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Digitisation: Web of Troubles

Digitisation: Web of Troubles

Above: Advocates and lawyers struggle as the Supreme Court experiments with its digital transformation. Photo: Bhawna Gaur

As the Supreme Court opens after the summer recess, advocates and judges are faced with a plethora of problems online, including teething troubles in the e-court system

~By Rajesh Kumar and Sucheta Dasgupta

Call it a case of teething troubles or holiday hangover. But when advocates returned to work after the summer break, they were unpleasantly surprised to find the perfectly functional Supreme Court website changed while they were away. Though the old website was still accessible, it had not been up-dated and daily cause lists, old judgments, case statuses and orders were no longer available.

The new website, shabby-looking in comparison to its predecessor, had sketchy information—the weekly advance list of cases coming up for hearing was missing and the daily cause list—cases to be heard the following day—was confusing with extra lawsuits populating it. In place of the date of hearing, a cryptic “Fixed Date” displayed in fluorescent blue flashed at the user.

Various judgments and case statuses were also not searchable and the interface was forbidding and unfriendly. In fact, the free-text search function was still not working at the time of going to the press. And, if the user did not know the case or diary number, it was impossible to get the information of a particular case. This caused major hiccups for lawyers, researchers and journalists.

Various judgments and case statuses were not available; the interface seemed forbidding and unfriendly. The free-text search function was not working.

Meanwhile, in the chief court (courtroom No 1 of the apex court complex), the technician was frantically trying to start the e-court system on the judge’s computer so that he could browse the case files during a hearing. Minutes ticked into a quarter-of-an-hour. Soon, he had to abandon his effort and it was announced in open court that the e-court system was not working owing to a malfunctioning server.

The e-court system was conceived in 2005, and first implemented in the Delhi High Court. This year, it was implemented in the Supreme Court. All advocates-on-record have been advised to register themselves for obtaining their code numbers so that they can file petitions on behalf of their clients electronically.

Almost all have complied and e-petitions are being duly filed, but none of the computers of the judges are able to run this program. The e-court here has thus remained on paper only.

Speaking of upgrades and renovations, courtroom No 13 was expanded and renovated during the summer break. The entrance has been moved and the judges’ dais shifted to an adjacent wall. Advocates, judges and attendees have also found their gaze blocked by three pillars, which are really remnants of the wall that once separated the two rooms, which stand in the middle, denying them a full view of the proceedings. The advocates could play peekaboo with the judges if they so wished. A merry start to the court proceedings!