Virtual methods of real-time justice
With social distancing becoming the need of the hour, integrating technology into legal procedures will help discharge justice effectively
This pandemic and the consequent lockdown have forced the legal profession into overnight digitisation. For the first time in the history of the profession, the Apex Court of India and other subordinate courts are hearing matters virtually, due to social distancing norms. In fact, the Supreme Court of India is pushing for an e-filing system, which will radically change the filing processes for lawyers. With e-filing becoming a reality, they will be able to file matters at their convenience from any location.
While this is the present scene in courts, even law firms have efficiently adopted remote working models to carry out business regularly with virtual meetings, briefings, arbitrations, and hearings during this lockdown. The question is: what will be the consequence of these forced experiments?
For starters, this virtual revolution will make legal professionals more receptive towards embracing technology to increase efficiency. A great example is the inauguration of two virtual courts for traffic challans captured through cameras, during the third lockdown.
Practices like conducting arbitrations virtually might become the new normal. Advanced technology tools, increased flexibility, minimal use of resources and time will make virtual arbitration an attractive option for parties and arbitrators. Under the guidance of Justice DY Chandrachud, Chairman of the Supreme Court e-committee, the Supreme Court is committed to the idea of switching filing to an e-format to increase efficiency. In the future, courts might consider alternating between virtual and open court hearings to strike a balance between efficiency and not comprising on access to justice.
Keeping this in mind, a new challenge emerges for law schools to revisit their curriculum and prepare students for the future. The first step must be to integrate technology in the legal curriculum and focus on introducing interdisciplinary courses between law and technology and on efficiently using new technological tools. With an increased number of activities being carried out virtually, law schools must be equipped with state-of-the-art digital infrastructure. Students may need to be exposed regularly to virtual group discussions and moot court competitions to make them effective communicators over multiple mediums.
As the world moves towards greater transparency, with mobile phones tracking movements, increased online payments, video footage of most public spaces and data records of most conversations, one is likely to witness a drastic change in trials. In fact, this has been triggered with the inauguration of new virtual courts, which are supported by a software that allows a party to point out discrepancies in the footage captured by traffic cameras before the court. Similarly, tools such as AI could prove valuable for future lawyers to scan volumes of data, audio recordings and video data and thus reduce the time taken to complete trials. Proficiency in using these tools and a basic understanding of these technologies will enable students to effectively use technology in the profession.
To make students relevant, law schools should provide a platform to learn extensively about smart contracting, use of blockchain in law, artificial intelligence and law, cybersecurity, data privacy and so on.
Globally, jurisdictions are reinventing legal processes to tackle challenges of the lockdown and, in the longer run, to increase efficiency by embracing technology. Therefore legal academia must work closely with the judiciary and members of the fraternity to revisit legal curricula and pedagogy techniques. There is a need for a strong collaborative effort to devise a roadmap to tackle these uncertainties and move forward successfully.
The writer is advocate and member, founding team, Vijaybhoomi University.