The outbreak of the pandemic disease, i.e., COVID-19, is primarily a public health concern. However, the crisis’s impact and the legal and administrative responses developed by the State to counter the spread of COVID-19 have much broader implications that affect human rights, including people’s Access to Justice in a timely, ethical, and effective manner.
Covid-19 has influenced litigation in numerous manners and has additionally injured the nation as judges, lawyers, and litigants attempted to accomplish justice under the law. The quick spread of this infection has prompted the shutting down of Courts and Tribunals in the nation to maintain an imperative distance, i.e., social distancing from human affiliation.
Meaning of “Access to justice” was expounded explained by the Supreme court in the case of Anita Kushwaha v Pushap Sudan. Where the apex court affirms that access to justice is a part of the guarantee contained in Article 14 (apart from being an aspect of the right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution of India). The Court also explained the principle as constituting of the following elements:
- It is the duty of the Government to provide of effective adjudicatory mechanism;
- The mechanism rendered must be rationally accessible in terms of reach;
- Adjudication must be a speedy process; and
- The litigants must be able to access the adjudicatory process, i.e., it must be affordable.
The concept of ‘Access to justice’ has been constrained to an unusual challenge never faced before. The Indian judiciary has, however, has responded remarkably, without hesitation. It has assumed harnessing technology to ensure that access to the courts is not hindered. It would not be entirely accurate if I were to state that access has not been impeded. However, the Court’s prompt response in adopting technology and devising e-courts and video-conferencing has assured that the interruption was transitory.
Technological intervention in an existing system caused severe discomfort at the threshold. Legal practitioners had to take themselves far beyond their comfort zones. The Bench and the Bar have wholeheartedly worked together to ensure that the system continues to work.
The Hon’ble Supreme Court of India had immediately chosen to take up urgent issues employing virtual procedures to ensure that the advocate and litigants don’t need to show up in person in the court. The Hon’ble Supreme Court of India has additionally escorted the separate Bars to advance virtual procedures and e-filing. It took steps towards digitization during the pandemic complementing the virtual courts and electronic filings.
I would want to cite two instances: first, introducing e-courts portals and apps to ensure the availability of court orders’ soft-copies and direct access to case-status. Second, the Honourable Supreme Court of India passed directions In the case of Youth Bar Association of India v Union of India, for uploading copies of First Information Reports (FIRs) on the police websites, which, if properly executed, could be joined to the e-filing process. FIRs could be then electronically available to the courts. Another mention is the Supreme Court’s mobile application, which has improved access to case information.
In the end, I would like to state that Accessibility is a core faculty of the delivery of justice. The quality of adjudication in the courtroom shall not be of utility if people cannot access justice in the first place. Hence, the Covid crisis optimistically an excellent opportunity for the digitalization of Indian Courts. It can also help reduce a massive backlog of cases before the courts. Hence Indian Judicial system has not compromised justice in these crucial times, but the Indian Supreme Court has become number one in the world in hearing cases through video-conferencing.
Disclaimer: The views are personal.
Amity University, NOIDA
 2016) 8 SCC 509.
 (2016) 9 SCC 473.
 Press Trust of India, “SC tops charts in hearing cases through videoconferencing during lockdown” Business Standard, Jun. 18, 2020.