and
(vi) monitoring the status of the case on a regular basis.
If e-Filing, e-Courts, e-Tools and paperless courts signify the top-down approach for modernisation and computerisation of country’s judiciary, e-Justice envisages a bottom-up approach, wherein the justice disbursal facilitation is at the grassroot level.
|NISG and i4d reserve the right to reprint articles produced for the ICTD section of the i4d magazine and website, with due credits to NISG and i4d. Please write to the editor for any request of reprints.