Since the lockdown began, courts across India have been using video conferencing as a means of ensuring social distancing. In order to regularize the practice, on 6 April, the Supreme Court dictated official guidelines for implementing video conferencing in courts across India. It stressed that access to court rooms should be restricted. It encouraged the use of video to hear both trial and appellate cases, whenever possible.
The use of video conferencing of course pre-dates the corona virus outbreak. The Supreme Court has approved of its use for nearly two decades. In State of Maharashtra v. Praful Desai (2003) it even held evidence could be recorded via video conferencing. In its judgment, it observed that advances in technology had opened up the possibility for virtual courts.
By 2006, the Union Government began to push for the introduction of various technologies in courts across India with is National e-Governance Plan. It posited that the digitization of courts would ensure greater efficiency, transparency and reliability. Among the many technologies the policy envisions introducing is video conferencing. By 2015, the Department of Justice was reporting that video conferencing facilities had been made available in as many as 500 court complexes and corresponding jails.
Perhaps then, one positive side-effect of this epidemic is that is has re-catalyzed the digitization of the Courts. Earlier this month, Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, who heads the Court’s E-Committee, observed that many video-conferencing measures adopted now should be institutionalized after the pandemic resides.
The Court has been rapid to embrace technology to continue hearing cases in this ongoing crisis. By contrast, apex courts in other jurisdictions such as the United States, have been resistant to using video conferencing. The question that remains is how this will this affect the on-going project to digitize the courts after the outbreak subsides.