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Inauguration of Model Virtual Courtrooms: Incorporating Technology Would Be An Excellent Remedy For The Pendency Of Criminal Cases, explained Justice D.Y. Chandrachud

Chief Justice S. Murlidhar spoke about the advantages of virtual courts at the inauguration of modal virtual courtrooms in the Angul & Nayagarh District in Orissa. Additionally, Justice D.Y. Chandrachud discussed the need and multiple initiatives taken by the E-Committee of Supreme Court to connect technology with courts

By: Hemani Khadai

The Model Virtual Courtrooms in the two districts of Orissa were inaugurated in the presence of the Orissa High Court Chief Justice S. Murlidhar and chairperson of e-committee of Supreme Court Justice D.Y. Chandrachud.

This initiative also activated the digitizing of court records through the e-Custody Certificate System and Automated Email service to disseminate case information. 

Justice D.Y. Chandrachud applauded the launch of the e-Custody certificate and explained that every under trial and convict undergoing the sentence of imprisonment would have an e-custody certificate attached to them. From the first remand through the subsequent progress, such certificate will provide all of the necessary information about that particular under trial or convict. 

He noted that this would also help ensure that bail orders are conveyed as soon as they are issued, as the delay in notification of bail orders is a fundamental flaw in our system. 

Quoting the Aryan Khan case, he explained that, “This has ramifications for everyone who is on trial,” as Aryan Khan recently had to spend two extra nights in jail despite receiving a reduced sentence.

Simultaneously, the Orissa High Court Chief Justice S. Murlidhar spoke about the advantages of virtual courts at the inauguration. He expressed that such virtual courts will be helpful and speedy in recording evidence from witnesses from any location so that trial can proceed without any obstacle by providing specific time-slots for witnesses to appear. He also spoke about the distinguishing elements between the model virtual courtrooms and the regular virtual courtrooms.

How different is the virtual court from the regular court, which also does virtual hearings?

Chief Justice S. Murlidhar explained that model virtual courtrooms have equipment that can deal with the recording of evidence and a visualizer to show documents to the witness etc., which is not available in the regular virtual courts.  

These model virtual courts are capable of doing multiple tasks virtually, which may not be possible in the ordinary courts conducting a virtual hearing. Also, judicial officers are being trained to use virtual courts.

Working of the Virtual Courtrooms?

Chief Justice S. Murlidhar explained that any trained judicial officer could book the virtual court for a hearing.  There is a slotting of specific times for the witnesses to appear. He further explained, these Virtual courtrooms also have an additional feature of Hybrid Hearings”. 

In a hybrid hearing, the lawyer of the defense can be physically present in the court while the witness may be in a remote location but present in the virtual hearing & it can seamlessly go on with the trial. So, the trial will go on without a hitch, irrespective of the location of the witness, forensic science laboratory scientist, or the doctor, as they will have a slot at specific times for examination.

Appreciating the District Judges at Angul and Naragarh District Courts, Chief Justice S. Murlidhar mentioned that their calendar is already full for the virtual court hearings.

“The district judges at Angul and Nayagarh have been working tirelessly, literally day and night, to make this programme a success. They have lined up
Cases on every working day in November. Their calendar is already full for the virtual court”.

In the same event, Justice D.Y. Chandrachud explained that incorporating technology would be an excellent remedy for the pendency of criminal cases. He indicated that there are 2 crores 95 lakh criminal cases pending in the district judiciary of the country, out of which 77.5% of the cases are more than 1 year old.

He also mentioned that because the non-appearance of official witnesses causes delays, the time has come to make the recording of official witness evidence through video conferencing platforms the rule rather than the exception”.

“Virtual Courts speed up trials & provide dignity for all human beings”, said Justice D.Y. Chandrachud. 

Other initiatives discussed by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud?

  1. Digitization of Court Records: As e-filing of cases today will eliminate the need for digitization in the future.
  2. E-Seva Kendras: He elaborated that it is crucial to bridge the digital divide for the bar members, and such can be accomplished by establishing and providing resources under the one-stop facility of e-Seva Kendra in every District Court. Virtual courts and e-Sewa Kendra are inaugurated at Allahabad HC and district courts.
  3. Training of bar members: The Judge highlighted that the judicial academies should also collaborate with the bar associations for training members of the bar starting from the taluka level. 
  4. Interoperable Criminal Justice System: He mentioned the ICJS is the key element of the e-courts project. “Through the ICJS, the crime, criminal tracking system, the CCTNS (Crime and Criminal Tracking Network and Systems), the E-Courts, and the E-Prisons Databases will be integrated such that the CCTNS will share the FIR and charge sheet data in an electronic form with the E-Courts application, and likewise the E-Courts will communicate the CNR number (a unique number assigned to each case filed in district and taluka courts) with the CCTNS through ICJS. More information about the case could be made available via open APIs,” according to Justice Chandrachud. The judge went on to say that the E-court services app is accessible on Android and iOS and can be used by police officers all over the world to track cases, prepare case portfolios, and receive vital alerts. Senior police officers can use the software to keep track of critical cases in their area, and jail administrators can also use the app.
  5. Launching all forms of inspection in electronic forms: The Supreme Court E-Committee has established open APIs enabling the state government to monitor its litigation in the courts, among other things. He further said, “As judges, we are all aware that the district judiciary keeps manual registers, which takes a significant amount of time. When the date for inspection arrives, and his lordship or her ladyship goes to the district court for inspection, it can be a stressful experience.” He explained the need for modernization & how Inspections must be performed electronically as model electronic registers are being used to replace manual registers. 
  6. Linking of land records with the case information software: He explained, “One of the main issues in many of the cases that come before the district courts are whether a particular plot of land has already been encumbered on that land. In Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh, the linking of land records with the CIS (Case Information System) has already been completed, and this will ensure that the land records and the CIS are connected together.” The High Court of J&K has effectively implemented CIS.

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