Reforms for a tech-forward Punjab & Haryana High Court: Identifying challenges

If executed appropriately, the Punjab and Haryana High Court’s digital transformation would act as a benchmark for courts nationwide.
 Punjab and Haryana High Court
Punjab and Haryana High Court

Scholars in public policy have persistently advocated for proportional structural reforms within the civil justice system, recognizing their pivotal role in augmenting efficiency in justice delivery while upholding fundamental tenets such as the rule of law and access to justice for all stakeholders.

Prominent examples like that of Denmark highlight the effectiveness of reform proposals that prioritise preparatory proceedings coupled with technological advancements. This approach leads to improved court accessibility, faster case resolution and lower costs for parties involved in litigation.

In the context of the Indian civil court framework, the Punjab and Haryana Court has consistently demonstrated adaptability and innovative prowess. It stands as an early adopter of technology, spearheading initiatives encompassing data protection, e-courts, and online dispute resolution (ODR).

A notable instance involves the bench of Justice Anoop Chitkara, which sought input from ChatGPT while deliberating on a bail application related to assault, solely with the intent of elucidating broader perspectives on bail jurisprudence.

Thus far, the Punjab and Haryana High Court has made notable strides in the implementation of e-court systems. As of December 2021, the CIS 1.0 system has witnessed the electronic filing of 7,022 cases. Additionally, the development of several software modules, including the Online Mentioning Module, Ordinary Filing Token Module, Judge’s Diary Module, Android Mobile Application and e-Statement Software, has aimed to enhance the operational efficiency of the court system.

On March 20, 2024, Acting Chief Justice Gurmeet Singh Sandhawalia inaugurated four IT initiatives, encompassing hybrid video-conferencing in the High Court and all district courts in Punjab, Haryana and Chandigarh, free public Wi-Fi on the High Court premises, an Inventory Management Software (IMS) for district courts, and a Neutral Citation Phase-I (QR code). These initiatives, coupled with the digitisation of judicial records in the subordinate courts across Punjab, Haryana and Chandigarh, are streamlining administrative processes and augmenting efficiency.

However, digitisation of justice has brought along with it a fair share of concerns. Three prominent obstacles emerge for deliberation. Firstly, an inter-judicial challenge arises in the relationship between the bar and bench. This is partly due to the practical challenges that underscore the importance of harmonising economic objectives with principles of justice and fairness. Secondly, ensuring the integrity of justice administration necessitates building an ecosystem approach conducive to scalability, speed and sustainability, alongside steadfast commitment to cybersecurity. This is a challenge in itself, considering the ‘private’ nature of the internet and the ‘public’ nature of the justice system. This is indispensable for safeguarding the public character of justice systems and preserving the core values guiding judicial proceedings. Thirdly, the inefficient interface between the judiciary and executive branches is an encumbrance that is widely ignored. For instance, Justice Sanjeev Prakash Sharma’s observations highlight instances of unnecessary litigation despite established legal precedents.

To address these challenges, several key reforms can be initiated within the judicial administrative setup. One such reform involves the automation of e-case numbers and payments, aimed at significantly reducing administrative burden and duplication of filings across all levels of the judiciary. By implementing smart automation, the overall flow of court proceedings can be improved, facilitating a smoother and more efficient operation.

Additionally, the introduction of automated emailing systems for case updates at the Punjab & Haryana High Court enables the timely dissemination of case status, hearing dates, cause lists and orders to advocates and litigants registered in the system. This would enhance communication and accessibility to information, and promote transparency and accountability within the judicial system.

To effectively manage and coordinate digitisation efforts, there has already been a proposal to establish a coordination cell for technological control within the jurisdiction. This initiative seeks to centralise efforts and optimise resource allocation for achieving effective digital transformation. By consolidating efforts and resources, the judiciary can better navigate the complexities of digitisation and ensure its successful implementation.

Furthermore, the development of training programs for the legal fraternity plays a crucial role in promoting digital literacy and competency. These programs aim to raise awareness and equip legal professionals with the necessary skills to effectively utilise digital tools. Aligned with the vision of digital courts, such training initiatives complement existing structures like the High Court Computer Committee, contributing to the overall advancement of the judiciary in adapting to technological advancements

Moreover, pre-established innovative software modules, such as the Virtual Court for Traffic Challans in Chandigarh and an RTI portal, exemplify the potential of technology to transform judicial processes by enhancing access, efficiency and fairness in traffic challan disposal. Finally, executive digital initiatives like the MSME SAMADHAAN, dedicated to monitoring delayed payments and resolving disputes efficiently, represent crucial steps towards improving dispute resolution mechanisms. However, broader adoption of ODR, especially per the Digital Personal Data Protection Act, 2023 across various sectors in the region, requires integration with continued development needs and policy support from the Punjab & Haryana High Court.

If executed appropriately, the Punjab and Haryana High Court’s digital transformation would act as a benchmark for courts nationwide, addressing administrative bottlenecks through digitisation. Prioritising data protection, embracing e-courts and responsibly exploring ODR exemplify efforts to foster a more efficient, inclusive and accessible justice system. Collaborative efforts between technology offices and the Department of Court Technology Operations (DCTO) are essential to ensure that the digital infrastructure aligns with High Court’s requirements and stakeholder needs. Above all, the High Court must actively engage with various stakeholders beyond the bar and executive institutions to ensure that court digitisation does not create unforeseen challenges in the future.

Anmol Rattan Singh is PhD Research Scholar at the Department of Public Administration, Panjab University, Chandigarh.

Agastya Shukla is a 3rd year law student at University Institute of Legal Studies, Panjab University, Chandigarh.

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