Parliamentary Panel Flags Non-Utilisation Of E-Court Facilities
The MPs insisted steps be taken to ensure diversity in appointment of judges and equitable representation of states.
A parliamentary panel flagged the under-utilisation of e-court facilities across high courts in the country in a meeting on Friday. The MPs also sought to increase social diversity in the appointment of judges and asked the law ministry about steps being taken to address vacancies across government departments, particularly in recruitment bodies such as the Staff Selection Commission, which appoints staff in various ministries and departments of the government of India and in its subordinate offices.
Senior officials from the Ministry of Law and Justice, Department of Personnel and Training, and Central Bureau of Investigation appeared before the Standing Committee for Personnel, Public Grievances, and Law and Justice, chaired by BJP Rajya Sabha MP Sushil Modi. The panel met on Friday to discuss the demand for grants for the Budget 2023 before the second part of the session commences from Mar. 13.
The two-day meeting discussed various issues pertaining to the workings of the law ministry, allied departments, and bodies such as the Central Vigilance Commission, the Central Information Commission, Lokpal, the Union Public Service Commission, and the legislative department, among others.
MPs pointed out during their panel tours to check the functioning of virtual courts that in many courts across the country, they had seen computers and cameras bought for video conferencing lying "unused and dumped," people aware of the matter said.
Government officials were asked about the steps taken to ensure the proper utilisation of e-court facilities to facilitate better access to justice, reduce costs, expedite the cases to bring relief to many people, and address the pendency of cases.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, the Supreme Court adopted video conferencing of court proceedings to reach out to the people. Between Mar. 23, 2020, and Oct. 30, 2022, the apex court heard 3.37 lakh cases through video conferencing.
In the recent budget, the centre introduced a provision of Rs 7,000 crore for phase 3 of the e-courts project.
A person aware of the matter said that despite Chief Justice D.Y. Chandrachud explicitly saying that the Supreme Court will continue to use technological infrastructure for a hybrid mode of hearing to allow parties from any part of the country to join the court proceedings, many high courts were not using the facilities and letting the investment go to waste.
Government Vacancies And Court Infrastructure
In the same meeting, concerns were flagged against prevalent vacancies across government departments, particularly in the positions of notary public, and the delay in filling up judicial positions. MPs also demanded to know details about the conviction rate in CBI cases, the process by which investigating officers are chosen for handling sensitive cases, and how the government was planning to fill up vacancies in the Staff Selection Commission.
Also, it was suggested to the government by the panel that the National Judicial Academy, which trains judges, could also be used for the training of lawyers to increase adaptability to laws that keep evolving. The government is expected to respond to the committee in the coming days.
According to people aware of the matter, the panel, citing its findings from recent tours, said in high courts across the North Eastern states, there were concerns regarding crumbling infrastructure due to a lack of funds and that even in the court halls in Imphal, Guwahati, and Agartala, the toilets were in a dilapidated condition. Houses of judges in these states also need renovation, and toilets specifically for women need to be built in district courts, it was pointed out.
Social Diversity In The Appointment Of Judges
MPs also sought clarity on the memorandum of procedure and insisted steps be taken to ensure increase social diversity in the appointment of judges in the higher judiciary and also equitable representation of states in judges appointment.
Recently, the law ministry told the committee that 79% of all High Court judges appointed in the last five years were from the upper caste (general category). Union Law Minister Kiren Rijiju has said the government has been requesting the Chief Justices of High Courts that, while sending proposals for the appointment of judges, they give adequate consideration to suitable candidates belonging to women, scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, other backward classes, and minorities to ensure social diversity in the appointment of judges in high courts.
Some opposition MPs also asked the officials about the appointment of judges in the state courts, especially the high courts, and why the government was being selective about the appointment of judges, delaying the recommendations by the SC.