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In an effort to speed up justice and monitor performances, the center will allocate a unique identification number to these officers in district and subordinate courts

By Sucheta Dasgupta

In a novel move, the government has decided to allocate a unique identification number to judicial officers in district and subordinate courts in the country. Its purpose is to help the judiciary monitor their performances and track individual cases.

Such details about individual judicial officers are currently unavailable on any centralized electronic platform. This initiative is part of the second phase of the national e-courts project. It is hoped that this computerization will transform the justice delivery system by ensuring speed, transparency, accountability and efficiency.

E-COURTS PROJECT

The e-courts project is divided into three phases. Almost 95 percent of the first phase is complete. The second phase is “underway although tremendously delayed” and the third is “yet to be deliberated on and a concrete plan evolved”. Headed by Justice Madan B Lokur, the Supreme Court e-committee is the body that monitors the project.

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The e-committee has asked the National Informatics Centre (NIC) to work on giving a unique ID to all judicial officers—around 16,000 in the subordinate judiciary. NIC will have to authenticate the digital signatures of the judicial officers and create portals for around 17,000 courts in the country.

Once all judgments are linked to the unique IDs of judicial officers, the high court judge concerned with reviewing their performance can examine it through various parameters such as the quality of judgments, number of adjournments allowed in different cases, time taken for delivery of judgments, case disposal rate, etc.

<q]This is a helpful step, but it would be difficult for district and lower courts to implement. They don’t even have a place for judicial officers, there is shortage of electricity and many other things.</q]

    —Justice Nagendra Rai, former ACJ, Patna High Court

One of the goals of the e-courts project in the second phase is to make all judgments available on the National Judicial Data Grid (NJDG). The purpose of this is to make information accessible to the public, provide case data to the government for analysis and performance tracking of the judiciary. The UIDs will help in tracking judgments of individual officers.

“Usually, monitoring of performance is done by monitoring that of an individual court. But you cannot track any particular case if you don’t know who was in charge of the case. Often, cases are sent to a judicial officer who has the wrong jurisdiction. His duty then is to transfer the cases. Does he do that right away? Does he do that after three adjournments? Does he not do that at all? All this can now be ascertained through performance tracking of the judicial officers for which unique IDs will be useful,” said a top government source.

The e-committee has asked the National Informatics Centre (NIC) to work on giving a unique ID to all judicial officers—around 16,000 in the subordinate judiciary. NIC will have to authenticate the digital signatures of the judicial officers and create portals for around 17,000 courts in the country.

Instituted in 2005, the e-courts project aims to develop, deliver, install and implement automated decision-making and decision support system in the district and subordinate courts. In 2010, all district courts were computerized. Entry of cases backlog, centralized filing and cause list update has started. India’s first e-court was opened on July 17, 2016, at the High Court of Judicature in Hyderabad, which is the common high court for Telangana and Andhra Pradesh.

As part of the project, each district court now contains one system officer and two system assistants. They are engaged in training staff, updating websites and managing technical issues. All court campuses are also equipped with a judicial service center where the public as well as advocates can walk in and access the status of cases and various hearing dates.

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Despite recent instances of turf war between the executive and the judiciary such as over the National Judicial Appointments Commission versus collegium, the center’s plan was well-received. “There is nothing wrong with this. Those who perform will have nothing to fear,” said Justice Mukul Mudgal, former chief justice of Punjab and Haryana High Court.

CASE PENDENCY

Justice Mudgal hoped that such a system would ultimately result in reducing case pendency, a huge concern for both the judiciary and the government. Data available for high courts and lower courts up to 2013 shows that pendency of cases is 44.5 lakh and 2.6 crore respectively. According to data available with the Supreme Court, the number of pending cases was 64,919 as on December 1, 2014.

However, Justice Mudgal drew a distinction between various categories of cases and advised caution in holding only judicial officers responsible for the delay in delivery of justice. “Every judgment takes a different time. If you are hearing constitutional matters, it takes 3-4 days; in other cases, it will take longer. Till the charges are framed and the evidence filed, the time period calculation for a judgment should not begin,” he rightly said. It has been seen that investigating agencies such as the CBI are frequently late in filing charge-sheets in particular cases.

One of the goals of the e-courts project in the second phase is to make all judgments available on the National Judicial Data Grid (NJDG). The purpose of this is to make information accessible to the public, provide case data to the government for analysis and performance tracking of the judiciary. The UIDs will help in tracking judgments of individual officers.

Justice Mudgal also had doubts about the setting of computerized parameters to track the quality of judgments. “How you can track quality? I have serious doubts about that. You can track quantity, but not quality by a computer,” he said.

The judicial system all over the world has seen a change ever since computers made inroads into it.  Automation has improved the legal system and databases of court decisions and legislation have vastly improved matters in view of globalization, European Union integration, NAFTA, anti-corruption efforts, drug and law enforcement and human rights concerns.

In Asia, Singapore has implemented the electronic filing system since 2004. South American nations, too, have widely computerized their respective legal systems with varying degrees of success.

India’s ambitious e-courts project still has a long way to go.  However, it needs to be hailed nonetheless.

                                                                                                                         —With inputs from Punit Mishra

Lead: (L-R) A screenshot of the website of e-courts; Litigants at the National Lok Adalat organized by the district legal services authority in Mirzapur, UP. Photo: UNI

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