Virtual Courts: Are they to stay?
Updated: Mar 14
Virtual Courts: Are they to stay?
The nationwide lockdown in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic has forced educational institutions, offices & other services to resort to online mode for their functioning. In such a situation, the judicial machinery has also resorted to virtual hearings. The access to justice is so pivotal that alternatives had to be found in such a state of shut down in the nation. Thus, in order to ensure the dissemination of justice even during the pandemic, the courts resorted to the virtual model.
COVID-19 pandemic has propelled the virtualization of Courts upon the legal machinery, without giving anyone an opportunity to think about the merits or demerits of E-courts. Cases are being heard by the Courts virtually & the Apex Court has ensured that it has the necessary infrastructure to ensure smooth working of the court proceedings.
With the internet being inculcated in almost all facets of our lives, the pandemic came as a reason for the courts to adopt this as well.
Virtual courts were initially met with a big dose of mistrust by judges, lawyers, and other people associated with courts. Now living into the new normal for almost more than a year, the suspicious voices have dwindled and the legal fraternity has become accustomed to the experience of the virtual court hearings.
Virtual Courts have a plethora of merits:
· They provide an opportunity for lawyers and parties spread across far-off places to attend the court proceedings from anywhere. In fact, most of the time it was observed that physical hearings had to be postponed because of some party, lawyer, or judge leaving the station due to urgency but virtual courts have made the judicial process convenient, time-saving & cost-saving.
· The virtual court medium allows minimizing commotion and overcrowding, whereas a physical courtroom used to be packed with people & piles of documents.
· Information in virtual courts is available at the same time so, a digital signing of documents ensures speedy communication of orders & helps to deliver quick relief to litigants. Paperless operation is likely to bring a revolution to the judicial machinery.
Despite all these merits the resuming of physical courts is awaited by many people associated with the courts; advocates, judges, litigants.
Supreme Court judge justice DY Chandrachud made it clear at a webinar organized by Nyaya Forum of National Academy of Legal Studies and Research, Hyderabad on the topic ‘Future of Virtual Courts and Access to Justice in India’ that “Virtual Court system leads to greater productivity & enables a wider participation of advocates and judges. But it would not be able to substitute physical courts. We had to resort to virtual court hearings because Covid-19 descended without warning and we had to protect those who come to court – lawyers, litigants, media personnel, interns”.
The system of virtual hearing brings along with its advantages a plethora of unavoidable drawbacks associated with their functioning. The legal fraternity has repeatedly accentuated these shortcomings. Some of these shortcomings are:
· The biggest shortcomings in working with E-Courts are the disruptions in network connection, quality of technology, sound, and picture. Such issues often cause a delay in the proceedings of the court as very often people are either unable to join the meeting or are not audible or visible during the hearing.
· Virtual hearings are often riddled with disturbances such as traffic noise, echo, or sometimes by the inadvertent mistake of the attendees such as not muting their audio.
· The court discipline is often threatened by infiltrators in virtual mode. There have been various instances of virtual meetings being deliberately disturbed by intruders such as playing songs in the meeting or removing the other attendees from the meeting.
· The court staff also faces problems related to the scrutiny & management of e-documents. The process is time-consuming & inconvenient as compared to the physical courts.
So it seems unlikely that there will be an entire shift to a virtual system of courts but virtual courts could be used as an alternative to physical courts whenever the situation demands & in order to inculcate them as a part of the legal setup, the integration should be a slow and gradual process after carefully examining the possible shortcomings & searching for their solutions.
About The Author
Vanshika Joshi is a student in the 4th semester of B.A. LL.B. (Hons.) at UILS Panjab University Chandigarh. She is an enthusiast in creative writing & public oration. In addition to social work & her legal profession, she is also working as a co-author for various books.