Earlier this month, while taking into consideration the latest SOPs and guidelines issued by the Governments of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh, related to covid-19 pandemic, the High Court ordered that apart from virtual hearing, the matters may also be taken up for physical hearings where the counsel for both the parties give their consent.
Also, a Parliamentary Standing Committee on personnel, public grievances, law, and justice, in its recent report, recommended holding virtual courts even after the pandemic ends.
The panel underlined that digital justice was cheaper and faster besides addresses locational and economic handicaps. It also ensures the safety of vulnerable witnesses providing testimony and expedites processes and procedures, the panel underscored.
The takeaway was that it “most affordable, citizen-friendly and offer greater access to justice”.
It is beyond doubt something to be tried and adopted sooner than later. However, the concerned stakeholders need to deeply analyze the issues related to digital technology as also fixing shortcomings, both in terms of legislation and existing structures.
The virtual courts, it is hoped, will reduce the pendency of cases by reducing the time taken on comparatively lesser financial issues like insurance, traffic claims and challans that clog the system for long now.
The major policy changes always have unintended consequences and as such these “game-changing” decisions demand careful thought on what types of cases and what parts of the judicial process are amenable to going online.
As has been administratively ordered by the high court, it should be a matter of choice if participants on either side want to use the virtual route. It is true that reducing pendency via virtual courts will diminish travel costs and allied problems associated with it but allied factors should not be ignored at the peril of justice. The virtual court hearings may be a help in recording evidence especially in the context of J&K where prosecution for one or the other security reasons fails to produce the accused or vulnerable witnesses.
Fundamentally is not the technology alone that improves the system. Basically people do.
While virtual mode has benefits, the crucial matters that need direct human interaction should never be replaced by online system.
The adoption of new and evolving technologies requires careful preparation. In context of J&K, issues on connectivity need to be addressed beforehand. The experience allowed by the covid-19 needs to be taken forward, both in terms of benefits as well as addressing the shortcomings.