VIRTUAL COURTS- A way forward?
This article is written by Anshumi Maloo, a student at Karnavati University. Gandhinagar. All the aspects of Virtual Courts which can be a way forward in the future and also the term ‘Robot Judge’ has been discussed in this article.
Introduction to Virtual Courts
The elementary courtroom etiquettes hold substantial value in the profession of law. The craft of forming and presenting arguments, leaving a sublime impression before the judges, the atmosphere created during the argument- the art of entering the courtroom with grace and confidence, and a non-hesitant self-portrayal is a must. All these basic etiquettes hold value in one’s career especially for young lawyers who ought to learn such skills to develop an impression in the minds of the judges.
Due to the massive outbreak of Covid-19, the atmosphere of the courtroom has totally modified, there’s a shift from the usual courtroom etiquettes to virtual courts.
In simple words, virtual courts are those courts that are “online courts.” There is no need for physical presence in virtual courts, and all procedures are carried out using the technical method through online mode. This facilitates remote work. The aim of these types of online courts is to minimize physical movement and, through the internet mechanism, make adjudication of the case possible.
2020 has been a significant year of transition in the room for conflict resolution: courts are online, virtual judges are positioned to determine our cases, and our daily lives are profoundly influenced by crowd-sourced justice systems. Technology techniques are built to interfere with the courts, and here are some of the latest advances in technology.
When the government announced a nationwide lockdown on 24 March 2020, the functioning of the Indian Judiciary came to a stop. The Judiciary was trying to find new ways of beginning the hearing and other judicial duties because it was unclear how long it was possible to postpone the administration of justice.
There were many pending lawsuits in the courts, but waiting for the reduction in corona cases was unlikely. In the aftermath of this pandemic, the Supreme Court of India issued orders to all the courts in the country for the colossal use of video conferencing in court proceedings.
In Faridabad in 2019, India’s first virtual court was introduced. Until then, there has been very little attempt at turning conventional courts into virtual courts. The President of India unveiled an application on 26 November 2019 named ‘Vaidik Anuvaad Software Supreme Court,’ which is able to translate English judicial records into nine vernacular languages and vice versa.
1] Cost savings and availability of hours of service are some of the main advantages of a virtual court. Traditionally, on working days, tribunals are not open to the press. This is limiting, however, in that many litigants who need access to the courts still operate on business days.
2] Digital courts will not only remove this obstacle by providing 24 hours a day, seven days a week, online access to electronic filing and other case management, but litigants will also be able to engage in video conferencing proceedings. As they will have access to hearings from their home or office, litigants will no longer be required to leave work for the court.
3] Digital court has made things simpler for them and filing can be done through e-mail or WhatsApp. Government representatives, advocates, and other personnel from several districts have to make many visits about their case hearing, filing their answer or affidavits, judgments, etc.
4] As there will be more sustained eye to eye contact, video conferencing proves to have more witness credibility, which helps to minimize distraction and improve attention without making the court some statements.
5] The decreased likelihood of a person being infected by COVID-19 as the social distance is preserved is one of the significant prospects.
6] The extension of virtual courts would ensure convenient access for all parts of society to justice in affordable courts.
7] With the aid of virtual courts, the judiciary system in India will resolve challenges and make the process of service delivery transparent and cost-effective.
8] Virtual courts would also benefit from the justice system and allow for the versatile storage of digital information. This will allow judges to access the proceedings of a previous case or, at the click of a button, to retrieve other relevant documents.
9] Lawyers are not expected to be physically present before the court, saving travel and time costs for themselves.
10] It will make it easier for information to be exchanged since all stored data is available in a digitized form at one location.
1] It is important to take into account other interoperable aspects when talking about the sense of infrastructural needs. Bandwidth is the most important thing. The courts may also reject the notion of using third-party-controlled software on the grounds of a data privacy violation.
2] On top of technology, cyber-security will also be a big concern. In order to address this issue, the government has undertaken remedial measures and formulated the Cyber Security Policy, but it is more on the side of prescribed guidelines alone. The functional and true execution of the same is yet to be seen.
3] Presenting an argument is a strength in advocacy. When an individual is cross-examined in court, it influences the reaction of a person. An advocate also has a greater chance of persuading the judge by analyzing the judges’ mindset and interest, which is not possible in a simulated hearing session.
4] This includes weak internet access quality, obsolete and poor audio and video equipment, power cuts, failure to establish links at the agreed time, failure to participate by multiple parties, especially affecting interpreters and vulnerable witnesses. Lack of basic information technology awareness by lawyers, particularly in smaller centers.
5] During virtual courts, disruptions are caused as there may be communication issues, sounds and noises during the presentation of the case, interference during the hearing by other persons, and unintentional errors by the advocates.
6] In the physical matter the facial expressions, body language combined with the comments of the judges help the lawyers to mold their arguments. During video conferencing, the whole idea of presenting facts and asking questions to the witnesses can take a major turn due to the lack of understanding of body language, gestures, hesitant expressions, and questionably more issues.
Video conferencing can be an easy getaway for the witnesses to hide important and essential facts and change their statements due to the absence of the lawyer right in front of their naked eye.
7] An amateur lawyer always learns from the basic etiquettes present during the arguments. The way a judge interprets the specific laws and also the way judges read. Many times such events have occurred in the courtrooms that Senior judges have approached younger lawyers / fresher who are assisting and the judges have helped them with basic and relevant knowledge while the arguments were being presented in the court.
Such opportunities help younger lawyers to gain knowledge and work on themselves and towards presenting the arguments in a more effective way. Such incidents that are already quite rare in the physical courtroom, quite rare incidents may turn to none due to video conferencing.
8] During the time period of video conferencing, it’ll be quite challenging for the judges to hear arguments put forward by the young flourishing lawyers for a span of 4-5 hours minimum. It may require commendable patience in the judges. Arguing the case in a point-to-point manner may not be possible for amateur lawyers being the beginning step of their careers and their experiences in the courtrooms.
9] The problems can be faced with the applicability and originality of the identification of witnesses and the validity of the evidence presented before the court may be uncertain. In such instances, open trials are better than simulated trials.
10] Transforming the entire judiciary into a virtual structure is very expensive in itself. The introduction of advanced technology and the digitization of any legal system subject matter is itself very important.
Also read- Artificial Intelligence in Judiciary
Virtual Courts- A way forward?
image credits- www.observerbd.com
In the near future, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is expected to impact all the important aspects of human life, and the judiciary is no exception. The Indian judiciary has been facing a shortage of judges in various courts and a growing number of pending cases. An AI-based framework specifically designed for a particular judicial role may prove to be very efficient in helping judges make decisions, thereby allowing them to do so and also by achieving targets.
Disputes that can be resolved by Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) are one such type in which AI approaches are successfully used. As trials took forever long and, ultimately, the result of the case did not favor the winning side, ADR came to occupy the position it has today due to the delay in settling conflicts through the conventional infrastructure of courts.
Artificial Intelligence is now being used by the Supreme Court of India to recognize cases concerning related matters of law. This method has been successful, with great success, in reducing the pendency of cases, especially in the field of taxation. “Justice can be equally done without robes or congregation,” said the Hon’ble Chief Justice of India while commending the use of virtual tools.
AI has tremendous capacity in the Indian judiciary to assist judges in making legal decisions, such as granting parole, deciding on bail and assessing the required sentence, thus expediting the judicial process. It is also expected that AI-based systems will play a more powerful and critical role in the judiciary in the long run, which will not only be limited to assisting the judges.
But there are some issues connected with its use in the judiciary that needs to be discussed to such a degree before its acceptance. One such apprehension is that the accountability of the judiciary may be decreased because of the AI-based system’s incomprehensibility. The risk of ‘automation bias or prejudice’ is another such apprehension.
Although the advantages of implementing an AI-based method in the judiciary to a greater extent seem enticing as it promises to dramatically boost its efficacy, as of now, it should be used to a limited extent only to assist the judges after thorough scrutiny.
China is promoting digitization to streamline case-handling using cyberspace and technology such as blockchain and cloud computing within its sprawling court system, China’s Supreme People’s Court said in a policy document. The initiatives include a “mobile court” provided on the popular WeChat social media platform that, according to the Supreme People’s Court, has already handled more than three million legal cases or other judicial procedures since its launch in March.
In a demonstration, authorities demonstrated how the Hangzhou Internet Court functions, with an online interface with litigants appearing as an AI judge through video chat-complete with an on-screen avatar urging them to present their cases.
Putting basic tasks such as those in the hands of the virtual judge helps relieve the pressure on human judges, who in each case-control the proceedings and make the key decisions, officials said. 0Part of the digital drive is to help courts keep up with a rising caseload generated in China by mobile payments and e-commerce, which has the largest number of mobile internet users in the world at around 850 million.
In addressing the use of AI in court, the word Robot Judge provides a fascinating context. Some fear that machines may take over the planet, while others are fascinated by the horizons that artificial intelligence and emerging technologies may open up. However, as the word Robot Judge is used more and more, it will possibly take some time in any court case before AI is able to substitute human judges.
In fact, this refers to the sort of court cases that lawyers always come to mind first. There are high-profile and extremely nuanced proceedings that often deal with a wide number of witnesses and court files, leading to creative legal interpretations on a daily basis.
The human rights issues are more apparent with respect to the use of AI as courts or the ‘Robot Judge’. This is largely due to the fact that these civil rights were written for cases in which judicial proceedings would be watched over by a human being. Human engagement is closely related to the general understanding of what a fair practice is. And it would be especially necessary for certain cases or fields of law, such as criminal law, to hold on to this conception.
During this pandemic time, the court proceeding in person is not possible but it is very astonishing to see that the courts are trying their best to function efficiently and have adapted this new technology in such a short period of time. Video conferencing being a major drawback in the profession of law has to be adapted and accepted until the rough phase has completely passed away. In the end, the court’s moral duty is to function and deliver justice to an individual and the society.
The explanation why India still does not have a full-fledged virtual court network is due to various gaps in the process of implementation. However, it is never possible to ignore the value of physical courts, a transparent court system in which fairness is assured by the general public taking part in proceedings. Digitalization has come a long way, but we still have a long way to go.
Virtual courts have both obstacles and opportunities, but there are significantly more challenges. With good organization and cooperation of all the units in the judicial system, these problems can be rectified. A strong option, albeit for a temporary period of time, is virtual court systems.
We have seen the detrimental consequences of COVID-19 so far, but the crisis has brought this great opportunity to advance our legal system to an advanced stage that will eventually help boost society’s welfare. We can be assured, after thoroughly evaluating everything, that indeed, every crisis brings a new opportunity, an opportunity to improve and upgrade oneself, an opportunity to immune one from the problems and barriers that may emerge in the future in our path. The case for the future of ‘online courts’ in India is close.
When it comes to the functioning of AI the potential human rights concerns seem small, especially with regard to the use of AI in courts to help judges. The inference, at least, would always be that the use of AI is not more troublesome than human performance.
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