Law and Justice | Insights from Charcha 2020
Law and Justice in the post-covid world
Covid-19 has forced several parts of the judicial system to go digital. Our higher courts and tribunals have been very quick to adopt technology platforms to dispense justice. Lawyers too have embraced virtual hearings and have gained immense productivity, focusing on legal work instead of logistics. In the presence of specific protocols and basic training to bar, bench and registry, moving to digital courts is a highly desirable proposition. Courts have pivoted from being a physical space, to being a service that can be delivered anywhere, any time. It has also brought to the surface, the realization that physical distance from the Supreme court has been a barrier for its access to citizens and institutions in remote states. In times of Covid, this barrier has been removed, revealing a solution for equitable access in addition to higher productivity of the system.
It is important that we build foundational capabilities to digitize all levels of judiciary. Lower courts are down to 20%productivity in the absence of similar access. There is a need to digitize entire workflows, beyond virtual interactions and hearings. We have to step up and play different roles, create new opportunities for accelerating justice to the common person. This will enable a seamless transition to an e-filing and digital system for dispensing justice.
Making every relief rupee count
Covid relief has called attention to living and working conditions of labour in plantations and other sectors, and access to health and nutrition for our migrant workforce. Migration is inevitable – but it needs to be safe and dignified when it happens. Rights, entitlements and citizenship should not be compromised. Legal aid needs to be compatible with the informality of the several sectors that migrants work in. Employer-employee relationships may not exist in the informal sector, and labour laws and fundamental rights still need to work for these workers. This requires us improve social and legal empowerment in citizens, engage the youth in the communities, and build agency in them to address their own needs for legal justice.
Last mile access to schemes continues to be a challenge. There is stigma around migrants returning, due to the risk of disease spread. Information on safe practices is key in fighting the stigma.Mediation is helping workers to receive their outstanding wages. Roots of the crisis are in the idea of citizenship and inability to access their rights and entitlements. Citizenship in the city is tied to domicile tenure – this needs to become more portable. A system that demands permanent relationship fails its migrants by design. Urban identity needs to be established anew, and claims need to be processed at a speedy pace.
Media innovations at the frontline of justice
Citizens need to step up as news consumers and support good journalism and decline attention to who are maybe disrupting the system. Role of the media is vital if we have to extend justice to the last mile - to every citizen in the country. Journalists played a key role during the pandemic in disseminating critical information in a timely manner, and also in holding up a mirror to public systems and extending justice to the last mile. The real job of journalism is to kick the tyres on every idea and hold it to the test of whether it best serves the interest of the citizens – migrants, daily wage workers, street vendors, fishermen and farmers who are most in distress. It is critical for media to continue to remain independent and be on the citizen's side in holding government and institutions accountable.
Unlocking solutions in law and justice using data
Justice delayed is justice denied. That cases take along time in Indian courts is a well-known fact. What is the cost of delay to a litigant, and what are the hidden political, social and economic costs? A huge focus of the law and justice ecosystem is to reduce the time it takes for the average Indian to get satisfactory closure on their cases. With the remarkable advancements in Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Natural LanguageProcessing technology in understanding free text in specific context, automation can dramatically accelerate access to justice. In areas like land rights, application of neural models on the large available data sets of legal text is starting to show accuracy at par with human processing.
Challenges and the way forward
Access to data is still a challenge. A lot of documents, court judgments etc. are not available in formats that can be readily used for machine learning. There is a lot to be done in cleaning this up, before it can be leveraged to make visible shifts in accelerating the pace of our legal systems. Open data platforms have a critical role to play in unlocking the full potential of the emerging technologies in this space – and to ensure legal justice for all Indians.
- Sustaining digital courts as a means to accelerate pace of justice delivery
- Ensuring social justice and equitable disbursement of relief for communities afflicted by Covid-19 and lockdowns
- Leveraging technology in the legal systems to improve access to justice
- Retaining the financial independence of large media to serve effectively as the fourth estate
Download the full Insight report on Charcha 2020, covering 16 events and 150+ hours of discussion.