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Transparency Requires A Major Overhaul of Our e-Courts Project

Context

The third phase of the e-courts project, which is overseen by the e-committee of the Indian Supreme Court in collaboration with the ministry of law and justice, will be generously funded by the Union budget for 2022–23 with a generous outlay of 7,000 crores.

Relevance

GS Paper-2: Separation of powers between various organs dispute redressal mechanisms and institutions

Mains Question

Analyze the Indian e-courts project’s effects on the effectiveness of the Indian legal system critically. What are the project’s principal problems and difficulties? (250 Words)


Key Points

  • The 2005-conceived e-courts project seeks to computerise district courts all over India.
  • Even though it is anticipated that the funds will increase the effectiveness of the Indian legal system, the project’s overall narrative is one of opacity, missed opportunities, and questionable constitutionality.
  • There have been some modest successes, such as improved judgement accessibility and case status updates on the e-courts website, but these are unimpressive.
  • A parliamentary standing committee acknowledged in December that no funds were allocated to the project in 2022–2023 and that the e-committee and the department of justice under the ministry had been unable to obtain the required approvals in a timely manner.
  • The secrecy surrounding the project’s specifics is troubling and goes against the rules of public finance.

Key issues

  • The e-courts project has an anti-federal structure, and the Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that high courts in Indian states are in charge of managing the district judiciary.
    • However, the e-committee made sure that Phase I was implemented centrally, and in the second phase, procurement and implementation were given to the high courts. However, the e-committee was still in charge of the crucial tasks of planning and setting standards, and more importantly, it controlled the purse strings.
  • Accuracy and reliability: If there are doubts about the veracity of electronic signatures or the tampering of digital evidence, the accuracy and reliability of electronic records and evidence in court proceedings may be called into question.
  • Ethical issues: The use of algorithms and artificial intelligence (AI) in e-court proceedings may raise ethical issues. For instance, applying AI to sentence determination may result in unfair results.
  • Training and capacity building: To adapt to the new e-court system, judges, attorneys, and court staff may need extensive training and capacity building. This could be difficult and time-consuming.
  • Cost: Although e-courts have the potential to reduce costs in the long run, some jurisdictions may find it prohibitive due to the high upfront costs of setting up and maintaining e-court systems.

Advantages of the e-Court Project

  • Better Access to Justice: The e-courts project has made it possible for citizens to use the legal system from anywhere in the nation. Citizens no longer need to travel as far to the courthouse, which saves money and time.
  • Time-Saving: Digitizing court procedures speeds up the case-handling process. This is due to the electronic filing of documents and evidence as well as the ability for judges and attorneys to communicate via emails.
  • Transparency: The e-courts project aids in fostering accountability and transparency in the legal system. Through the e courts website, citizens can follow the development of their cases and get updates on their status.
  • Economical: The government has saved money thanks to the e-courts project’s implementation. Significant cost savings have been achieved by eliminating the need for physical courtrooms and reducing the need for paper-based record-keeping.
  • Efficiency: By reducing the backlog of cases, the e-courts project has increased the efficiency of the legal system. The project has made it possible for judges to manage cases more effectively, leading to a quicker resolution of cases.
  • Better Court Management: The e-courts project has made it possible for the judicial system to better manage court procedures. Judges and attorneys will be able to access case information and documents from any location once the project is implemented, which will improve case management.

Conclusion

  • Although the government has allocated a sizeable amount of funds for the project’s third phase, there are still many questions about its transparency, accountability, and effectiveness. The e-courts project has been a long-standing effort to modernise and digitise the Indian legal system.
  • The project’s centralised planning and anti-federal structure raise concerns about its overall effectiveness, as well as the lack of clarity regarding the e-operations, committee’s membership, and the absence of audits or performance reviews.
  • The project’s effectiveness and better interoperability with other systems, such as prisons, could both be enhanced by decentralisation and increased participation of state governments and high courts.
  • In order to make the e-courts project more transparent, accountable, and efficient, the government must take action.

March 2024
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