Path to Justice amid COVID Crisis

By Aman Prakash|Updated : July 27th, 2020
  • Covid-19 has had catastrophic effects on the world so far. Healthcare systems are in a crisis, the world economy is collapsing, the hospitality and energy sector is facing bankruptcy, and government institutions have to operate on limited manpower even under such demanding times.

  • Amidst such an international crisis, nations are in a dilemma as to whether to extend the lockdown and curb the spread of the virus or slowly remove restrictions to keep the economy afloat.

  • One such problem came up before the courts on whether to postpone the hearing of cases until the circumstances return to normal or not for courts are a quintessential part of any democratic institution, and even a temporary halt in their day to day operations would be denying the people their right to access to justice.

  • Access to justice is recognized as a basic human right by the international community and is read into every constitution of a democratic sovereign irrespective of whether it's written or unwritten.

  • The right to access justice is a very important facet of the rule of law. The principle of rule of law upholds the supremacy of law and ensures the smooth working of a democratic sovereign and if the same is breached, there are appropriate mechanisms put in place to ensure that such actions are penalized.

  • Ubi Jus ibiremedium means for every right that is infringed; there is a right to remedy. Courts act as the protector, enforcer of the law, and ensure fair and smooth delivery of justice. However, if an aggrieved party cannot for whatever reasons appear before the court be it the high cost of legal aid, lack of awareness, or access to a court of law, it raises questions as to whether the right to access too is only for the privileged.

  • It should come as of no surprise as to how poor the condition of courts in India is, especially that of lower courts. There are approximately 20 judges per 1 million people in India when the same should be 50 to 1 million as has been recommended by the Law Commission in its 120th report.

  • This still only manages to paint half the picture as the people to are often faced with countless problems of their own and at times do not have proper access to courts depriving them of their basic rights.

  • Add to all of this the problems that the pandemic has brought to our front doors and it becomes even more crucial for our judiciary to remain operational in these critical times.

The 3 judge bench invoking Article 142 of the constitution of India has issued guidelines for the smooth functioning of the courts during COVID-19:

  • Any and all actions taken by the respective High courts to reduce the risk of the spread of the virus on its premises shall be deemed to be lawful.

  • To make use of video conferencing technology for robust functioning of the judicial system

  • Maintain a helpline where complaints can be registered as to the quality of the feed.

  • Litigants with no access to the facilities shall be provided with the same

  • Evidence shall not be recorded without the consent of both the parties etc.

Our Judicial System has already have had to deal with multi-faceted problems such as poor infrastructure and low occupancy of judges even prior to this pandemic. Not to mention that justice is anyway not very easily accessible to the underprivileged.

  • The illiterate are unaware of their rights, many are often reluctant to go to a court as it can at times take months if not years for one to receive his due under the law.

  • The whole judicial process from start to end can be exacting on one's mental and physical health and at times can run their finances dry. The pandemic has only added to the pool of problems and as of now, the use of technology seems our only way out.

  • There would still be many who due to their lack of exposure to technology will at times face problems as has been the concern of many.

  • Supreme Court in view of the same said there cannot be divergent views about the fact that justice cannot be spoon-fed.

  • Justice delivery, even at the door-steps of the stakeholders, requires the stakeholders of the ecosystem to diligently discharge their role and duties, prescribed and required in the scheme of things" defending its virtual court's system.

  • COVID19 has without a doubt done unprecedented damage to the entire world which is why tough times call for tough measures. Where traditional means have failed and might seem outdated, one must resort to unconventional methods.

  • Hearing cases over video feed may be inefficient but is still better than a complete lockdown on court proceedings consequently increasing the burden on the already overburdened judiciary and depriving the people of their right to access justice.

Key Takeaways

  • To address the aforementioned challenges, the first and foremost step is to draw up a policy for encouraging the setting up of e-courts.

  • It is critical to draw up a well-defined and pre-decided policy framework as it can help in laying a concrete roadmap and direction to the e-courts scheme of India.

  • Another important step is the need to upgrade the present state of infrastructure. The government needs to identify and develop the infrastructure that would be required to support the e-court project.

  • One aspect that needs to be focussed on is the deployment of a robust security system that provides secure access to case information for appropriate parties. The security of e-courts infrastructure and system is of paramount importance.

  • Also, a user-friendly e-courts mechanism, which is simple and easily accessible by the common public will encourage litigants to use such facilities in India.

  • The government must make dedicated efforts in the training of personnel to maintain all the e-data. These include maintaining proper records of e-file minute entries, notification, service, summons, warrants, bail orders, order copies, e-filing, etc. for ready references.

  • Conducting training sessions to familiarise the Judges with the e-courts framework and procedure can give a huge impetus to the successful running of e-courts.

  • Creating awareness around e-courts through talks and seminars can help bring to light the facilities and the ease that e-courts can facilitate.

As technology is here to stay, therefore, finding mechanisms to make it better will be the step in the right direction.

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