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Synopsis: Pandemic has shown that the e-Courts project has the ability to revolutionize the Indian Judiciary, but its application needs to be in line with the Fundamental Right to Privacy.
Why Indian courts should use digital technologies?
- Faster justice delivery.
- Clearing pendency which is around 3.27 crore cases before Indian courts. Of which 85,000 have been pending for over 30 years as of June 2020 as per the e-Committee.
- Reduce long delays and difficulties for ordinary litigants.
- Building people’s trust in the judiciary.
To fulfil the above-given objectives, the Indian judiciary has launched project e-courts, which are monitored by the e-Committee.
Salient features of the e-Courts project:
- Phases I and II had dealt with the digitisation of the judiciary:
- e-filing, tracking cases online
- uploading judgments online.
- Draft vision document for Phase III of the e-Courts project aims for:
- Digitisation of court processes
- Upgrade the electronic infrastructure of the judiciary.
- Enable access to lawyers and litigants.
- Seamless exchange of information between various branches of the State. Such as between the judiciary, the police and the prison systems through the Interoperable Criminal Justice System (ICJS).
What are the key benefits of the e-Courts project?
- Phase II of the project helped in the development of the National Service and Tracking of Electronic Processes which enabled the delivery of e-summons.
- During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Supreme Court and High Courts have been able to function online.
What are the concerns associated with the e-court project?
- Firstly, as per Criminal Justice and Police Accountability Project, the ICJS will exacerbate existing class and caste inequalities.
- For instance, the exercise of data creation at local police stations have historically contributed to the criminalisation of entire communities through colonial-era laws such as the Criminal Tribes Act of 1871.
- It helped in labelling such communities as “habitual offenders”.
- ICJIS also has the potential to label citizen with such tags.
- Secondly, large-scale gathering and sharing of data with no data protection regime present in India may cause data theft, cybersecurity issues and online harassment.
- Thirdly, Localised data will be centralised by the Ministry of home affairs will lead to :
- Creation of a 360-degree profile of each person by integrating all of their interactions with government agencies into a unified database.
- This approach is used by social media platforms and technology companies for targeted advertisement, but data collection by the government may end up as “targeted surveillance”.
- Fourthly, it is not clear that why Home Ministry needs access to court data which has absolutely no relation to criminal law.
- Firstly, the e-Courts project must move towards localization of data. Also, e-Committee must prevent the seamless exchange of data between the branches of the state that should remain separate.
- Secondly, collected data need to be stored in an anonymous and aggregated manner.
- Thirdly, the Supreme Court need to ensure that the e-courts project does not violate the privacy standards that it set in Puttaswamy v. Union of India (2017).
- Fourthly, active participation of citizen should be there as when data of the courts and police stations are integrated, the link is individual citizen.
Digital Technology can play a huge role in the faster delivery of justice. However, the privacy and fundamental rights of citizens need to be protected as the technology is only a means, not an end in itself.
Source: The Hindu