Supreme Court’s latest move towards Technology and Modernisation
The Supreme Court has seen a continuous stream of promising reforms under nine-months of Chief Justice D.Y. Chandrachud.
Welcome to SCO Daily! Today, we will talk about the stream of promising reforms made in the Supreme Court under nine months of Chief Justice D.Y. Chandrachud.
In an Independence Day event organised by the Supreme Court Bar Association, CJI Chandrachud announced the construction of a new building for the Supreme Court. This building will accommodate 27 fresh courtrooms and four registrar courts. The event was also marked with the announcement of a new phase of the e-courts project, with a budget of 7,000 crore rupees. The project is aimed to technologically boost the judiciary, especially the lower district courts.
The Article 370 Constitution Bench hearings have also been the perfect stage for the CJI to announce his grand plans of digitising the court, and creating an inclusive space in Indian Courts for all. These reforms, however, seem to be followed by some growing pains for lawyers and litigants.
For example, in the Article 370 hearings, the CJI directed counsels to submit their written arguments and documents at least two weeks before the hearings. Normally, lawyers are known to submit multiple documents of thousands of pages to support oral arguments, much after the hearings start. Burdened with a never-ending list of “convenience compilations”, an inconvenienced Bench went on to impose a deadline for document submissions. Lawyers exclaimed that ideas and arguments evolved over time as the case progressed. Submitting an exhaustive list of arguments before the hearings even began was nearly impossible. CJI Chandrachud was unconvinced. He explained that adding “lengthy” submissions with no limits made judgement writing “impossible”. Justice S.K. Kaul supported enforcing such a hard limit and joked that judges too could introspect and mull over theories and doctrines endlessly and never deliver a judgement.
Another recurring discussion in the Article 370 hearings was the CJI’s paperless court initiative. The first three courtrooms are now equipped with computers and 120-inch screens to enable video conferencing. Counsels are required to submit written submissions and convenience compilations as PDFs. Though many lawyers have openly welcomed these changes, some senior lawyers were seen struggling to adapt to this new technology. They meekly admitted that they could no longer function without the aid and assistance of interns and juniors. Justice Kaul joked again that the paperless initiative has removed the “pleasure” of “throwing away a file” in a poorly argued case.
The overhaul of the ‘mentioning’ system is another significant development. Previously, throngs of lawyers would flood the Chief’s court every morning, clamouring to have their cases listed on their desired date—a ritual that would take up nearly an hour of a four-and-a-half-hour hearing day.
Under the revamped system counsels must submit a letter outlining the urgent matter to the Supreme Court Registry, which will compile a list of these matters, with the CJI’s approval. Only the lawyers in these approved cases will be allowed to explain to the Court why their case needs to be heard soon. The Supreme Court Advocates-on-Record Association (SCAORA) did not seem pleased and found the new system to be a “great impediment” to listing urgent cases that are not pre-approved. SCAORA members argued that this process is harmful “to the interest of justice for litigants” and “loss of work and reputation for lawyers”.
In attempts to simplify access to the Court, the CJI introduced the SuSwagatam portal this month, facilitating paperless entry passes. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta welcomed this move in Court, and told the bench that it was useful in eradicating the long “morning queues” at the Supreme Court.
Next, to increase gender sensitivity, the CJI unveiled a Handbook on Combating Gender Stereotypes Against Women. The 30-page publication, which addresses judges and lawyers, aims to “actively challenge and dispel harmful stereotypes on the basis of gender” while recognising that stereotypes “inhibit the transformative project of the law and the Constitution”.
With these forward-looking reforms, the CJI is making some far-reaching changes to the way the top court will function. As he described it, his “love of technology” seems to propel the Court into a future where such technology can hugely assist the Court in tackling its load and modernising its ways. Any meaningful and long-lasting change, however, will depend on how enthusiastically the judiciary, lawyers and the public will take to these reforms.