E-COURT EVANGELIST LAWYERS WHO EXPERIENCED SIMULATION E-COURT
Dr. Maurya Vijay Chandra; Mr. Sagar Saxena, Mr. Abhishek Ritabh Shukla, Mr. Rajeev Roy, Mr. Binodanand Mishra, Mr. Ajay Kumar, Ms. Lata Aggarwal, Ms. Soumya Pradhan, Mr. Manish Kumar,…
Self-realisation through service of humanity
Dr. Maurya Vijay Chandra; Mr. Sagar Saxena, Mr. Abhishek Ritabh Shukla, Mr. Rajeev Roy, Mr. Binodanand Mishra, Mr. Ajay Kumar, Ms. Lata Aggarwal, Ms. Soumya Pradhan, Mr. Manish Kumar,…
E-commerce websites have now started asking for trademark registration before allowing sale of branded goods. So, any unregistered brand will now need to be registered with the Registrar of Trademarks.This is a huge opportunity for the legal community in the Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities as filing of trademark applications is completely online. This workshop will impart knowledge and skills that a lawyer needs to file a typical trademark application. Seats are limited to 40 participants. Register now!
Due to the Covid-19 crisis this annual competition among schools of Delhi incubated by Adyopant Legal and Organised by Atmabodh in Collaboration with Delhi State Legal Services Authority has been postponed. However, as soon as we are over the crisis, the event will be organised. Register your interest in participating, so that we can get in touch with you at an appropriate time.
Due to the COvid-19 pandemic, we will take this annual competition online. We are working out the modalities for receiving submissions online. Please bear with us. Meantime, you can register your interest in participating, so that we can contact you when the competition opens up.
[This Blog is dedicated to the memory of Late Hon’ble Justice G C Bharuka (June 15, 1941- March 15, 2018). I am fortunate to have known and interacted with this pioneer who set up the e-committee for automation of all courts. An early adopter of technology in his office as a lawyer, he was deeply passionate about bringing technology to the Indian Judiciary. He also helped in automation of courts in various other countries as an expert consultant.]
As we progressed in the simulation exercise of paperless courts, it quickly dawned upon us that we were stretching the available internet infrastructure of lawyers in Patna and Ranchi. To enable lawyers to argue from home, this will need to change. Each lawyer will need access to broadband withy speeds not experienced before. We decided to invite an expert to talk to us. Mr. Binodanand Mishra, Advocate, Patna High Court connected us to Mr. Ashok Jha, GM (Technical), BSNL, to speak on the issue in one of the sessions on 18.04.2020.
The Courts in India have been implementing the e-courts project since 2004. The objective of the project was to connect all the courts with internet and have all the data of the courts accessible online. The first phase of the project has been completed and the second phase is in an advanced stage of completion. To this end an order was placed for connecting all courts with internet of speeds of either 10 MBPS or 100 MBPS. There are 39 high court complexes in India and 3219 District and Taluka Court complexes in India. Out of these, work order was issued, in May 2018, to BSNL for establishing Wide Area Network connecting 2992 Court complexes. This will provide providing MPLS connectivity to the court complexes. Some of these connections have been provided by the Radio Frequency Links and others with Optical Fibre Cable Link. As on 17/4/2020, 2837 links out of total 2992 links (i.e. more than 94% of the work) are commissioned.
Most home or office connections offered by telecom providers for retail customers like lawyers and small offices are asynchronous. This means that upload and download speeds are not same over these connections. Typically, the upload speeds are less and hover around half the download speeds. In fact, today if you ask for assurance of upload speed, your telecom sales person may not be even be able to tell you what that is. This[MC1] works well for the home consumers, where most data is consumed in downloads, be it music, movies or newspapers or internet sites. Uploads will be limited to submitting responses over the web or e-mails or videocalls. For video content, 0.5 Mbps is good to view standard definition, which may give you an experience similar to old VHS movies. If you are subscribing to Netflix, as per livewire.com, the recommended internet connection speeds to stream content is a minimum of 1.5 Mbps. For standard definition content 3 Mbps is recommended, for High definition content a speed of 4 MBPS and for the best experience, 5 Mbps is recommended. Court proceedings, require a good quality video streaming, as the expressions of the person listening and the witness deposing are considered to be important. So, 4 Mbps download speed connection becomes a reasonable expectation. Similarly, the video content to be uploaded will need to be of the same quality. Thus, for lawyers, as for the courts and the clients, the increase in videoconferencing for court purposes, the need for good upload speeds is also going to become critical.
Therefore, from a capacity point of view the network carrying the video-conferencing data has to be good and capable of carrying this huge amount of data. Advocates’ Associations in each court premises will need similar bandwidth. The prosecution offices and the legal aid clinic will also need will need the same. Most importantly, the best backbone infrastructure can be subverted by the last mile speeds at the customer end. So, good internet will not be the only requirement. Good hardware and a good modem will be as critical in a consistent and smooth functioning of video-conferencing based courts. It will be important for the users to be educated about the need for keeping their own equipment up to speed, literally. For example, use of LAN cables for connecting systems instead of WIFI may be useful, especially in lower network-speed areas. A good processor speed of the computer system being used will be equally critical. Knowing about modems, their strengths and weaknesses will be also important. The users must know about the “best fit” or should have easy access to technical advice at the time of purchasing equipment.
To be Continued in Part-II.
Recently, there have been news about discriminatory practices against suspected and cured COVID-19 Patients. A 35 yeas old in Una, Himanchal Pradesh committed suicide over being taunted by villagers even though he had tested negative for COVID-19. Air India has officially stated: “It is alarming to note that in many localities, vigilante Resident Welfare Associations and neighbours have started ostracizing the crew, obstructing them from performing their duty or even calling in the police, simply because the crew traveled abroad in the course of their duty.” Gita Sen of Public Health Foundation of India was quoted by the Hindu, stating that COVID-19 discrimination is similar to HIV related discrimination witnessed in India earlier. Actor-Singer Meiyang Chang has gone public with his experience of being yelled at as “Corona” because he had oriental features, although he belongs to the North-East India and has quite famously stated: “My name is Chang, and I am not Corona Virus” . Incidents are only multiplying by the day. This is a global phenomenon, as noticed in my earlier blogs. While learning from Global experiences might be good, but the response to this problem in India has to be Indian and nuanced as per out own social conditions.
Some historians have theorized that untouchability practices originated from a solidifying, over a period of time, of the perception about certain groups being “impure” owing to their personal hygiene not being the best due to professional compulsions. Others, like Ambedkar believed that untouchability was a born out of politics of religion. Social distancing evokes memories of untouchability practices. Distancing rules and the rationale behind the rules can very quickly morph into irrational practices. Giving colour to events in course of spread of the disease is also very easy. The public narrative of the history of origin and spread of the disease in India has made certain communities very vulnerable to discrimination and even assault. Some professions are also being targeted as “unhygienic” as a result of their being a part of a professional or other community that is in close contact with COVID-19 virus carriers.
India has promised itself a non-discriminatory society and abolished untouchability. Article 17 of the Constitutions of India reads:
“17. Abolition of Untouchability: Untouchability is abolished and its practice in any form is forbidden. The enforcement of any disability arising out of Untouchability shall be an offence punishable in accordance with law.”
Though Article 17 was enacted in a particular context, and Untouchability with a capital “U”, arguably, ought to refer to a particular conception of untouchability, yet, the constitutional promise to abolish untouchability need not be a prisoner of time and context. Constitution is a living document and the text of the constitution ought to derive its flesh and bold from the experience of shared existence of the people of India. Unplugged from its specific pre-independence context, while maintaining the sanctity of the abolition of untouchability for the then “Untouchables”, the promise of Article 17 of the constitution must extend to all modern forms of “Untouchability” and a resolve to weed out all exclusionary practices from the society. Any attempt to marginalize newer groups, based on any identity, to be excluded from the mainstream, to be excluded from common messing, shared community living and respect as equal individuals in the polity must be warded off.
Fighting discrimination is not new to humanity, nor to India. The standard tool-kits to fight such discrimination are already available. There has to be a general recognition that, like in the case of HIV/ AIDS, discrimination against the COVID patients or persons involved in their care is going to be counterproductive and fan the spread of the epidemic to the general population. A government response by recognizing the problem is necessary. Though the PM made a statement warning people assaulting CORONA Warriors of punitive actions, and the Chief Minister of NCT, Delhi, exhorting landlords to refrain from discriminatory attitudes toward doctors, a formal recognition of all the forms of discrimination against CORONA patients, Health Workers, Carers and Family of Patients is yet to come. Information allaying the fears of the general populations and the ill-effects of the discrimination on the general public health and perhaps on the very persons indulging in discrimination have to be well articulated and etched in public memory. Explicit statements of non-discrimination from industry bodies and other collectives need to come through quickly. The Indian industry has come out with and Indian Employers’ Statement of Commitment on HIV/ AIDS. Similar community measures need to be put in place quickly. Key influencers may also need to be roped in to deliver the social message. Key policy measures suggested and implemented for HIV/ AIDS could be evaluated for implementation.
Legislative measures also may need to be adopted. The Human Immunodeficiency Virus and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (Prevention and Control) Act, 2017 could be enlarged to cover COVID-19. The Protection Of Civil Rights Act, 1955 and The Scheduled Castes And The Scheduled Tribes (Prevention Of Atrocities) Act, 1989 could also be looked into for models of legislative responses. The National and the State legal services authorities could also brainstorm of the possible legislative solutions. Legal services authorities will need to build in support programmes against discrimination arising out of COVID-19 discrimination. Compiling the various forms of discrimination reported and disseminating information down to the Talluka level about such conduct not being acceptable is going to the first milestone. Legal services authorities will need to build in support programmes against discrimination arising out of COVID-19 discrimination. Compiling the various forms of discrimination reported and disseminating information down to the Talluka level about such conduct not being acceptable is going to the first milestone.
Effective first point redress seems to have been available to a few Naga migrants facing discrimination in Mysuru. More such responses will need to be seen. Once the nation moves to addressing the economic impact of the crisis and other issues, the discrimination issues will simmer in the background, away from the media and political attention that it is enjoying today, and victims will need support in a big way. Having the institutional mandate in place is important. It is important to lay down the path for the future as a consistent and clearly thought through roadmap to deal with COVID-19 and legal response to such crises. Action is required now lest COVID-19 becomes a new name for untouchability and social discrimination.
 https://news.abplive.com/entertainment/television/coronavirus-indian-idol-fame-meiyang-chang-faces-racism-gets-called-corona-by-two-guys-amid-covid-19-outbreak-1181232; https://www.news18.com/news/movies/my-name-is-chang-and-im-not-coronavirus-meiyang-chang-says-in-video-on-racism-post-coronavirus-oubreak-2566565.html
 Article 17, Constitution of India, 1950
 Similar discrimination has been experienced in the country in connection to other diseases, most notably HIV. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5433268/?report=printable; http://data.unaids.org/publications/irc-pub02/jc587-india_en.pdf
Sagar Saxena, an E-court Evangelist is of the view that all admission stage matters can be heard by paperless E-courts. This is truly possible, as the admission hearings comprise pleadings only by the petitioner and are typically short with minimum requirements of books and cases. Paperless E-courts can also be very easily implemented for matters that are ripe for final hearing. Cases to be listed before paperless E-courts can be narrowed down by the subject matter. Courts can pick up cases in one or two subject areas as per their own experience to pilot the concept. For example, bail matters being heard in the wake on Hon’ble Supreme Court’s recent directions. Any other case where legal aid is being provided and the other party is a state government can also be an easy candidate for this being pooled into this category. Execution matters arising out of matrimonial disputes or family disputes could be another such type of cases. The suggestion to initially keep the paperless courts restricted to cases where counsels appearing are from legal services or the state panel is being made keeping in mind the ease of training these counsels. The counsels can be mobilized quickly and onboarded on the paperless courts. Those among the on-boarded who are motivated can also be trained as local trainers to spread the capacity to onboard the entire Bar to the processes of Paperless E-courts.
The implementation team in each pool can be one set of lawyers and court staff passionate about this cause. Pool 1 can be of cases where only two parties are to be heard and the matter is ready for final hearing. To start with, one can narrow down the category of cases to the ones which have one side as a legal aid counsel and the other side is state counsel. Also, cases where instructions are needed from clients or senior counsels need to be briefed can also be excluded.
Pool 2 could be of cases that are otherwise ripe for hearing, but the arguing counsels need instructions. These cases can be put in the pipeline and readied in say 30 days from Day 1 to be upgraded as Pool 1 case. Technology can be useful in this as well, but this will require one to one conferencing, which now does not need much intervention as most people use one or the other video calling software. For those in any custodial institution or care facility, existing video-conferencing facility can be leveraged.
Pool 3 could be of cases where appeals have to be drafted and filed by legal aid lawyers. In these cases, the lawyers may be asked to draft and carry out e-filing. Once e-filing is done, e-service should also be done in addition to the physical services. The admission hearings can be carried out very easily through the e-courts. Pool 4 can comprise of after-notice matters on appeal. This will lead to the testing and implementation of e-court proceedings relating to completion of pleading. Remaining matters can be taken up by e-courts and though about later.
Lawyers with various backgrounds and age groups have been immersing themselves in simulation e-courts run by Atmabodh. They report it to be fun and something which does not need a lot of learning. Anybody who has handled e-mails and a chat software like WhatsApp can easily ramp up after a 30 minutes session. The judiciary at all levels has now experienced conducting court proceedings virtually. Magistrates carry out production hearings through video conferencing. In the post-COVID scenario, the Supreme Court, High Courts, and District Judges have also had the occasion to conduct court proceedings through video conferencing. Court records are already being digitised. Cause lists are being published online for years now. online display boards are also being used extensively. Case status, i.e. near real time information on what is happening in a particular case is available online. Judgments are also uploaded online. Case diaries in criminal matters are filed on electronic medium. Although still confined to exceptional cases, evidence have also been recorded though platforms like Skype. E-filing has also taken roots in a few category of matters in many high courts. Stamp reporting is done on computer systems. defects are intimated through e-mails. E-services is also accepted in many high court jurisdictions. Bail hearings are also being conducted through video conferencing in the post lockdown scenario. Some Courts may be behind others in this process, but the point is that almost all courts have this process in place. The weakest link in the adoption of technology, with all due respect, are the lawyers. If this is addressed, E-courts will no longer appear futuristic.
Contrary to what I initially believed, a second computer will not be required by the lawyers for the E-courts. I have carried out many simulation sessions of E-court and it is now firmly established that with a single desktop a lawyer can very easily argue his case. However, it can be argued that even this one computer/ laptop may be beyond the reach of a substantial section of practitioners. This barrier can also be overcome. Young lawyers will need starter packs and temporary support for a couple of years. Bar Council can negotiate with banks grant of collateral free loans to young lawyers for acquiring the computer systems needed. Bar Councils may even have funds to provide incentives based on lawyers choosing to argue matters in the E-courts. I have personally benefited from such an initiative in Jharkhand. Hon’ble Chief Justice V K Gupta (as he then was) arranged for a lawyers chamber block to be built. The Bank in the High Court Campus offered a hassle free loan with just the lease of the chamber as a collateral (for whatever that lease right was worth at that time). Many young lawyers motivated by Mr. Amareshwar Sahay and other bar leaders, applied for the chambers and got it. This has maintained the dignity of the institution of the High Court. Bar Associations may set up shared facilities like the e-libraries for those lawyers unable to afford a system. Additionally, special rates can be negotiated with laptop rental companies. It works just like any person hiring chairs and tables for a family function. Lawyers who do not have the volumes to support a laptop purchase can pay as they go, out of their fee in a particular case or as filing expenses. If there are problems there are solutions galore. we just need a bunch of people motivated enough to surmount them.
A bigger hurdle is the mindset and most of the time an uninformed belief that it will require a lot of re-training to adopt E-courts. I had conducted training in computer driving skills of a batch of lawyers the Association of the Jharkhand High Court in 2009. I remember the then President of the Association, Mr. Mahesh Tewari me that my biggest challenge was to change the mindset of the lawyers and not making them learn the skills that I was to impart. He had very generously financially supported the initiative as well. The initiative did not go beyond the first batch of lawyers. He was right. However, he had given a silver lining as well. He has said that when it becomes unavoidable, lawyers will adapt. I have always kept this in mind. The timing of any initiative is very important. Therefore, when the Jamtara frauds took place- in which cyber crimes were being committed from an extremely interior part of Jharkhand, Atmabodh’s workshops on privacy laws became a hit in Ranchi. Recently, I received a call from a participant of that workshop asking me to conduct similar workshops on cyber crimes. So, is this the right time for lawyers to adopt the E-courts? I think yes. Faced with an unprecedented and perhaps an existential crisis lawyers will be more receptive to any such move than they have been ever before. The time is ripe for onboarding lawyers to E-courts.
“Domestic abuse cases rise as COVID-19 lockdown turns into captivity for many women”, claims a recent headline of Deccan Herald1] Anticipating the problem, the UP Police came up with a pro-active advertisement announcing “Suppress corona, not your voice”.  This is a global phenomenon. Quoting Women’s’ Rights Activists, BBC report that Domestic “abuse has already increased elsewhere in the world” Another report from the UK suggests: “The many ramifications of the outbreak may also mean that women and their children could find it even harder to access safety and specialist support.” In the US “[p are threatening to throw their victims out on the street so they get sick,” reports TIME, quoting a women’s rights group. I have received calls from women who had agreed to a divorce for mutual consent hoping that it will be wrapped up by a certain date. The proceedings cannot be completed now, and the wait for a resettlement is going to be longer. In my earlier post, I had anticipated that the commercial lawyers are likely to adapt to the e-courts sooner. However, after discussing with colleagues at the and reading reports on domestic violence cases due to lock, it appears that the legal aid response to COVID-19 is more urgent. At least some cases relating to domestic violence or matrimonial matters may be easy to be concluded by e-hearings and at the very least offer a fertile test bed executing the E-courts project. The system can be set up for conducting e-court proceeding in cases, pooled as per the number of participants required from the stakeholders.
Atmabodh has started onboarding lawyers in its network to argue in simulated court proceedings. It took Advocates Sagar Saxena and Abhishek R Shukla merely 30 minutes to learn the basic skills needed to argue an execution petition online. After the session Sagar Saxena remarked: “Admission hearings in a domestic violence case be very easily conducted through E-courts.”
This initial group experimented with a couple of software available for video conferencing and hopping from the one to the other was not at all difficult. They have now on-boarded few others and all have signed up for arguing petitions online, if given the opportunity. Each one on-boarded is excited and wants to bring in more lawyers in this game. Atmabodh will reach out to hundreds of lawyers who have been part of its continuing legal education workshop initiative over the last five years to join in and get on-boarded. All are welcome to join. Atmabodh will organise the on-boarding for all who pledge to argue one legal aid case online. Anyone can log his/her support to this programme on the facebook page of Atmabodh. You can also contact us by filling up the web contact form here.
We must remember that with lock-down, large number of people are going to be crammed in spaces smaller than they are otherwise used to. Lot of toggling and time-sharing of resources within the household will become difficult, if not impossible. Frustration, pent-up anger, etc will start accumulating. Domestic conflicts are likely to increase. The weakest will bear the brunt of it. Law in action is an equalising factor in such situations. At the very least it offers hope and a bargaining lever to the weak, at the very best, it redresses the balance and holds the powerful person/s in these relationships accountable. If domestic stress is left unaddressed, the lock-down may also be very difficult to hold over an extended period of time, if needed. So, lawyers must also embrace technology and offer hope to the weaker and make a positive difference in the society under stressful and unprecedented time.
Along with the initial enthusiasm for the government measures for lock-down, differences and disputes are already emerging. Huge crowds gathered at Anand Vihar amidst misinformation for ferrying migrant workers to their native places. One of the members of Atmabodh caught this on his camera and posted on his facebook post today.
The exodus has been followed today by suspension of two officials. Video clips of cops beating up labourers going out to work, without asking questions or attempting to see permissions have been doing the rounds. Grievances about the promised food packets not reaching the needy are also mushrooming. Complaints of procurement of faulty diagnostic kits and thermometers are also doing the rounds in medical professional circles as well as the international media. Can we afford to keep these grievances of people in deep freezer? May be yes, but for how long? Policy decisions may have to be tested on the touchstone of constitutional principles of rationality and proportionality. Fortunately, the positive news is outnumbering the negative. For now, we may turn a blind eye to these.
A few of my clients have been calling. One was relieved when I informed him that limitation has been extended, so he can sleep stress-free during the lock-down. Another, engaged in supplying food to an essential services entity is threatened with business continuity due to a commercial restructuring process caught in the war time. Yet another is worried about the conclusion of a divorce, so that she can look towards a new feature, while age is still on her side. Another person was complaining about prices being hiked by local wholesalers. It would be interesting to know about the statistics of call being received by the helplines of the various legal services authorities. The point is that with a good part of the economy still running and being bound to run, justice cannot be pushed to the backstage. So, can we be content with the telephonic mentioning of urgent matters and scanned petitions? Of course, we have been caught unawares and cannot but welcome these efforts and let them pass as adequate.
I would like to mention a Whats App message from a friend seeking to unravel what lawyers are doing in the lock-down. I will wait for her article when she publishes it and see what it unravels. My anecdotal evidence is as follows. Two lawyers contacted me for medicines that they needed, one for himself and another for his father. Another called me to ask about whether we were stocked up on provisions. Many have been filling up the pages of the social media platform. Others have been making donations to the PM and the CM relief funds and publishing them, ostensibly to encourage others to follow suit. Yet others have been busy involving their families and juniors in cooking food for the poor and supplying them to the local police. A couple of lawyers discussed which extra-legal reading might be good. A blessed few are reading for their Supreme Court Advocate on Record (AOR) exams on the other side of the lock-down. Few bar leaders are busy fining monetary relief to those of the fraternity living on rented accommodations and participating in the resulting slug-fest. Not many seem to be visibly worried about the plight of the litigants, for whom they exist as a professional. Again, I would look away.
My glance now falls on the role of the legal community in national disasters as envisaged in the statutes. Will discuss it in my next dispatch.
Synchronizing our physical files with the court files is a task we all have done as juniors. Luckily, with e-courts this is only a click of a mouse away. All we need to do is to copy the court file to our own storage media! Easy. Then, we open the file on our systems and start reading. Reading from cover to cover is again very intuitive. keep scrolling the mouse down or pressing the down arrow button and you will be able to move text in front of you just like your physical files. Next, maybe you want to move around the document and reach a particular page? For example page 44 of the petition. It is again very easy. Most of us must have noticed that every pdf reader has a page button on top. It gives the running pagination of the pdf document. It shows the number of the page that you are on and the total number of pages in the document. So, to move to a page with a particular running page number you need to type the number of the page you want to go to in the first box. Press ENTER key and you will be there.
This page is a work in progress and will keep evolving. Comments on what to add will be great to have.
For learning how to very quickly go to the page in a pdf document you want to click here. If you want to know more about navigating around pdf documents see this video.
Yesterday’s post was about the principled need to start delivering contactless legal services to enable the doors of justice to remain open in all adversities, including lockdowns emanating from various threats that are likely to emerge in future. Today, let us explore the ways and means of making this start. Let me begin with a disclaimer. The process will not be easy and painless. What we need to realise is that this has to start now and gradually ramp up. All sorts of issues will be raised, but those problems will need to be resolved and conquered. Today’s blog is a proposal to follow a gradual and do-able path to achieve the objective of contactless courts in India.
For those who do not know, many Delhi High Court judges conduct their proceedings in a paperless manner. The e-files are displayed on their boards and they use touch screens and a stylus to scroll down the pages. Similarly, there are many counsels who use their tablets to argue and do not use their physical files in the court room. I cannot possibly imagine any difficulty in pairing these judges and counsels to start with remote and contactless court proceedings. A beginning can be made by constituting a special contactless court roster of the Hon’ble Judges who are adept in paperless proceedings. The Registry can invite counsels who are interested in having their cases listed before the contactless benches and can handle arguments from their tablets to submit their requests for a hearing. There could be an issue with not having a video conferencing link available to connect the Courtrooms and Lawyers. This may not be a daunting task for the initiated and the interested. Numerous meetings software exist, including Skype, Zoom, etc which can make contactless court hearings possible. The Supreme Court and many High Courts are already using some to enable hearings via video-conferencing in urgent matters. Of course, a second computer will be required by the counsels for the video chat, which most counsels who already argue using their tablets will either have or can borrow from their family members. If not, they can wait and prepare while the most resourceful and most motivated of the lot break the ground.
From my observations in the Delhi High Court, it appears most of these counsels practice on the commercial side. Naturally, the matters that will jump the queue will be of commercial nature. Steps will need to be taken to ensure that contactless delivery of legal services does not remain confined to cases of the rich and influential. So, as the contactless benches hear the cases mostly on the commercial side, cases of the ordinary litigant (I use this phrase for my inability to find a better phrase) can be prepared for such hearings. This may not be as daunting as it may appear on the first blush. A legal aid contactless court roster can also be made. Legal aid cases can be ear-marked for such hearings and a special panel of legal aid counsels who are willing to participate in this yajna can be prepared. State counsels who opt for this mode of hearing can have briefs on the contactless court roster allotted to them. In the alternative, if the existing state counsels do not have the skill-set to participate in such hearings, a special state panel for contactless courts could also be prepared. It goes without saying that I offer my services for this and request others interested to send me a message on this blog or on my mobile 9999714802 to participate.
All existing legal aid and state counsels should be given an opportunity to equip themselves with the skill-sets required for a contactless court hearing. State counsels should also be given the opportunity to upgrade their skills. Atmabodh has the capacity to mobilise technology professionals to implement this task. Atmabodh has, in the past, incubated a project for computer literacy children of commercial sex workers. The project has sustained itself through generations of engineering students and now runs as a standalone project. A list of e-skilling sessions can be recommended to them along with a remote technology mentor to acquire the skills needed to become a part of the contactless court legal aid panel. 15 days should be sufficient for acquiring these skill sets for a person who is otherwise able to use e-mail and video chat .
In the first wave, it will be difficult to run the entire process of client conference, drafting, filing, defect removal, listing, admission hearing, completion of pleadings and final hearing. So, to start with, all jail appeals and second appeals where paper-books are ready and have been scanned for e-courts can be taken up. The pdf files can be sent to counsels who can read the briefs, make notes and argue the matters. A parallel team can work on preparing a few cases that require deeper engagement like conferences between clients and counsels. Again, jail appeals from jails with existing video-conferencing facilities could be good test cases. Once we are able to pick these low lying fruits, more teams can be added and capabilities expanded from one category to the other. A lesson that I learnt during my student days leading the Tihar Jail Legal Services Programme at the Campus Law Centre, University of Delhi, is that one a beginning is made, a good idea follows the logarithmic curve. This is an article of faith in my mind now.
As pointed out in yesterday’s blog, contactless delivery of legal services is a necessary concomitant of the state of the society that we are in today. It is COVID-19 today, it can be a bio-warfare scenario tomorrow. Away from these scary scenarios, this will enable the judicial system to clear huge backlogs from the system, especially in those cases where the delivery of justice is mostly contactless, where clients handed over briefs, have done the initial conferencing required for completion of pleadings and now it is only for the counsels to argue. This will remove the physical barriers to access to justice in normal times, where litigants are unable to approach courts, especially higher courts, due to lack of time and resources to travel on multiple occasions to the lawyers and courts. Viewed from another angle, such an exercise also has the ability to reduce the cost of legal services for the bulk of matters where counsels sitting at a distance can provide legal services at a lower cost than their equally competent counterparts in the cities. In the coming days, expect to hear more on these aspects.