The eCourts Integrated Mission Mode Project is a significant initiative of the Indian Government that aims to digitize the district and subordinate courts across the country. The primary objective of this project is to leverage technology to improve access to justice and enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of the Indian judiciary.
The project is part of the National eGovernance Plan and has been under implementation since 2007. The eCourts project is being implemented in collaboration with the e-Committee of the Supreme Court of India and the Department of Justice. The project is being implemented in a phased manner, with Phase I implemented during 2011-2015, and Phase II started in 2015.
The project has achieved significant milestones, including the computerization of 18,735 district and subordinate courts across the country. Additionally, the project has enabled the creation of a database of orders, judgments, and cases through the National Judicial Data Grid, which provides information relating to judicial proceedings/decisions of all computerized district and subordinate courts of the country.
The eCourts project has also enabled the creation of various platforms and tools, such as the Case Information Software, Electronic Case Management Tools, and JustIS mobile app for judges, which have helped enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of the Indian judiciary. Moreover, the project has enabled the creation of 21 Virtual Courts in 17 States/UTs, which have handled over 2.40 crore cases to date.
The eCourts project is a significant step towards digitizing the Indian judiciary and making it more efficient and accessible. The project has enabled the use of technology to provide real-time information on case status, cause lists, judgments, and more to lawyers and litigants through various platforms and tools. Additionally, the project has enabled the creation of a database of orders, judgments, and cases, which provides information on judicial proceedings/decisions of all computerized district and subordinate courts in the country.
Key initiatives under the eCourts project
The Indian judiciary has made significant progress in promoting access to justice through the use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) services. From virtual court hearings to e-filing and online payment of fees, the courts have embraced digital solutions to streamline legal proceedings and enhance transparency. Some of the latest developments in the Indian courts’ ICT initiatives and their impact on the justice system, can be summarised as under:
Wide Area Network (WAN) Project
Under the WAN project, 2,976 court sites have been commissioned with bandwidth speeds ranging from 10 Mbps to 100 Mbps. This initiative has helped to provide better connectivity among courts and increased access to online court services.
Case Information Software (CIS)
The Case Information Software (CIS) forms the basis for e-Court services and is based on customized Free and Open-Source Software (FOSS). NIC has developed the CIS National Core Version 3.2 for implementation in district courts and the CIS National Core Version 1.0 for implementation in high courts.
National Judicial Data Grid (NJDG)
The National Judicial Data Grid (NJDG) is a database of orders, judgments, and cases that has been created under the eCourts project. This online platform provides information related to judicial proceedings/decisions of all computerized district and subordinate courts in the country. As of 01.03.2023, litigants can access case status information in respect of over 22.38 crore cases and more than 20.83 crore orders/judgments. Open APIs have been introduced to allow Central and State Governments and institutional litigants including local bodies to access NJDG data for pendency monitoring and compliance.
Real-Time Information Platforms
As part of the eCourts project, seven platforms have been created to provide real-time information on case status, cause lists, judgments, etc. These platforms include SMS Push and Pull (2,00,000 SMS sent daily), email (2,50,000 sent daily), multilingual and tactile eCourts services Portal (35 lakh hits daily), JSC (Judicial Service centers), and Info Kiosks. Electronic Case Management Tools (ECMT) have also been created with mobile apps for lawyers (total 1.64 cr. downloads till 31st January 2023) and the JustIS app for judges (18,407 downloads till 31st December 2022). JustIS mobile app is now available in iOS as well.
The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the adoption of virtual court hearings in India. As of January 31, 2023, the Supreme Court of India had conducted over 4 lakh virtual hearings, while the High Courts and Subordinate Courts had conducted 2.63 crore virtual hearings. Additionally, 21 virtual courts in 17 states/UTs have been operationalized to handle traffic challan cases. More than 2.40 crore cases have been handled by these virtual courts, and online fines of more than Rs. 359.34 crore have been realized till 31.01.2023.
E-Filing and Electronic Payment of Fees
To promote electronic filing of legal papers, the courts have rolled out an upgraded version of the e-filing system (version 3.0) with improved features. Draft eFiling rules have been formulated and circulated to the High Courts for adoption. As of January 31, 2023, 19 High Courts and 19 District Courts have adopted the model rules of e-filing. Moreover, a total of 20 High Courts have implemented ePayments in their respective jurisdictions, including court fees, fines, and penalties payable to the Consolidated Fund. The Court Fees Act has been amended in 21 High Courts until December 31, 2022.
Technology-Enabled Process Serving and Issuing of Summons
The National Service and Tracking of Electronic Processes (NSTEP) has been launched to enable technology-enabled process serving and issuing of summons. It has currently been implemented in 28 States/ UTs.
The Judgment Search Portal
To make judgment search easier, the courts have launched a new “Judgment Search” portal with several search features such as search by Bench, Case Type, Case Number, Year, Petitioner/ Respondent Name, Judge Name, Act, Section, Decision: From Date, To Date, and Full Text Search. This facility is being provided free of cost to all.
The Justice Clocks System
To make effective use of the National Judicial Data Grid (NJDG) database and make the information available to the public, the courts have installed 39 LED Display Message Sign Board System called Justice Clocks in 25 High Courts.
Awareness and Training Programs
To promote the widespread adoption of eFiling and eCourts services, the courts have conducted several awareness and training programs. The eCommittee of the Supreme Court of India has conducted training and awareness programs on ICT services that have covered nearly 5,13,080 stakeholders, including High Court Judges, Judges of the District Judiciary, Court Staff, Master Trainers among Judges/DSA, Technical Staff of High Courts, and Advocates. Additionally, a manual on eFiling and a Brochure on “How to register for eFiling” has been made available in English, Hindi, and 11 regional languages for the use of lawyers. Furthermore, a YouTube channel has been created in the name of the e Court services with video tutorials on eFiling.
Under the eCourts project, various training and capacity-building initiatives have been launched to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of the judicial system. These include:
i) eLearning courses for judicial officers and court staff on topics such as computer basics, computer hardware, networking, internet, cyber security, eFiling, and eCourts services.
ii) Regional and National Workshops and Seminars on eCourts project and related technologies for judicial officers and court staff.
iii) Training of Trainers (ToT) program to train Master Trainers who can further train the judicial officers and court staff in various districts.
iv) ICT training for new entrants to the judicial services at various National Judicial Academy (NJA) and State Judicial Academies (SJAs) across the country.
Impact of eCourts Project:
The eCourts project has brought about significant positive changes in the Indian judicial system, making it more accessible, efficient, and transparent. Some of the major impacts of the project are:
i) Improved access to justice for citizens, especially those in remote areas, by making it easier for them to access case information, file cases electronically, and participate in virtual hearings.
ii) Reduced pendency of cases, as the project has enabled faster processing of cases through electronic case management tools, virtual courts, and real-time case status information.
iii) Improved transparency and accountability in the judicial system, as the NJDG and other platforms provide real-time information on case status, cause lists, and judgments.
iv) Improved efficiency of court operations, as the project has enabled electronic filing of cases, e-payments, and electronic issuance of summons, reducing paperwork and manual processes.
v) Improved skills and capacity of judicial officers and court staff through various training and capacity-building initiatives.
As of now, the Indian Judiciary has taken significant steps towards digitization and modernization, especially in response to the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. The adoption of virtual hearings, e-filing, e-payments, and technology-enabled process serving has improved access to justice and the efficiency of the court system. The development of the National Judicial Data Grid (NJDG) and the installation of Justice Clocks in high courts have also made information readily available to the public. Through various training and awareness programs, the eCommittee of the Supreme Court of India has successfully bridged the skill divide and ensured that stakeholders are proficient in using the ICT services. These initiatives demonstrate the commitment of the Indian Judiciary to embrace technology and innovation, which will undoubtedly have far-reaching benefits for the administration of justice in India.