Oftentimes it can be perceived that while technology progresses at an exponential rate, a majority of the world is still left to play catch-up. But this time, the same cannot be said about the Judiciary in India. Time and again, simple logistical constrains faced by one party due to their lack of proximity to the Court has resulted in justice being unfairly meted out. But, the Delhi High Court decided to solve the issue, and in June, 2016, it released the “Guidelines for the Conduct of Court Proceedings between Courts and Remote Sites”. These guidelines were sent to all other High Courts in the country as well. However, a cursory search on the internet leads to believe that not much coverage has been afforded to these guidelines by mainstream media.

The guidelines provide the Courts with the capacity to receive evidence and submissions from witnesses or persons involved in Court proceedings in circumstances where it would be expensive, inconvenient or otherwise not desirable for a person to attend the proceedings in person. An over-riding factor is that the use of video-conferencing in any particular case must be consistent with furthering the interests of justice and should cause minimal disadvantage to the parties. However, it is for the Court to decide whether evidence should be recorded by video-conferencing.

These guidelines describe the two points of communication as:

  1. The Court Point: denoting the Courtroom or other place where the Court is sitting or the place where Commissioner appointed by the Court to record the evidence by video conference is sitting;
  2. The Remote Point: denoting where the person to be examined by video conferencing is located.

The guidelines describe that the facility of video conferencing may be used by suo moto action of the Court, or by application on behalf of a party to the case, and may be used in civil and criminal cases where the person to be examined is located intrastate, interstate or overseas. The guidelines applicable to a Court will mutatis mutandis apply to a Local Commissioner appointed by the Court to record evidence.

APPOINTMENT OF COORDINATOR:

The guidelines describe that there should be coordinators at both the Court point and the remote point. The coordinator at the Court point shall be one of the below mentioned authorities:

  1. In the High Court, Registrar (Computers) shall be the coordinator at the Court point.
  2. In the District Courts, official-in-charge of the Video Conferencing Facility (holding the post of Senior Judicial Assistant/Senior Personal Assistant or above) nominated by the District judge shall he the coordinator at the Court point.

Whereas, the coordinator at the remote point may be one of the following authorities:

  1. When the person is overseas:
    1. the official of Consulate/Embassy of India,
    2. duly certified Notary Public./ Oath Commissioner,
  2. When the person is in another State/Union Territory: A judicial Magistrate or any other responsible official as may be deputed by the District Judge concerned or Sub-Divisional Magistrate or any other responsible official as may be deputed by the District Collector concerned
  3. When the person is in Jail: the concerned Jail Superintendent or any other responsible official deputed by him
  4. Where the person to be examined is in a hospital: The Medical Superintendent or In-charge of the said hospital or any other responsible official deputed by him
  5. Where the person to be examined is a juvenile or a child who is an inmate of an Observation Home/Special Home/Children's Home/ Shelter Home: the Superintendent/Officer In-charge of that home or any other responsible official deputed by him,
  6. Where the person to be examined is in Nirmal Chhaya: Superintendent/Officer In-Charge of the Nirmal Chhaya or any other responsible official deputed by him
  7. In case of any other person, as ordered by the Court.

For all coordinators to be appointed at the Remote point, the Court concerned will make a formal request through the District Judge to the concerned official.

The guidelines further state that the Coordinator at the Court point shall have to ensure that the Coordinator at the Remote point has certified copies or soft copies of all or any part of Court record in a sealed cover directed by the Court sufficiently in advance of the scheduled video conferencing.

MINIMUM REQUISITES FOR VIDEO CONFERENCE:

The Guidelines describe the following minimum requisites for a video conference:

  1. A desktop or laptop with internet connectivity and printer
  2. Device ensuring uninterrupted power supply
  3. Video Camera
  4. Microphones and speakers
  5. Display unit
  6. Document visualizer
  7. Comfortable sitting arrangements ensuring privacy
  8. Adequate lighting
  9. Insulations as far as possible/proper acoustics
  10. Digital signatures for the coordinators at the Court point and at the remote point

COST OF VIDEO CONFERENCING:

  1. In criminal cases, the expenses of the video conference facility including expenses of preparing soft copies/certified copies of the Court record for sending to the coordinator at the remote point and fee payable to translator/interpreter/special educator, as the case may be, and to the coordinator at the remote point shall be borne by such party as the Court directs taking into account the Delhi Criminal Courts (Payment of Expenses to Complainant and Witnesses) Rules, 2015.
  2. In civil cases, as a general rule, the party making the request for recording evidence by video conference shall hear the expenses.
  3. In other cases, the Court may make an order as to expenses as it considers appropriate taking into account rules/instructions regarding payment of expenses to complainant and witnesses as may be prevalent from time to time

GENERAL GUIDELINES REGARDING PROCEDURE

  1. The identity of the person to be examined shall be confirmed by the Court with the assistance of the coordinator at remote point at the time of recording of the evidence.
  2. In civil cases, party requesting for recording statement of the person to be examined by video conferencing shall confirm to the Court location of the person, his willingness to be examined by video conferencing, place and facility of such video conferencing.
  3. In criminal cases, where the person to be examined is a. prosecution witness or Court witness, the prosecution, and where person to be examined is a defense witness, the defense counsel, will confirm to the Court his location, willingness to be examined by video conferencing, place and facility of such video conferencing.
  4. In case person to be examined is an accused, prosecution will confirm his location at remote point.
  5. Video conference shall ordinarily take place during the Court hours. However, the Court may pass suitable directions with regard to timings of the video conferencing as the circumstances may dictate.
  6. The record of proceedings including transcription of statement shall be prepared at the Court point under supervision of the Court and accordingly authenticated. The soft copy of transcript digitally signed by the coordinator at the Court point shall be sent by e-mail through NIC or any other Indian service provider to the remote point where printout of the same will be taken and signed by the deponent. Scanned copy of the statement digitally signed by coordinator at the remote point would be sent by e-mail to the Court point. The hard copy would also be sent subsequently by the coordinator at the remote point to the Court point by courier/mail.
  7. The Court may; at the request of a person to be examined, or on its own motion, taking into account the best interests of the person to be examined, direct appropriate measures to protect his privacy keeping in mind his age, gender and physical condition.
  8. Where a party or a lawyer requests that in the course of video-conferencing some privileged communication may have to take place, Court will pass appropriate directions in that regard.
  9. The audio-visual shall be recorded at the Court point.
  10. The coordinator at the remote point shall be paid such amount as honorarium as may be decided by the Court in consultation with the parties.
  11. In case any party or his/her authorized person is desirous of being physically present at the remote point at the time of recording of the evidence, it shall be open for such party to make arrangements at party's own costs including for appearance/representation at the remote point subject to orders to the contrary by the Court.

The guidelines further detail other ancillary issues over which disputes may arise, such as presence of third parties not party to the case, having an unhindered view of the room, connection and disconnection of links at both points, etc. The guidelines finally state that for all matters not expressly covered under these guidelines, the Court shall have the authority to decide the same in the interest of justice.

With detailed guidelines now being used by a variety of Courts across India, one can say that adoption of technology into the day to day functioning of the Judiciary is a step forward, and can only benefit the Courts and the Country at large.