In a country where inordinate delays in the justice delivery system force undertrials to languish in jails for years and even those granted bail must wait till the court order reaches the jail authorities by post, the urgency of overhauling the judicial infrastructure need not be over-emphasised. While all other sectors have adopted modern communication technologies to improve efficiency and speed up delivery processes, the judiciary has been excruciatingly slow in embracing change. Chief Justice of India NV Ramana has rightly highlighted the need for internet connectivity in prisons and ensuring a secure electronic transmission of the apex court’s bail orders. This will ensure the expeditious release of prisoners who have been granted bail by the Supreme Court. The push to augment judicial infrastructure, including the proposal to set up National Judicial Infrastructure Corporation, is a welcome step. Such a body will help bring uniformity and standardisation in judicial infrastructure. As a first step, the States need to upgrade the infrastructure of their prisons. Poor digital connectivity, particularly in rural areas, is a major hurdle in the way of speedy justice delivery. Unless infrastructure is strengthened, it is unfair to expect courts, particularly lower courts, to increase the pace of justice delivery. The SC has taken suo motu cognisance after an Agra prison took four days to release 13 people who had been granted bail by the top court early this month. They had already served 14 to 22 years in prison when it was found that they were juveniles at the time the crime was committed.
The modernisation of judicial infrastructure does not mean building more courts or filling up vacancies but providing equal and free access to justice through a barrier-free and citizen-friendly environment. The test of its success lies in creating confidence among the most disadvantaged sections that they will get equal access to justice. Reforms to reduce the burden on Indian courts have been long overdue. The coronavirus pandemic has only accentuated the urgency to use technology to find solutions that minimise physical contact and provide an affordable form of access to justice. Many countries had embraced virtual technologies long back for speedy and hassle-free delivery of justice. Video and audio-enabled hearings are beneficial as it saves significant court costs in terms of building, staff, infrastructure and transportation costs for all the parties. There is a need to boost the infrastructure required for seamless functioning of virtual courts like robust internet connectivity, installation of large screens and error-free web applications to enable smooth videoconferencing. The application of information technology must become one of the key elements of the judicial reforms in a country which has over three crore pending cases at various levels.
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