Digitization of Delhi High Court: Lessons and Limitations

By: Akash Kumar Singh/4th Semester/CCMG/Jamia

This write-up draws on a report that the author has written during his internship with  Vision India Foundation in 2016.  The report is part of Compendium of Good Governance published by the Foundation in 2016.

Digitization as a meta-process is gradually enveloping all walks of life, including governance. Governments are taking up the approach of digital governance and making necessary arrangements to create a digital ecology. India has been fast to adopt the idea of digital governance and the judiciary one of the first institutions of Indian democracy to adopt digitization to ease and gear up the process of justice delivery. Discussions on the idea began in 2004, and the Delhi High Court (DHC) became the first court to introduce digitization in 2006. Since then the process of digitization is in progress and the DHC is constantly upgrading itself and it has emerged as a successful model of e-governance.

Digitization of Delhi High Court: Benefits & Limitations

Almost all stakeholders in the value chain of justice delivery have benefitted from digitization of DHC. The prominent among these benefits are:

  • The DHC has become a paperless court: Digital files have replaced paper. It has also helped vacate three floors in DHC premises.
  • Digitization has made the delivery of following services possible: fast tracking and retrieval of case status, enhanced data storage, categorization and tagging of cases, fast disposal of pending cases, transparency, less scope for maneouvering, and better court management (Singh 2016: 62-63). These services have enhanced the efficiency of the court staff, paving the way for the easy access to the relevant information by the justice seekers.

The success of digitization in the DHC is being retarded by few factors.

  • The most important limitation relates to the debate on ‘Computerized Filing versus e-Filing’. The DHC does not offer online e-Filing facility. For e-Filing at the DHC, one has to be physically present in the court.
  • Untrained staff and lack of logistics are also among major limitations which need to be addressed.

Promotion of m-Governance and introduction of technologies like IVRS System, Cloud Network will probably enhance the rate of success. A comparative study of different models of e-courts that are around, suggests that unique concepts like the LawNet[1] and JusticeOnLine[2] from Singapore and Data Centres[3] from can be replicated to increase the rate and number of cases heard (Anon 2015).

Effects of Infusion of Digital Technology in DHC

Infusion of technology affects the ways in which products are produced and services are delivered. New social and behavioral patterns are emerging as effect of traits of digitization. Products of digitization achieve a sense of tangibility as data is captured in digital formats. Besides, the portability and repeatability—two of the technology’s crucial attributes are derived from tangibility (Katz 2004: 1-2). When data becomes a ‘thing’ (tangible), it gets an unprecedented freedom to travel (Katz 2004:  3) which eases the distribution. Also, numerous copies of the file can be recreated, more precisely, self replicated.

Similarly, there is a change in receptivity of data by the public. The site and the forms of reception have been transformed. The site of consumption moves to private space, with redundancy in physical labour and space. Consequently, a behavioural change is being observed where the staff is getting more tech-savvy to cope with the adjustments required in the digital ecology.

Ownership or access to a digitally compatible receiving instrument is one of preconditions to avail benefits of digital governance within the DHC. It relates to the idea of complementary products. A particular technology requires a specific format. Software and hardware experiences complement each other. The idea is that, a party needs to possess a smart phone or desktop supporting specific file formats with access to internet to avail the facility of digitization-enabled e-courts. Therefore public’s access to judiciary-related data is mediated by a non-judicial entity. A pattern of ‘digital divide’ that emerges in the context of digitization of the DHC, limits the access to facilities of the e-court.

Many Digitizations in a Comparative Perspective

The DHC digitization has some similarities with other digitizations, completed and/or ongoing, in other sectors like television distribution and music industry. The DHC digitization project was carried out gradually in phases based on availability of funds, resources and technologies. Similar to cable TV digitization, the DHC digitization was carried out in three phases. As mentioned, digitization of courts began in 2004, much early than digitization of cable TV in India. The first phase of cable TV digitization began in 2012 (Vaidyanathan, n.d.). The DHC digitization project was implemented jointly by a number of entities, including the National Informatics Centre and Department of Justice and private sector entities (Talukdar n.d). However, the mandatory cable digitization led to formalization of the cable industry of India (Parthasarathi et al. 2016: 166). Contrary to this, the digitization of judiciary in India has not been made mandatory and is at a pre mature stage. Whether digitization of judiciary will lead to the emergence of networks of e-courts where all courts will be linked to each other through digital connectivity, is yet to be seen.

In India’s music industry, introduction of electronic keyboards led to emergence of the programmer, a new role that has come to be part of the process and that has, to a large extent, replaced the arranger’s role (Booth 2008: 35) and digitization of music led to emergence of sound engineers. Similarly, infusion of technology in High Court governance led to emergence of new staff to meet demands of digital ecology of which the DHC as an e-court has become a part. New recruitments for the posts of Data Entry Operators, Scanning Consultant/Supervisor, etc. suggests new requirements under the digital ecology and/or the existing staff were trained to discharge new roles (DHC n.d.). In the pre-digital age, a lawyer also used to function as an information mediator. In the wake of digitization, the lawyer is no longer required to play an information mediator as all relevant information is just a click-away from the justice seekers who have come to have required digital capability. Girish Sharma who is Digitization Registrar at the DHC, comments, “The greatest advantage digitization has produced for citizens is reduction of dependency of common people on lawyers. There are no more hurdles of information access as the citizens now have direct access to the court” (Singh 2016: 62).

Similarities and differences in service delivery model through different digitizations carried out in India also depend upon the nature of institutions and industries involved (whether they are public or private). Delivery of public services through PPP models is however a much more complicated issue, as ITforChange (2009) has shown in its position paper on viability of Common Service Centre (CSC) model for employing ICTs for community development, under the National e­Governance Plan of the Government of India. Presently, the mode of service delivery in DHC is public. To fast deliver some of its services, a PPP model can be implemented i.e. the idea of private delivery of public goods, in the DHC can act as another major factor to gear up governance. However, those services need to be carefully selected and their delivery should be properly monitored through a well-designed mechanism.  In this context, two characteristics of a service become relevant. Firstly, the extent to which the delivery of a service can be digitalized. Secondly, the extent to which it can be productised- meaning whether it can be completely described a priori in a standard form, and thus can be delivered across-the-counter with clear measurable parameters (ITforChange 2009).

Many services that the DHC dispenses as an e-court, involve digitalization as well as productisation. To name a few: daily cause list and court diary generation, periodical statements, automatic marking of cases, pending case statements generation, provisions are also made to generate automated summons, warrants and notice generation all at the press of a single button (Singh 2016:  63). At the same time, productized services delivered by the court include delivery of summons and ensuring availability of application forms.  Interestingly, in some services of DHC, the digital and the analogue run parallel. For instance, the court asks for three hard copies along with a digital copy on CDs while filing the petition (Singh 2016: 66).

Some of factors that are responsible for similarities and differences among various Digitizations include:  the scale, types of stakeholders, nature of products or services delivered and basic difference in the institutional and industrial models. These factors may also explain differences in implementation strategies adopted for digitization in different sectors.

Conclusion

With beginning at a basic level, the DHC digitization has expanded and emerged as an efficient governance model. The court has been dynamic in adopting digital technologies and has carried out digitization with a high speed and at a huge scale.

Infusion of technology leads to a situation where the governance policies of institutions need to be revisited, which is reflected in changing role of the stakeholders. With infusion of digital technologies in the DHC, the policies on composition of IT manpower, court management, ambiguity on provision of paper and digital document, etc needs to be revisited.

Different digitizations carried out in different industries in India also resemble or vary from each other which  depends upon the nature of industries involved including factors like scale, services, stakeholders and ownerships, etc.

Notes

[1] The platform of LawNet converges several judicial services and connects the stakeholders via a single connection. It coordinates and integrates the nation-wide computer network linking parties together. It enables a higher degree of standardization and provides data on legal research.

[2] JusticeOnLine is a Video Conferencing System that enables lawyers to conduct court hearings from desktop computers in their offices. Lawyers can also request a videoconference hearing and monitor their place through this (Reiling, n.d.).

[3] In Philippines, the judiciary is building two major data centres and around a dozen regional data centres and establishing network and connectivity in major locations, including all the courts where e-Courts is targeted to be implemented.

References

  1. Booth GD, “Chapter Five – Roles, Relations, and the Creative Process,” In Behind the Curtain – Making Music in Mumbai’s Film Studios (Oxford University Press 2008)
  2. “Digitization” (Virgosoft) <http://www.virgosoft.com/digitization.php>
  3. “ICTs for community development in India – Going beyond the basic CSC model” [2009] ITforChange
  4. Katz M, Capturing sound: how technology has changed music (University of California Press 2004)
  5. Parthasarathi V, Amanullah A and Koshy S, “Digitalization as formalization: A view from below” [2016] International Journal of Digital Television
  6. Reiling, E-Justice: experiences with court IT in Europe <http://www.iijusticia.org/docs/Dory.pdf>
  7. Response by Delhi High Court to Questionnaire Received from National Judicial Academy” (Delhi High Court) issue brief
  8. Singh AK, “Digitization of Delhi High Court,” Compendium of Good Governance (Vision India Foundation 2016)
  9. Talukdar K, “ECourts – The Renaissance in Indian Judiciary” (Kamrup District Judiciary) issue brief <http://kamrupjudiciary.gov.in/documents/ecourts.pdf>
  10. Updates on Judicial Sector Reforms that Impact on Enforcement of Contracts ” (2015)
  11. Vaidyanathan S, “Cable Television” (Centre for Internet and Society) <http://cis-india.org/telecom/resources/cable-tv> accessed January 4, 2017
This entry was published on April 6, 2017 at 4:52 pm. It’s filed under Media Policy and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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