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Wired Law: How courts are giving justice?

Anamika Mishra, Faculty of Law, Delhi University

A 37-year-old man named Punithan Genasan was sentenced to death for his role in a heroin deal via video conferencing platform Zoom in Singapore. It was the first criminal case by remote hearing where a death sentence was pronounced. Well, Singapore is not the first country to do so during the pandemic. In early May, a man in Nigeria was sentenced to death for murdering his own boss' mother. The question here is, whether these online practices making us less humane?

This led the internet flooded with the tweet of Human Rights Watch Director

"The irreversible punishment is archaic, inherently cruel and inhuman, it should be abolished,"

The notion by which they firmly stand on is that the death penalty system flagrantly violates human rights law. It is often applied in a whimsical and prejudiced manner without spare the price of vital due process rights. Moreover, methods of execution and death row conditions have been castigated as barbarous, callous, or degrading treatment and even persecution.

Attorney and client, like everyone else in a time of this pandemic, are facing months of uncertainty, seclusion, and disturbance. With almost everything getting wired, the law does not seem to fail the expectations of the technology. Law has always been known of technology for its research part, but now as the world and its needs are changing, video conferencing and going paperless have become its best of friends. Without actually being physically present, one can have a comfortable video call meeting face-to-face with their client and the judge.

When working off the beaten track, steer clear of paper is more efficient than devoting time scanning it. The usage of cloud-based software is to keep all the information in one place and access it from anywhere at any time. Centralizing the files in software like Microsoft OneDrive, Google Drive, Box or Dropbox is a plain-sailing idea. This will help to minimize disruption and let one focus on their client's needs.

With this modern approach to reach justice, are we somewhere denying justice?

C.K. Allen, in his Aspects of Justice, wrote that the fundamental motive of law is said to be the pursuit for justice which is to be pilot without passion as when passion comes at the door, justice wings its ways through the window. Justice in a utopia is – the matter of law. Justice appears to be an overburdened idea. Sometimes it is reduced to a question of technique: A Modern Technique – Legal Technology.

The implementation of the latest technology to elevate the legal sector is referred to as Legal technology. There are about 2.81 crore cases awaiting action because of the shortage of lawyers and the lack of technology application in the field of law. Welcoming technology in this space can make reach a new height in this sector as the young professionals are accustomed to change, are proactive and tech-savvy. The implementation of AI aimed to help the lawyers in bestowing an adequate solution to their clients. Supreme court Judge Hon'ble Mr Justice A.K. Sikri has also said that Artificial Intelligence will be augmenting lawyers' capabilities.

However, as we say, technology comes with a price. The price is of abandoning the weaker section of the society who cannot have the wherewithal for justice.

Despite the social distancing norm, we are well managed to get our things done via technology. However, we have ever pondered upon the challenges faced by the weaker section of the society? Where only 8% of homes with young members having computers with a net link in India, we expect ourselves to be digital? The most educational institution has been shut since the end of the March due to Covid-19. They have switched to digital platforms from face-to-face classroom learning widening the gap between the informative rich and informative poor in this time of the pandemic—a Digital Cleave. Existing can be incredibly difficult, try to live in poverty for a day.

After taking the example of the wired-education, let us evaluate the Wired-Law. Law and technology can go arm in arm, but not technology and poor. India has about two-thirds of its people living in poverty, and 68% of the Indian population lives on less than $2 a day. Over 30% even have less than $1.25 per day available - they are considered extremely poor. How can one expect the percentage to be digital? Poor have no access to technology. Therefore, in this time of the crisis, when they need legal assistance the most, they are struggling with the so-called 'blessing' that we all possess which in reality has become a 'curse' to them. The poor are often denied access to justice and provided with legal aid which ends up bringing an unfair treatment because a legal representative is only efficient when one can afford them. Nevertheless, this again is not happening in the current scenario. Everything is shut, and so is justice. How can a poor with no access to technology get to know about his case? How can he possibly appear if he does not have a Digi-cell phone? How can he reach a lawyer in this day and age? Is the term 'essential hearing' causing more pain?

Well, everyone is equal in the eye of the law, but the more we critique, the more we dig up the fact that this is not true. Professor Richard Susskind famously asked the question

"is court service or a place?".

He suggested that face-to-face justice in a physical presence is an essential feature to access justice for vulnerable parties.

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