Illustration: Jayachandran/Mint
Illustration: Jayachandran/Mint

Opinion | Technology for better case management

It can help in creating systems that make accurate recording, analysis and use of court data possible, thus reducing case pendency

With over 27 million cases pending in subordinate courts across the country, there is a need to look beyond traditional summary statistics. Without this, it will not be possible to ensure the steady and efficient progress of cases in courts.

The digitization of case records has now opened up avenues for the use of technology in ensuring a smooth flow of cases. The judiciary should therefore look to optimally use available data and fine-tune the nature of data collected, to ensure adherence to statutory norms and further access to justice.

At the national conference on “Initiatives to Reduce Pendency and Delays in Judicial System" in July, the Chief Justice of India, Dipak Misra, spoke about the immense pendency in courts and measures to tackle it. Specifically, he highlighted the need for effective case management.

He did acknowledge that the constant problem of a large number of vacancies in the subordinate courts contributed to the high pendency. Initiatives taken by some courts to reduce pendency (such as high courts hearing certain cases on Saturdays and during summer vacations), were also discussed.

However, at the core of the address was an emphasis on the need for case management and infrastructure to manage judicial data. Some of the key suggestions that were provided to control pendency were: (1) monitor the progress of cases based on urgency and the type of case; (2) time limits to dispose certain types of cases; (3) not allow dilution of statutorily prescribed timelines or guidelines for adjournments; (4) understand why some courts perform well despite a shortage of judges, and adopt such courts as role models; and (5) committees at the high court level to be more proactive and functional.

A glance at the first three suggestions listed above may immediately remind one that these points have been repeated time and again through statutes, rules, regulations and case law. In fact, the Supreme Court pushed for the implementation of case flow management rules in 2005. These rules provide timelines for the disposal of cases based on their subject matter and mandate a bifurcation of cases listed for the day into two lists—the first list to be called before the judge on substantive matters, and the second list to be called by the registrar or deputy registrar on procedural matters.

However, even over 10 years after the ruling by the apex court, these rules are yet to be fully implemented in the courts. What prevents these directions from being implemented?

In order to enable effective monitoring, curb repeated adjournments, and bring to fruition established timelines, we need to bridge two large gaps that will make this possible.

The first gap is in accurate recording of required court data. The second gaps is with regard to systems that make such monitoring possible.

For example, take the Karnataka (Case Flow Management in Subordinate Court) Rules, 2005 which inter alia prescribe that courts must endeavour to dispose “visiting rights" cases in nine months. How can a judge keep track of these cases and dispose them within the timeline when the e-courts data does not specifically categorize cases as being “visiting rights" cases?

Maintaining manual records for such data is not a scalable solution and hinders timely monitoring by requiring the administrative staff to calculate the required data afresh each time the judicial officer wants to look at it.

Similarly, if the courts seek to curb repeated adjournments, the courts need to record information on the parties seeking adjournments and the reasons for it, if any meaningful attempt is to be made to curb this practice.

Once there is a system in place to capture and record essential data required for efficient monitoring, it is of utmost importance that the right tools be used to systematically and continuously analyse the data to keep the judges informed of the progress of cases pending before them.

Technological interventions can also be made to ensure that cases are listed before judges in a scientific manner and take into consideration certain parameters, such as the age of the case, the subject matter, the number of days between each hearing, and the timeline within which it has to be disposed.

The right analytics tools can also be developed in a manner that helps the judges monitor cases based on parameters such as how long an accused has been in judicial custody, cases that can affect the general public, or cases that have been long pending due to the accused remaining absconding.

These analytics tools can also enable courts to understand why some courts perform differently from the rest and can help them learn from each other’s experiences.

Last but not least, it would be impossible to see a change in the judicial system without the head of each court establishment—either the principal district and sessions judge or the chief justice of a high court—taking ownership of monitoring the court data and driving necessary changes. Even the best tools and technology will be unable to bring about any change without the requisite human intervention to push people in the system towards better practices.

As Justice Misra himself noted, “technology can surely do wonders if used wisely as well as appropriately".

Shruthi Naik is a research associate at DAKSH.

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