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In a move meant to aid the expeditious and efficient administration of justice, a new studio-based video conference facility, set to cover all courts in Tamil Nadu, has been launched at the principal Bench of the Madras High Court.
Chief Justice VK Tahilramani launched the video-conferencing facility from the Principal Bench of the Madras High Court on Wednesday. Also present at the launch were Justice TS Sivagnanam, Chairman of the Computer Committee, Justice Pushpa Sathyanarayana, Member of the Computer Committee and other High Court judges. Judicial officers and Bar Association members from various other districts also attended the event through video conferencing.
The video conferencing project was conceived pursuant to the directions issued by the Supreme Court in the 2003 case of State of Maharashtra v Dr Praful B Desai. More recently, in 2017, the Karnataka High Court in Santhini v Vijaya Venkatesh permitted the use of video conferencing in a divorce case where one spouse was abroad.
In due course, an action plan was prepared by the E-committee of Supreme Court, which then directed all the High Courts to provide studio-based video conferencing facility. Explaining how such a facility would be useful, Justice Sivagnanam pointed out that the new facility would help in cutting costs and time. While addressing the gathering, he pointed out,
“The concept [of video-conferencing] is quite interesting because, even though video conferencing facility was available in all the respective districts, whenever the High Court calls for a meeting through video conference, the principal district judges, chief judicial magistrates and other judges will have to go to the district collector’s office or the collectorate complex. There, the NIC [National Informatics Centre] has established a studio based video room.
Often, what happens is, with short notice, if a particular judge wants to have a video conferencing facility, there is difficulty in obtaining a time slot from the collectorate. As a result, we have to adjust to their timings. And moreover, sometimes the collectorate is away from wherever the court complex is situated. As a result, the judges have to be there in advance by hours.”
Given these problems, the High Court had sent in a request to the Tamil Nadu government to sanction an amount to set up the studio-based video conferencing equipment for all 233 court complexes situated in the State of Tamil Nadu.
The requested amount of Rs. 22.83 crores was sanctioned by the government last year. The amount is being sanctioned in two phases; Rs 11.41 crores was meant for the year 2018-19, whereas the remaining Rs 11.42 crores will be utilised in 2019-20.
Justice Sivagnanam informed,
“For the first phase, we have decided to have it in 116 locations. And as a part of the first phase, now we have got it in 34 [locations] – the principal seat and the Madurai Bench [of the Madras High Court] and 32 district courts.”
Wednesday’s event marked the launch of the video-conference facility in these 34 districts.
“This is going to be a game changer for the judiciary in the Tamil Nadu”, added Justice Sivagnanam. “The Benefits have to be felt to be believed… you [have to] go into the system and start interacting with your respective district judges as portfolio judges, or they want to interact with the High Court, or if the registrar general wants to speak to them – everything can happen. In fact, in lighter vein, declaring court complexes open can be done by lordships sitting here by video conferencing.”
He also noted,
“This facility to this level, if I am not wrong, it is the first of the kind in the country.
The gathering was also informed that if the Supreme Court were to direct that live streaming of court proceedings be implemented in the future, the Madras High Court now has all the facilities in place for the same.
The video conferencing facilities can be put to several potential purposes, including the examination of witnesses, dealing with remand extension matters and discussion of sensitive matters or confidential court matters between judges across courts. The use of video conferencing to carry out these functions would aid in saving time and cutting costs.
While addressing the gathering, Chief Justice VK Tahilramani informed the gathering that the facility would first be used to examine official witnesses such as judicial officers, doctors, investigating officers, forensic experts etc.
“This is with a view to iron out any chinks that may crop up. Once fine tuned, and found to be entirely satisfactory, the platform will be opened for examination of all other witnesses in relation to a given case in the interest of speedy dispensation justice,” she said.
Chief Justice Tahilramani also opined that such measures are crucial to improve the administration of justice. She said,
“… of late, the perennial malaise of delay, combined with procedural rigmarole, has been plaguing the judiciary. It Is high time that the judiciary responded in a positive manner by adopting innovative measures and some out of the box thinking besides the time tested techniques. In this context, the role played by information and communication technology to simplify and at the same time quicken the judicial process assumes greater significance with a view to ensure timely and effective dispensation of justice.”
On the occasion of the launch, it was also informed that the High Court is the first to notify rules to regulate video conferencing through the Madras High Court Video Conferencing rules, 2018, which came into effect in January this year.
The other novel facility launched at the event was the E-Notice Board, towards which the Tamil Nadu government had sanctioned about Rs. 52 lakhs. The Board is meant to be a citizen-centric, litigant-friendly sensitisation and awareness tool.
The facility will help broadcast pertinent information about laws, schemes such as those by the State Legal Services Authority, training programmes, mediation programmes etc. On the launch of the E-Notice Board, Chief Justice Tahilramani said,
“It is a novel introduction by the Madras High Court. In this day and age of IT boom, people are more than ever before dependant on technology. … it is undeniable that technology, especially social media, the internet, whastsapp… have played crucial roles in coming to the aid of the needy.
Almost all service and public institutions have taken to technology like fish to water. One who is ignorant or oblivious to the change will left out. It is either fall in line, or fall away. Thus, it becomes imminent for the judiciary to toe the line, especially when it comes to providing service oriented utilities which will go long way to providing justice.”
Justice Pushpa Sathyanarayanan, also a member of the Computer Committee at the Madras High Court, rendered the vote of thanks.