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E-courts: Need of the Hour

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A disaster or any pandemic cannot be stopped, but one can arm themselves with its knowledge and preparedness. The current pandemic, COVID-19, has created a global distress in all the spheres of life, and the judicial system is also not an exception to this. The COVID-19 lockdown has blockaded the helm of the judicial system. Courts across the nation are shut and no hearings are being conducted, except for the most pertinent ones. This novel coronavirus has severely impeded the global justice system. Several nations like Indonesia, Malaysia, the United Kingdom, Singapore, and many others have started switching to online hearings and trials, and it shall be reasonably expected that India would not be lagging behind. The disruption caused by COVID-19 essentially compels us to migrate from a mallet to a click. In India, undeniably, the crime rate has dropped and it could be the best possible time to clear at least a considerable backlog of cases. The lockdown will only increase the delay in justice deliverance, and one push towards the virtual hearing of cases is going to combat this delay.

On 6 April 2020, the Supreme Court of India issued guidelines for courts to switch to video conferencing during the pandemic for both future and past cases. A three-judge bench of Chief Justice S A Bobde, Justices D Y Chandrachud and L Rao directed the courts to restrict entry and maintain social distancing, besides other measures for combating the spread of COVID-19. It also said that the Supreme Court and high courts are already conducting proceedings through video conferencing and the other courts should also use the same. But these courts are only dealing with important matters through video conferencing. Even the limitation period has been suspended and general guidelines have been issued on the use of video conferencing. Is this not a legal conundrum? The second wave of the lockdown has brought many hurdles in human lives, and if such a vital organ of the government will stop functioning or will be reserved only for the urgent matters, how will there be access to justice? Accessibility to justice should not be infringed on, irrespective of the COVID-19 pandemic. The option of live streaming is now easily available to the ordinary citizen as well, so there is no reason as to why the judiciary is not utilising such a crucial measure to provide access to justice, despite its efforts to construct e-courts since 2004. This pandemic could be the best time to bring in video conferencing for the access to justice and speedy disposal of cases.

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