Virtual court technology is here to stay “now and forever” and the Chief Justices of High Courts, who have shut down online court hearings post-pandemic, are duty bound to “fall in line and come on board”, Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud said on February 13, 2023.
The Chief Justice said he was “really disturbed” by the attitude of certain High Court Chief Justices who are disbanding technological infrastructure created by using public money. He said they cannot just switch off the cameras and microphones and insist on the physical presence of lawyers and litigants.
“The problem lies when you have some Chief Justices who are technologically friendly and others who think the other way… I am going to ensure that everybody is online. There is now no question of ‘I like technology and I don’t’ anymore than saying ‘I will use cell phones and I will not’. Everybody uses cell phones. You better use it too… This infrastructure for virtual courts is provided using public funds. I think all the Chief Justices of High Courts need to learn that they have to be on board and there are no exceptions,” a visibly annoyed Chief Justice Chandrachud said.
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The top judge’s comments were in response to submissions by some lawyers that certain High Courts just switch off their cameras and microphones during hearings, ignoring the infrastructure made available to them. “At least allow hybrid hearings in all the High Courts,” a lawyer said.
“I am deeply distressed by this attitude… All the money which we have spent, they are just disbanding the infrastructure we have created for virtual hearing… You as Chief Justice of a High Court may or may not take interest in technology, you may understand nothing about it, but you are duty bound to spend the public funds made available by the Government of India to foster the mission to access justice… Sorry, technology is not something for the pandemic. Technology is here to stay for the future, forever,” Chief Justice Chandrachud, who heads the Supreme Court e-committee, lashed out.
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He referred to how some judges were of the view that if they could come physically to court, lawyers could very well come too. “You have to understand that the conditions in which judges come to work are very different from that the Bar has to work in,” the CJI said.
Chief Justice Chandrachud referred to how the Union Budget has made available ₹7,000 crore for the e-courts project after a Parliamentary Committee visited the Supreme Court for the first time and gave a strong report in favour of more funds for the judiciary.
“The funds are not for us personally, we are going to use it for reaching out to people, to close the Internet divide at the grassroots level… Chief Justices need to take this mission forward… This is not how you deal with public money. If money has been spent, you [Chief Justices[ have to ensure that infrastructure is available,” Chief Justice Chandrachud said.
The three-judge Bench, including Justices P.S. Narasimha and J.B. Pardiwala, asked the Bar Council of India to ask the State Bar Councils to verify the plight of lawyers who do not have access to the Internet. He said the thrust of the third phase of the e-courts project was to have e-seva kendras attached to every court in the country.
“On one hand, there is the top tier of lawyers, much of whom we see here (in the Supreme Court), but we have to see to the base of the pyramid. We have to carry everyone along. Technology should not cause the exclusion of people. It should be inclusive,” the top judge said.