New digital enablers can clear our judicial cholesterol

Last week, the eCourts Committee released its Digital Courts Vision and Roadmap, paving the way for the digital reform of the Indian judiciary. I read the 86-page report with interest, looking at how much it affects my career. But I appreciate the focus so much that I believe it can go further.

It is important to note that the work of this committee was in fact the third phase of judicial system reform in India — and it was limited to what it had done before. The focus in the first phase was the digital takeover of the judiciary — as a result, no attempt was made to provide digital services to citizens. The second phase focuses on lawyers, thereby creating court-filed case information systems and payment payment systems to improve the ease of electronic filing of cases and service delivery. Now, in the third phase, the committee must build on the previous work and move the reform agenda forward in line with modern times.

For the most part, the report has a clear and forward-thinking focus. It prioritizes the construction of digital infrastructure and the use of platform architecture is integrated with digital versions within a range of sectors that have led to in-depth transformations. Most often, such projects create a suite of applications that do not deliver what they promise, or do not meet the needs of the user. I am glad the committee decided not to go that route. I appreciate the approach that the report simply emphasizes the importance of digitizing paper processes, instead of trying to fundamentally change the current workflows to be relevant to the digital workflow digital environment.

There are elements that can be challenging to implement. For example, privacy and security by design are listed as one of the third step design principles. While this is an admirable principle, there is no doubt, I can see it contradicting the design principle that calls for openness and interoperability. The imposition of the responsibility of privacy would be destroyed by the former system that relied on our legal system. Attorneys report the full details of the lawsuits and the circumstances that led to their dispute. If victims of rape or other stigma incidents, however, attorneys obtain confidentiality only in very limited circumstances. For the Committee’s recommendation on privacy to be fully implemented, judgments need to be carefully changed before they can be reported. It will fundamentally change our approach to preview in the digital age.

Although the Committee has focused its attention on the broader framework of judicial reform, I am disappointed that it has not done much to explain exactly what needs to be done. I have assumed that this report will take the outline of the elements going into the platform architecture proposed by the committee.

I have long believed that the first step required for any digital version is a serious bundling of analog processes. Rethinking a digital workflow from the perspective of results to be achieved is far more effective than digitizing existing paper-based solutions. In the context of legal reform, it is necessary for us to capture the core functions of the legal system and design platform solutions to achieve the desired results.

If you keep your mind at the back as you read the eCourts Committee report, it will soon become clear that much of what it calls for can be achieved by improving the efficiency of data transfer processes. Service of summons, asynchronous inquiries or forensic investigations.

If the legal system currently perceives data silos as having no way to communicate with each other, then presenting the proposed digital version as a way to connect these silos would allow data to move freely through them. I hope we understand how the third phase of judicial reform can be.

The good news is that this is something we have already implemented — with considerable success. Therefore, the country did not take much to reflect that success.

The Data Empowerment and Protection Architecture (DPA) is a data transfer protocol that has been applied with some success in the financial sector and is also in the process of being applied to the healthcare and telecom sectors. Although different in many ways, it has principles in its structure that are easily adapted to the judiciary, allowing digital data flows that can be audited between different actors in the judiciary.

The first step is to identify and classify not only the various actors-judges, lawyers and attorneys in the judiciary ecosystem, but also court registries, notaries, enforcement agencies and the like. Each category needs to be considered as a pit, and the process of allowing the data they hold to flow to individuals who are qualified to receive it should be well thought out.

If we think about the design of all the elements that make up these data flows, it is possible to initiate creation in the workflow for each occasion. It removes most of the cholesterol that has long clogged the arteries of justice and allows legal data to finally flow freely through the ecosystem.

There is also a podcast under the name Partner and Ex Machina in the Rahul Mathan trilogy. His Twitter handle @Matton

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