Witnessing a profound transformation, not amid joyful festivities but in response to a landmark proclamation from the Department of Promotion of Incentive and Industry, the legal sphere is undergoing a drastic evolution, a change more pivotal now than ever.
This paradigm shift echoes the recent pronouncements of Chief Justice of India, D Y Chandrachud. Presiding over a hearing that scrutinized the status of virtual and hybrid court proceedings in India’s high courts, his message was unequivocal: technology is no longer a choice; it is an indispensable tool.
In 2005, India initiated digitalizing its legal system through the Supreme Court’s e-Committee. Almost two decades later, Phase II of the e-Courts Project, focusing on citizen-centric e-services and interconnecting 18,735 courts via Wide Area Networks, is nearing completion. A significant milestone is the e-Committee’s endorsement of a Digital Preservation Standard Operating Procedure, streamlining court record digitization while preserving historical data. This procedure has been distributed to all High Courts for implementation. This transformation significantly improves the cost-efficiency, time-effectiveness, transparency, and accessibility of court documents for litigants and legal professionals. Virtual hearings also reduce the need for physical courtroom presence, benefiting even undertrial prisoners who can participate through video-conferencing from their places of detention.
Acknowledging that India boasts one of the world’s most affordable internet rates is imperative. A collaborative study by the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) and the data analytics firm Kantar reveals that over 750 million Indians, representing more than half of the nation’s population, are active Internet users. The report foresees that this number will swell to 900 million by 2025.
Imagine a future where litigants can seamlessly navigate the legal process, attend hearings, and resolve cases without physical court attendance. The implications are substantial, especially for individuals across the country or abroad. Legal professionals, particularly those serving international corporate clients, will find new opportunities. Reduced adjournments and trial delays will help clear court backlogs, a strategy proven during the pandemic. Additionally, sustainability is vital; reducing paper use, which harms the environment, through paperless courts is a commendable move in the age of legal technology.
The world is evolving unprecedentedly, with technology forging ahead across all sectors. The legal system can no longer remain aloof from this sweeping tide of transformation. The Supreme Court of India’s decision to live-stream hearings was seminal. It has flung wide open the doors, enabling thousands to witness firsthand the inner workings of the nation’s top judiciary. It simultaneously serves as a priceless learning opportunity for burgeoning legal minds.
As judges wholeheartedly embrace technology, lawyers are compelled to follow suit. Educational institutions offering legal studies across the country must incorporate technology and technology intertwined with the legal field into their curricula. Practicing lawyers must conscientiously shed outdated practices, relearning and equipping themselves for this monumental leap toward a brighter future.