The COVID-19 pandemic has affected humans in ways that were never anticipated. It never occurred to anyone that something can affect the world and cripple the entire system in ways where simple things such as going out to buy groceries would become life-threatening. Human beings have the will to live and survive, so they adapt. This is exactly what everyone is now trying to do, adapt to the new normal. The new normal even includes one of the most important systems i.e. law. Law requires legal procedures that are led through inter alia Litigation. The legal system has now adopted online Court hearings, in order to resume the process and retain distance. Conducting such online Court hearings was neither heard about in the past nor even considered. In the present moment, while it has its benefits, it also has its own drawbacks. The way Litigation is now being conducted, has changed entirely, from the bulky paper filings, documents, affidavits, evidence, examining the witnesses, arguments, and orders to everything being electronic and remotely available. Given the excruciating circumstances, we had to adapt to such procedures within a few weeks’ time.
Out of the many changes, the most prominent change which can be seen is that how the human efforts, utilization of paper, time management, has significantly improved. This is the age of evolution and the humans are getting to witness how the conduct of the entire Legal system has a flipside. The Supreme Court of India has sanctioned its video-conferencing application to conduct online hearings and has given the autonomy to subordinate Courts to choose and implement an application for online hearings. The art of examination of witness/ accused is something that a litigator learns and masters with experience, getting that in a virtual environment certainly poses its own challenges. Dealing with witness/accused in an online setting is different, the litigator has to keep a track of the body language and change in expressions while examining. The art of examination is an extremely important part of the Trial. Virtual Reality hearings might be the game-changer, to create an extremely realistic and state of the art environment which mimics the actual courtroom from the comfort of the respective homes/offices. For this to work accurately, a high end, full-proof electronic infrastructure must be developed, which does not collapse. Even then it might have certain limitations for the video feed to accurately depict the expressions and reactions of everyone involved in the respective hearings. Different proceedings such as Arbitration and Mediation have their own challenges to overcome via online hearings of the same. Moreover, a litigator who does not have access to the modes of online hearings will have no choice but to abide by new procedures.
Online hearings have been quickly put into place, e-courts and e-filing have been made accessible for the litigators. This has led the Petition size to reduce significantly, allowing only the documents and annexures of urgent nature to be filed. The clients who could not attend the litigation hearings earlier due to the courtrooms being overcrowded or other reasons can now easily access the online proceedings through an online link provided by the Court. These measures have also ensured the health of the judges, litigators and public. As we take a leap of faith in the new technologies and/or Virtual Reality will be able to further bridge the gap between the courts, witnesses, and the litigators. COVID-19 has certainly changed a lot of things, but the litigators entirely set in the old ways will surely adopt the new technologies to reinstate the required legal system.
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