Dispute resolution in India involves the utilization of courts, tribunals, and alternative dispute resolution (ADR) mechanisms such as Lok Adalats. However, traditional methods of dispute resolution face significant challenges, which have been further exacerbated by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
These challenges include:
- Backlog of cases: With over 470 lakh pending cases as of May 2022, the Indian judiciary is burdened with a substantial backlog. Subordinate courts account for 87.4% of these pending cases, while High Courts have 12.4% pending, with nearly 1,82,000 cases awaiting resolution for over three decades.
- Insufficient human resources: The judge-to-population ratio in terms of sanctioned strength stands at 21.03 judges per million populations as of December 2021, indicating a shortage of judicial personnel.
- Inadequate record management: The prevalent practice of physical record-keeping presents challenges in terms of storage space, maintenance, and proper classification.
- Human bias in judgments: The inherent potential for human bias in judgments often leads to inconsistent rulings in cases with similar circumstances.
- Inadequate contract enforcement: Poor contract enforcement negatively affects the ease of doing business in India, as noted by the World Bank.
The integration of information and communications technology (ICT) into dispute resolution processes offers promising solutions to address these challenges effectively:
- Virtual case scheduling: By conducting sessions through video conferencing and digitally sharing documents, ICT saves valuable time and resources.
- Improved record management: Digitizing records as big data using cloud computing reduces storage costs, enhances record preservation, and enables efficient information retrieval.
- Consistent rulings in similar cases: Leveraging technologies like Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning can promote consistent judgments in cases with similar characteristics, mitigating the impact of human bias.
- Capacity building: Online skill development courses can be designed to provide training and enhance the capabilities of judicial staff, reducing institutional costs and enabling flexible learning.
- Reducing bias: Utilizing ICT minimizes the potential for bias resulting from human interactions, thereby ensuring fairer judgments.
The Indian judiciary has actively embraced ICT-enabled measures to overcome these challenges:
- Initiatives such as the implementation of Free and Open-Source Software (FOSS)-based case information and management systems
- e-service centers in court complexes
- virtual courts for minor traffic offenses
- the National Judicial Data Grid, and AI-based software like SUVAS (Supreme Court Vidhik Anuvaad Software) are noteworthy examples.
However, the successful implementation of ICT in dispute resolution requires certain measures and considerations:
- Feedback mechanisms: The establishment of robust feedback mechanisms is essential to continuously improve and refine ICT-enabled processes.
- Bridging the digital divide: Inclusive frameworks must be developed to ensure equitable access to ICT tools and resources, minimizing disparities in access.
- Stakeholder training: Comprehensive training programs should be conducted to equip all stakeholders with the necessary skills to effectively utilize ICT tools and platforms.
- Standardization and uniformity: Ensuring standardization and uniformity in ICT practices across various courts in the country promotes seamless integration and interoperability.
- Data protection and migration: Robust data protection measures and secure migration systems are crucial to maintain the integrity and privacy of sensitive information.
In conclusion, the integration of ICT in dispute resolution has the potential to significantly enhance access to justice and foster inclusive practices.
However, it requires concerted efforts to implement the necessary measures and frameworks for successful deployment, thereby ensuring its effectiveness in transforming the Indian judiciary and overcoming the existing challenges.