Given the role technology has played in changing our lives, in terms of both transparency and speed or convenience, the slow pace of adopting it in the country’s legal system is nothing short of surprising. Prime minister Narendra Modi has inaugurated a digital system that will allow the Supreme Court to go paperless, keep in mind that 21,790 cases were e-filed in the Delhi High Court till December FY17—that is up significantly, compared with the 609 filed in 2013—and this is more than half the 43,026 cases filed in 2016. Much of the discourse on courts going paperless, not surprisingly, has been on the transparency and the saving this will result in. The prime minister spoke of the amount of water that goes into the making of a single A4 sheet at the event, and a report by NCAER documents time-savings—the fact that everyone will be able to track cases online is another huge benefit. On average, NCAER says, the time required in the delivery of summons, decrees and the issue of a copy of a judgment/order can be reduced 18-fold, 16-fold and 20-fold, respectively. So, it found, for instance, that just a fourth of the scrutiny of all plaints was done using a computer in courts across the country right now. The number was as low as 10% in the case of preparing of summons and a mere 20% when it came to transcribing evidence. The time-savings, naturally, are large. So, while the time taken to prepare daily cause-lists can be reduced to 6.1 minutes from the present average of 46.4 minutes, it falls from 50.9 minutes to 12.9 minutes for transcription of evidence and from 163.6 minutes for issuing judgments/orders to a mere 8.5 minutes. Multiply this across courts and the savings are an obvious way to speed up courts by going paperless.
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But imagine what could happen if this process is taken up another level. If married to a larger judicial database with a level of artificial intelligence or good search/retrieval functions, as soon as a case is filed, the judge gets details of similar cases filed across different courts, the major legal points made along with the rulings. In the event, a case can be dismissed at the first stage itself; or if, for instance, a larger bench or a superior court has already ruled on it, the judge knows his limits. For the lawyers, though it is early days on the usage of such databases, it would throw up valuable information on precedents/arguments that could be used as well as how courts have ruled on them in the past. None of this, as feared by most, makes either the judges or the lawyers redundant since the case still has to be heard and tried, but the information makes the decision-making that much more precise—think of it as a scan for a doctor going in for an operation or a robotic hand that makes accessing different parts of the body easier. Even those who believe artificial intelligence can be a disaster would agree with the prime minister when he said, at the function, that we are far behind in the application of technology in our daily lives.