Legal Design in India for Virtual Courts: Improving Access to Justice

By

Aditya Srikanth

He is a practising lawyer in Chennai, specialising in commercial contracts and dispute litigation. He believes that technology, plain English and design is the future of law.

Covid-19 has forced the world to change its lifestyle and the courts of our country are no different.  

The judicial system has quickly adopted widespread use of video hearings with the aim of imparting justice in important/urgent matters during the pandemic. 

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However, a large number of advocates and judges across the country are not accustomed to the technophile world. There are a number of times where the server gets overloaded due to filing and then ultimately crashes down. But it is of great concern to ensure the privacy and security of the case related details and other technicalities. Apart from that there are a number of glitches including but not limited to the following:

Litigants are not able to join the proceedings: Prisoners and litigants are finding it hard to be involved in the court proceedings. 

Internet Connectivity issues: The present bandwidth is proving to be inadequate to reach the e-court. Lawyers and litigants generally don’t have good connectivity and further poor bandwidth which affects smooth video conferencing. 

Lack of Knowledge / Inadequate Training: The senior advocates and the judges may not be well versed with the technical uses and advancements. Thus, proper training is required at all levels.

Lengthy Procedure: Intricate procedure of filing both physical and e-filing is another one of the major shortcomings of the system. 

Notifying Defects: In the e-filing process, the procedure of notifying defects should be made simpler. The registry should be well-equipped with the technology of notifying defects in the file of the lawyer so that the lawyer may cure the defects and e-file it again.

How could the potential benefits of video technology be realised? How could we retain those values and features of ‘the day in court’ that are important while reducing the number of poor experiences that people associate with the court?

Now as far the solution is concerned, for the introduction, let us know what is meant by ‘Legal Design’.   

Margret Hagan of the Legal Design Lab writes that legal design is the application of human-centred design to the world of law, to make legal systems and services more human-centred, usable, and satisfying. Legal design is a way of assessing and creating legal services, with a focus on how usable, useful, and engaging these services are.

legal design

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Legal design helps in simplifying the dispensation of justice and is more user-friendly which challenges the conventional way of doing things. The Judiciary should use design thinking to create better virtual court systems. 

Is there any country which has used legal design to create virtual courts?

Other countries have been using virtual hearings for many years. Jamie Young has written about the way courts in the Netherlands have gone about using virtual hearings. The Ministry in the Netherlands has been using virtual hearings since 2002.

The Ministry has spoken with many stakeholders to develop careful criteria for videoconferencing technology, especially those that are essential to giving court users a ‘true-to-life’ experience. This includes clearly representing the detail of an individual’s looks, facial expression, mouth movements, the direction of view, gestures and posture, while also setting as standard that nobody should be able to manipulate the view by zooming, focusing or panning cameras. 

How could legal design change the way virtual courts work?

Introduction to Uniformity: Different software and apps are being used by the courts across the country lacking unanimity in promoting video conferencing and digital hearing. Every app, software works on a different setup, thus making it even more difficult for the lawyers/litigants to bring their emergency cases to the court.

Needs of the staff: E-Court filing and video conferencing should be designed in such a way keeping in view the needs of the litigants/Bar/Bench as well as the court staff responsible for filing and all the important procedures.

Provision of a well-equipped E-court room: Every court should consider making available proper screens and speakers. District and Taluka courts may consider having an e-court room within its premises where the advocates/litigants who have a video conferencing room/e-court room where they can appear for an e-court hearing that tech infrastructure can utilize it.

Working on the Bandwidth factor: Looking at the glitches, the basic one of them being the bandwidth limiting the court to function at their full capacity. If possible try fixing the issue providing it considerable preference.

What is the way forward?

Successful implementation of e-courts would require both social and technological innovation, and design thinking can bring many benefits. 

A ‘design thinking’ approach would involve all stakeholders (technical skills of engineers and digital architects, justice professionals, including litigants, lawyers and judges, prisoners, police, and other experts) by interviewing them, observing their behaviours, recording their attitudes and working with them to swiftly prototype new concepts. 

The approach could help the new avatar of courts to be successful. 

Curious about legal design? 

Want to know more?

Lawctopus will be hosting a webinar with Aditya Srikanth on the topic ‘The Simpler, Beautiful Future of Law: Legal & Contract Design’ where he shall introduce us to the benefits of presenting complex legalese in the form of easy-to-understand and informative visuals.

Join us for the same by registering here

lawctopus webinar on legal design

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