Virtual Courts and COVID-19

  1. The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice headed by Rajya Sabha MP Bhupender Yadav has recommenced the continuance of virtual courts beyond COVID-19 pandemic specially where the physical presence of the parties/counsels is not required.
  2. The 103rd report on the functioning of virtual court proceedings through video conferencing states that ‘Justice delayed is Justice denied’ but ‘Justice hurried is also Justice buried’. The Committee is thus of the view that,“...virtual Courts is a mechanism that will strike a balance between these two extremes and extend expeditious Justice to the litigant public without compromising quality.”
  3. The committee has also identified the grey areas of infrastructural glitches that cause an impediment to the functioning of virtual courts and strongly recommend the Department of Justice to take necessary remedial measures to ensure the targets.
  4. The report also notes that the current infrastructure in the district and subordinate courts across the country are not equipped to conduct virtual hearings. Since the transition to virtual courts will require a big investment, the Committee has mooted the feasibility of new financing models like public-private partnerships.
  5. The report further recommended that virtual courts be extended permanently to various Appellate Tribunals like TDSAT, IPAB, NCLAT, located across the country, as these do not require personal appearances of the parties/advocates. Further, "The Committee is of the opinion that the Judiciary may also consider such innovative solutions as launching mobile videoconferencing facilities for the benefit of advocates and people living in remote areas."
  6. To address the issue of connectivity, the Committee has recommended that the Union Ministry of Communications step up efforts to ensure timely implementation of the National Broadband Mission and in order to educate budding lawyers on the use of digital platforms to take part in virtual hearings, the Committee has asked the Bar Council of India to introduce a computer course as one of the subjects in three-year/five-year courses.
  7. The Committee has noted that the world over, court proceedings are recorded in some form or the other and that live-streaming of certain proceedings will promote transparency."The apex court has time and again emphasized the significance of live streaming of Court proceedings in promoting openness and transparency which in turn reinforce public faith in the judicial system. The Committee agrees with the observation made by the apex court that live streaming Court proceedings, especially cases of constitutional and national importance having an impact on the public at large or a section of the public will promote transparency and openness. The Judiciary may also consider broadcasting virtual hearings of certain specified categories of cases to further the principle of open justice and open Court."
  8. The report notes that virtual hearings can considerably reduce the cost of litigation and ease access to justice. "...both advocates and litigants have wider choice and this will result in a substantial reduction of costs associated with litigation in appellate Courts which may otherwise require instructing a local lawyer. Litigants need not leave their work to attend Court as they can access proceedings from their home or office. Virtual proceedings also mitigate significant logistical costs incurred in the transportation of prisoners between jail and Court." "The principle of Proportionate Justice requires that the expense, speed, complexity and the extent of combativeness of any case should be proportionate to the substance and scale of that case. The Committee feels that there should be some mechanism to segregate simple cases from complex ones...Petty cases should be dealt with swiftly in a reasonable timeframe...."

"The concept of Virtual Courts has gained immense ground during COVID-19 Pandemic times. It is and will remain the new reality and the new normal...The Committee believes that this move will unlock the Courts and also mitigate the inconvenience of attending Courts as long distance travels can be dispensed with and proceedings become less expensive as well."