NEW DELHI: The coronavirus pandemic has forced the courts to rethink on how to function and provided a compulsory training to prepare for a new working environment, Chief Justice of India S A Bobde said on Friday.
The CJI, who was speaking during an online demo of the Supreme Court e-filing module, said the system is the first step in the entire process of e-courts and has brought Registry to the chambers of the advocates.
"The pandemic has forced to rethink on how to function and what is essential in judicial process. The real threat came in March and I am happy that the Supreme Court was one of the first institutions to announce that it will not be open in a usual way and function in a restricted manner."
"This period has provided a compulsory training to prepare for a new working environment. There is no looking back. We will have to change the mindset regarding the way we look at Court proceedings. We are rolling out the module with the suggestions of and for the Bar," the CJI said.
Justice Bobde said that the apex court was one of the first institutions to respond to the crisis by restricting the normal functioning and it was determined to ensure that the court does not become the Centre for the propagation of the coronavirus.
"We found that it was not possible to maintain the safety and protect the lives of advocates and members of Registry because every space be it filing counters, barrooms, copy rooms or canteens were congregated by people. It was found absolutely necessary to work jointly to reduce footfalls in the apex court premises."
"This transition was not easy and it was difficult to deviate from the time honouring manner of functioning. This was the conflict between old and the new style of working," he said.
The CJI said e-filing is very significant since it is basis of a system of artificial intelligence and the system can also enable to extract information at an incredible speed of one million words per minute.
"E-filing would be available round the clock. If we had this at the time of Ayodhya hearing we could have moved at a very fast speed as thousands of pages were being filed. During lockdown, 820 matters and 552 documents filed throgh e-filing. This period has provided a compulsory training to prepare for a new working environment. There is no looking back," he said.
Justice Bobde further said that technology should be simple to use and not exclude citizens anywhere and this system of e-filing will make access to justice simple and inclusive through inexpensive system.
Speaking on the occasion, Justice D Y Chandrachud said that the pandemic has affected the daily lives of the people and calls for robust and calibrated institutional responses.
"In significant ways what we do today will define the future. Our responses must deal with the present but the footprints of the pandemic will redefine how we function tomorrow in ways which may not be readily apparent to us today. Yet our assessment must be based on facts and on consultation, collaboration and a creative view of out resources."
"In using technology our motto in the e-committee is simple: efficiency, transparency and access to every user of justicing services. We are also conscious of the fact that not every lawyer has the access of the technology. Hence our solution must factor this to ensure that we continue to be an inclusive institution and reach out to those do not have the access to technology, in particular the junior members of the bar," Justice Chandrachud said.
He said one of the initiatives is to open 'e-seva Kendra' in every high courts and district courts of the country to roll out the e-services.
"We must seek to provide sustainable digitalisation and transformational change in reconceptualising the interaction between the citizens, lawyers, the judiciary and the environment."
"We must enhance our TEST values, where T stands for trust, E stands for empathy, S for sustainability and T for transparency," Justice Chandrachud said.
He said that some of the key features of the e-filing module include 24/7 filing while we envisaging online communication of the defects and the scrutiny of the matters which are filed.
"There's e-payment of the court fees so that one do not have to come to the courts and it also provides the facility of e-signatures. So that our courts look as modern courts for the future, incorporating technology but at the same time inclusive to all members of the bar," Justice Chandrachud said.
Supreme Court Bar Association President Dushyant Dave said e-filing is a lifeline for the apex court and especially for the Bar in the times of the ongoing pandemic.
"These are times of crisis but it is such times that we have to rise to face the crisis. For administration of justice bar and the bench have to move side by side. If the judicial work is paralysed democracy is in danger. Today, more than ever, people of India need the healing touch from the Lordships. The Constitution is the suprema lax (supreme law) but it only works if the Supreme Court and the High Courts enforce the principles of constitutionalism. Present times demand a greater vigil by the judiciary," Dave said.