Justice DY Chandrachud attended the event through video conferencing
Justice DY Chandrachud attended the event through video conferencing
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We are conscious that every lawyer may not be e-enabled: Justice DY Chandrachud during e-inauguration of Virtual Courts for Tamil Nadu

He went on to add that when it comes to training lawyers to navigate the functioning of virtual courts "there is a vital role to the played by the Bar Associations and the judiciary acting together as one institution."

Meera Emmanuel

A live-streamed, virtual ceremony was conducted on Tuesday to inaugurate the functioning of virtual courts in Tamil Nadu to deal with traffic and petty offences.

The event saw the participation of Supreme Court e-Committee Chairmain Justice DY Chandrachud, Madras High Court's Chief Justice AP Sahi and other judges of the Madras High Court, including the High Court's computer committee Chairman, Justice TS Sivagnanam and computer committee member, Justice Pushpa Sathyanarayana.

During their addresses, the judges also acknowledged certain apprehensions by the legal fraternity over the increasing shift to virtual courts amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

During his welcome address, Justice TS Sivagnanam also spoke on the various E-Court initiatives undertaken in Tamil Nadu
During his welcome address, Justice TS Sivagnanam also spoke on the various E-Court initiatives undertaken in Tamil Nadu

While speaking on the e-Court initiatives rolled out by the Supreme Court, Justice DY Chandrachud assured,

"We are conscious of the fact that every lawyer of the bar may not be e-enabled or technology compliant. Therefore, what we are proposing to do is to appoint data entry operators who will do the feeding of the data at a nominal cost for those lawyers who do not have access to those services."
Justice Chandrachud

He added that it is important that judges take it upon themselves to encourage the training of young lawyers in these aspects, particularly those from remote areas. He emphasised that this is important for the long-term success of the E-Courts project. He also observed,

"I believe there is a vital role to be played by the Bar Associations and the judiciary acting together as one institution in propagating training for young lawyers. Of course, many young lawyers are far more proficient in technology than we are, but there are many lawyers who are not. Educational levels differ… "

Justice Chandrachud added that e-Seva kendras (which are also being set up in Tamil Nadu) can be used as focal points to roll out services of the E-Courts project.

Justice DY Chandrachud speaking during the inaugural event
Justice DY Chandrachud speaking during the inaugural event

Notably, Justice Chandrachud also commented on why e-filing of cases should not be viewed in isolation. He said,

"I would like to emphasise that e-filing is not really a matter merely of piling on emails. E-filing and digitization go hand in hand. What’s important is that we must be able to sync the files which have been digitised…with the e-filing which is taking place today so that both the digitised files and the e-filed files can be synchronised on one platform so as to provide a dashboard for the judges… "

As he concluded his address, he informed that the grant of money sought for by the High Court's IT Committee to set up Information Computer Technology infrastructure would be facilitated, so that every court in Tamil Nadu would have these facilities.

During his keynote address, Chief Justice AP Sahi observed that while there may be some reluctance to adopt the new technology, it has potential to be well-received once it is set into motion and the advantages of its use outweigh its cons.

"Today is a historic moment", he remarked referring to how court functioning is being redefined with the commencement of virtual courts. He went on to add that the present era of COVID-19 should be used as an opportunity to make use of technology, although he acknowledged the concern that virtual courts are not substitutes for the regular courts.

Chief Justice AP Sahi speaking at the event
Chief Justice AP Sahi speaking at the event

He emphasised that what is important is that fairness in the opportunity to be heard be ensured in virtual courts. He added that it could be guaged from initial successes of virtual courts that this can be ensured once the technology is updated and the hiccups experiences resolved.

He added that training personnel, helpline and modules may be introduced to train lawyers who require the same. This can be implemented within the Court premises itself, he said.

He went on to observe that a virtual mode of court functioning may aid differently-abled litigants and lawyers, as well as poor litigants who need not rush to courts every day.

On a parting note, he also expressed hope that,

"Live streaming which is being discussed today, may become a reality tomorrow."
Chief Justice AP Sahi

The event concluded after a vote of thanks delivered by Justice Pushpa Sathyanarayana, also a member of the Madras High Court's compute committee.

Justice Pushpa Sahyanarayana rendered the concluding address
Justice Pushpa Sahyanarayana rendered the concluding address

How would the virtual courts work?

A tutorial conducted during the live-streamed ceremony detailed how traffic offences may be remotely dealt with by virtual judges and how traffic violators may make the payment of fines online, dispensing with the need for their physical appearance before a physical court.

In this regard, it was informed that the High Court had entered in an MoU with the State Bank of India to facilitate e-payment of fines for traffic violations.

Broadly, the process begins with the registration of the vehicle details of the traffic law violator in the application used by the police. A challan generated by the police goes to the E-challan server, from where it goes to the virtual court server.

After the complete case details are verified by the concerned administrative officials, the judge can virtually deal with the case by accessing a dashboard, which would contain necessary details regarding vehicle number, date of offence, name of violator, legal provision violated etc.

The judge can fix a fine and send an SMS to the party. The violator can pay the fine online through an SBI payment gateway. Alternatively, the link sent to the party can also be used to opt for contesting the ruling.

If the fine is paid, an acknowledgement is received by the violator and the same is reflected in the judge's virtual dashboard.

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