CHENNAI: When former Chief Justice of Madras High Court A P Shah announced that plans were afoot to convert the Madras High Court into a paperless court, he jokingly put in, “ I wouldn’t be surprised if we had electronic lawyers in the next 10 years.” That statement was made 10 years ago at an event to inaugurate a computer section on the premises. However, not much has changed in the intervening years, with stacks of decades-old files continuing to burden shelves and walls of the court.
While plans to computerise the court and make it paperless have been reiterated by many, the digitisation process remains a pipe dream. A senior judge mentioned that once an order is passed in a case, it passes through more than 15 hands before reaching the litigant.
“In the Punjab and Haryana High Court, if a bail order is passed in a case, the order is emailed to the jail authorities concerned immediately. So the order can be implemented immediately, but here it takes days,” he explained. While some courts such as the Punjab and Haryana High Court have managed to go paperless, experts said it was not fair to compare them with Madras as it’s a much bigger one. However, they agree that it is not unattainable .
In 2014, Justice B Vimala lost her cool after a case was adjourned 89 times, as the advocates kept asking for time on the grounds that they were ‘awaiting records’. She had then said, “When the rest of the world is moving at rocket speed, why are litigants here being denied their basic fundamental right to justice?” Even if a record was located for a hearing, judges complained that the paper would be so old that then even a slight touch would mutilate the copy. Justice Vimala had urged the court to take steps to digitise court records and statutes.
While case statues are now easily accessible online, petitions, orders and other procedures in a court case continue on paper. “Sometimes even online it is difficult to find some cases as the website is not regularly updated. The court should maintain a record of the number of cases being heard every day,” suggested advocate Alamelu Venkat Raghavan.
While both advocates and judges agree that computerisation of records will bring down the time taken for case settlement, they have little hope of it becoming a reality anytime soon. “We have enough skill base in the State. We have no dearth of professionals in the country. What we need is the will to take steps to ensure computerisation,” said senior advocate N L Rajah. The advocate said that the government should take effective steps to fund the process and take the help of companies like Wipro or Infosys to create a roadmap to implement the paperless plan. “The Law Ministry must ensure the records are digitised. If we just have successive Chief Justices showing interest once in a while, it becomes a very sporadic process,” the advocate explained.
With court copies continuing to gather dust and only being moved when a new set of files have to get squeezed in, the High Court and sub-courts will continue to struggle to dispose of cases and litigants will suffer the consequences of delayed justice.