The phase III vision document of the e-court project emphasizes the increased role of transformative technologies to accelerate the digitization of Indian courts
In a bid to accelerate the digitization of the Indian judicial system, the e-committee of the country's Supreme Court has issued the draft vision document for phase III of the e-courts project.
The document has mentioned that the e-committee seeks deep technological interventions and aims to leverage new-age technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) to improve judiciary accountability and feedback. Leveraging these technologies, e-courts will automate processes, improve case searchability, generate better data insights, support multiple languages, improve schedule mechanisms.
The Supreme Court has also recently unveiled its Artificial Intelligence portal: SUPACE (Supreme Court Portal for Assistance in Courts Efficiency). India's apex court plans to leverage ML and AI to deal with the humongous data and using it for: making documents machine-readable and secure, recommend schedules for hearing by optimizing and coordinating the schedules and time, scale adoption of the AI-driven tool SUVAS to translate judicial records, including orders and judgments, and enable sharing of data between police, prison, legal aid among other by developing data standards, specifications, protocols, and certifications.
The phase III project aims to create digital infrastructure and capabilities (in contrast to services or solutions) to make an infinite number of additional services/solutions. It emphasizes three significant goals: installing relevant hardware, creating the digital infrastructure, and enabling critical services access.
"To enable interactions and exchange of data, co-creation of services by different ecosystem actors and improve the efficiency and intelligence of the system, it will provide open APIs (for systems to talk to each other) and also standards, specifications, and certifications that can act as guardrails as different actors build solutions across space and time," the phase III document states.
Globally, there is a rapid headway in AI-enabled tools and natural language processing techniques where innovative techniques have been deployed to help judges, litigants, and lawyers to determine precise answers to their queries.
Poor ICT infrastructure a significant worry
Policymakers have fast adopted the concept of electronic courts (e-courts) worldwide to increase efficiency and ensure speedy trials. India, however, despite launching the e-courts project in 2004, has not made significant advancements. The first two phases of the e-court have mostly covered training staff, deployment of IT systems in district courts, and connecting them with a centralized software called CIS to ensure all court orders are publicly available.
However, the need is to expand the scope beyond e-filing and putting all judgments online. Many countries have already taken a giant leap to enhance their judicial productivity and make it accessible, affordable with transparent mechanisms for both lawyers and litigants.
With the COVID-19 pandemic continue to worsen, governments and countries across the globe are swiftly transitioning to digital by launching several innovative services. Many countries such as Korea, Denmark, the US, and the UK have taken a significant leap in digitizing their courts. However, India's heterogeneous ICT infrastructure is acting as detrimental to the growth of e-courts in the country.
"At the base level, many courts still do not have basic electronic infrastructure or connectivity. There is a network connectivity divide, with some states having good internet connections across districts. In contrast, certain district courts in other states do not even have leased lines to provide internet. Adequate data speed and data volume are basic needs that are not uniformly available across the country. This creates a disparity between different courts in accessing e-courts systems and services," the document notes.
Need more than a blueprint
While the goals of transformation look exceptional at the base level, this transition is difficult to accomplish without ensuring a firm grasp over these new-age technologies and relevant infrastructure.
According to the Indian government, 11 of the 25 high courts in India are yet to adopt e-filing. The law ministry data reveals that there are still over 14,400 courts that are yet to get video conferencing facilities, and over 2900 courts still don't have WAN connectivity. These shocking statistics demonstrate the difference between having a blueprint on paper and executing are two different things.
Besides improving the existing infrastructure, lawyers, judges and other court office bearers need to be provided with relevant training to support the government's vision.
Click here to read the full vision document.