Advancement in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is gaining momentum around the globe as digital technologies are revolutionizing almost every sector. Judicial system is no exception. The advent of digital technology offers enormous potential to broaden access to justice.
Needless to say, the integration of ICT in the judicial system can harness many benefits, if utilized in an effective manner. It fundamentally changes the traditional methods of keeping records and initiating processes in the course of delivering justice. Further, integration of digital and ICT tools is believed to help in increasing transparency.
More precisely, ICT tools help facilitate not only to track case progress, but also to mitigate the backlog of cases by smoothly prioritizing the cases. In that sense, it is obvious that ICT tools help the judiciary in increasing productivity, accountability, and transparency. It also helps increase accessibility to the common masses in the judicial system.
Progresses in the making
The foundational components and forces behind the modern world are information, communication, and technology (ICT). Judiciary system around the world has been proactive in embracing technology in the justice system. The application of technology in the justice sector, including virtual courts, e-filing systems, and case tracking systems, has also brought transformative changes. The mechanism of judicial adjudication and operations carried out has been completely transformed by the integration of ICT in many areas, including the judiciary.
Nepal’s judicial system has also adopted the global phenomenon of integrating ICT to strengthen the system and ensure effective service delivery.
To make the judicial services accessible to the public more easily, the official website of the Supreme Court of Nepal has made an arrangement that enables access of users to all levels of the courts and other law-related entities through its online portal.
Further, the official website of the Supreme Court also provides wide access to a wide range of legal sources, including the courts and other legal entities, which increase the accessibility of the public to legal information, including the major functions, reports, precedent established by the apex court itself, and similar other information.
Nepal still has a long way to go in terms of integrating ICT in the system to ensure transformative changes.
One of the most used and notable developments of ICT applications in Nepal’s judiciary is the introduction of the case file management system. This system helps lawyers, litigants, and court officials file and manage cases online, reducing the burden of physical paperwork and streamlining administrative processes. This e-filing process has reduced the additional work burden for both the service receivers and providers.
Another notable progress is assurance that witnesses can be examined through video conference under National Civil and Criminal Procedure (2017). Similarly, section 184 of the National Criminal Procedure Code also provides for the deposition of documents or deeds made or executed before the investigation authority to be recorded in audio-visual means.
The application of videoconferencing in Nepal’s judiciary was practiced widely during the time of the COVID-19 pandemic, especially for remote hearings including case management, bail hearings, and other procedural matters. In courts based in Kathmandu, digitized public charters are functional. It is a tool to provide information to the public to define the process, tentative time for completion of work, and cost of service, with compensation in some cases. The main motive behind the application of digitalized public charters in courts and other entities is to ensure social accountability and right to information. Similarly, virtual hearing is the only way to conduct hearing due to geographical barriers in some of the remote areas of Nepal.
Use of DCM
Differentiated Case Management (DCM) is an advanced technique that enables courts to tailor the case management process to the requirements of individual cases. The concept of the DCM was designed to improve the efficiency of case processing.
Nepal’s judiciary has also introduced Differentiated Case management (DCM) to differentiate the cases on the basis of the nature of the cases. The system helps categorize cases as general and special depending on the nature and urgency of settlement. Globally, the application of DCM seems to differentiate the case based on the type of cases such as criminal, civil, family, and juvenile. The fourth Five-Year Strategic Plan of Judiciary published by the Supreme Court of Nepal had clearly mentioned a gap for the desired progress and impact: “No maximum utilization of information technology by associating case management to the information technology”.
Following the realization to maximize the utilization of ICT tools, the DCM system came into effect in July 2020. The system was introduced in a bid to institutionalize efforts made for reforms in the judiciary. With this, Nepal’s judicial system is expected to witness a transformation phase characterized by efficiency, transparency, and accessibility through the integration of ICT.
While our judicial system is embarking on technological advancement, it is not free from challenges. Despite enormous potential, the myriad of ICT tools and digital solutions often lack a clear strategy and purpose. Further, it is always challenging for a country like Nepal to maintain security of the tools.
At the implementation level, one of the major challenges of ICT applications is the absence of digital literacy in people. Digital divide is a reality of Nepali society. This year’s fiscal policy has given top priority to increase the accessibility of public internet services, including in the remote areas of Nepal. If implemented effectively, the arrangement will help mitigate the digital gap to some extent.
Another underlying challenge is the geographical constraints. The digitally divided people (who are still deprived from the internet services or have limited and unstable services) still depend on traditional working systems including case registration to the execution of judgment in remote areas which creates a gap in fair distribution of justice. The absence of interagency coordination, cost-effectiveness, accessibility of legal resources, and ICT auditing, among others, are additional challenges and problems seen in the country. These are equally challenging factors to digitize Nepal’s judicial systems.
Need of the hour
In nutshell, technology has revolutionized the administration of justice in the country, encompassing filing systems, virtual court proceedings, online legal resources, and data analytics. Hence, making ICT an inclusive, accountable, and responsive judicial system that meets the demands of its public is the need of the hour.
Digital technology holds the power to revolutionize the judicial system in Nepal to deliver justice in a better and faster way, which is more empowering and accessible for ordinary citizens, more efficient for justice institutions, and more cost-effective for the entire country. In fact, proper use of ICT tools can be the most powerful enabler in Nepal’s judicial system. The use of ICT in Nepal’s judiciary over the past decade has greatly increased the effectiveness, efficiency, accountability, transparency, and accessibility of law and justice for the general public.
However, the country still has a long way to go in terms of integrating ICT in the system to ensure transformative changes.
Neera is an officer with the government of Nepal with interest on legal issues. Views expressed in this article are her personal.