LAWYERS MUST BE READY TO DELIVER CONTACTLESS LEGAL SERVICES: BUILDING BLOCKS ALREADY EXIST

Lawyers with various backgrounds and age groups have been immersing themselves in simulation e-courts run by Atmabodh. They report it to be fun and something which does not need a lot of learning. Anybody who has handled e-mails and a chat software like WhatsApp can easily ramp up after a 30 minutes session. The judiciary at all levels has now experienced conducting court proceedings virtually. Magistrates carry out production hearings through video conferencing. In the post-COVID scenario, the Supreme Court, High Courts, and District Judges have also had the occasion to conduct court proceedings through video conferencing. Court records are already being digitised. Cause lists are being published online for years now. online display boards are also being used extensively. Case status, i.e. near real time information on what is happening in a particular case is available online. Judgments are also uploaded online. Case diaries in criminal matters are filed on electronic medium. Although still confined to exceptional cases, evidence have also been recorded though platforms like Skype. E-filing has also taken roots in a few category of matters in many high courts. Stamp reporting is done on computer systems. defects are intimated through e-mails. E-services is also accepted in many high court jurisdictions. Bail hearings are also being conducted through video conferencing in the post lockdown scenario. Some Courts may be behind others in this process, but the point is that almost all courts have this process in place. The weakest link in the adoption of technology, with all due respect, are the lawyers. If this is addressed, E-courts will no longer appear futuristic.

Contrary to what I initially believed, a second computer will not be required by the lawyers for the E-courts. I have carried out many simulation sessions of E-court and it is now firmly established that with a single desktop a lawyer can very easily argue his case. However, it can be argued that even this one computer/ laptop may be beyond the reach of a substantial section of practitioners. This barrier can also be overcome. Young lawyers will need starter packs and temporary support for a couple of years. Bar Council can negotiate with banks grant of collateral free loans to young lawyers for acquiring the computer systems needed. Bar Councils may even have funds to provide incentives based on lawyers choosing to argue matters in the E-courts. I have personally benefited from such an initiative in Jharkhand. Hon’ble Chief Justice V K Gupta (as he then was) arranged for a lawyers chamber block to be built. The Bank in the High Court Campus offered a hassle free loan with just the lease of the chamber as a collateral (for whatever that lease right was worth at that time). Many young lawyers motivated by Mr. Amareshwar Sahay and other bar leaders, applied for the chambers and got it. This has maintained the dignity of the institution of the High Court. Bar Associations may set up shared facilities like the e-libraries for those lawyers unable to afford a system. Additionally, special rates can be negotiated with laptop rental companies. It works just like any person hiring chairs and tables for a family function. Lawyers who do not have the volumes to support a laptop purchase can pay as they go, out of their fee in a particular case or as filing expenses. If there are problems there are solutions galore. we just need a bunch of people motivated enough to surmount them.

A bigger hurdle is the mindset and most of the time an uninformed belief that it will require a lot of re-training to adopt E-courts. I had conducted training in computer driving skills of a batch of lawyers the Association of the Jharkhand High Court in 2009. I remember the then President of the Association, Mr. Mahesh Tewari me that my biggest challenge was to change the mindset of the lawyers and not making them learn the skills that I was to impart. He had very generously financially supported the initiative as well. The initiative did not go beyond the first batch of lawyers. He was right. However, he had given a silver lining as well. He has said that when it becomes unavoidable, lawyers will adapt. I have always kept this in mind. The timing of any initiative is very important. Therefore, when the Jamtara frauds took place- in which cyber crimes were being committed from an extremely interior part of Jharkhand, Atmabodh’s workshops on privacy laws became a hit in Ranchi. Recently, I received a call from a participant of that workshop asking me to conduct similar workshops on cyber crimes. So, is this the right time for lawyers to adopt the E-courts? I think yes. Faced with an unprecedented and perhaps an existential crisis lawyers will be more receptive to any such move than they have been ever before. The time is ripe for onboarding lawyers to E-courts.