Monday, December 19, 2011

Electronic Bail Granting And Communication System In India

Granting of bail in a criminal matter ensures the right to life and liberty of an individual. While granting a bail, it is ensured that the normal life off the grantee is not jeopardised due to the initiation of a criminal proceeding. In many cases, although the bail is granted yet its communication and final execution may take some time. This seems to be an unreasonable exercise and avoidable evil.

Information and communication technology (ICT) can easily, instantly and most effectively solve this problem that Indian judiciary has unnecessarily prolonged. Use of ICT for judicial and legal reforms in India is well recognised and establishment of e-courts in India could bring many far reaching legal and judicial reforms in India.

Although e-courts project of India has been launched since 2003 yet it has still not seen the light of the day. There are many reasons why e-courts in India failed to take a start. Lack of will and technical expertise seem to be the main reasons. We must concentrate upon “e-courts capacity development” aspect that is still missing. We have to ensure e-courts related skills development in India that is presently missing. Further, ICT training for judges in India is also long due.

Establishment of e-courts in India must be expedited. We have a single techno legal e-courts training and consultancy centre of India managed by Perry4Law Techno Legal Base (PTLB) that is working in this direction.

However, some positive developments are also taking place in India. Few judges in India are encouraging use of ICT for judicial purposes and to ensure a speedier justice. For instance, it has been recognised that bail orders through e-mail can be sent. Further validity of electronic legal notices in India is by and large confirmed and acknowledged.

Supreme Court of India recently decided to experiment with email notices to respondents to cut the delay in the traditional method of serving notices. The bench clarified that it is not making a new rule but providing for an additional mode for service of notices. The traditional method of notice sending is still kept intact.

The bench also realised that there may be some difficulties in implementing this initiative. It asked all the lawyers present in the court about putting in practice the serving of notice through emails, at least to start with in commercial matters.

Recently a petition in Bombay High Court challenged the detention of an accused that has been either acquitted or released on bail. It was contended that if the accused are acquitted or released on bail, the time taken to communicate the acquittal by the court to jail authorities resulted in illegal detention. In order to mitigate the hardships to such accused, it was suggested that the current practice of using snail mail for communication of acquittal and bail orders be replaced with a web-based service that links all district courts. The court inquired as to the cyber security efficacy of this proposal and asked the National Informatics Centre (NIC) to give its opinion in this regard. The NIC vouched for the feasibility and cyber security of such a proposal.

However, NIC opined that while a web-based portal would be safe as a temporary measure, using emails for communication would be vulnerable to fraud. NIC suggested two methods - delivery through web portals and emails, and highlighted security issues and procedures to ensure that no fraudulent orders are accessed for action. NIC also suggested that in future digital signatures can also be sued to further secure such electronic communications.

This is a good development in the right direction. It would be even better if granting of bail itself can be done in a cyber secure online environment. When e-courts are finally established in India, both application for bail as well as its granting and communication can be done through online mechanisms. Perry4Law and PTLB strongly recommend use of such methods in future.