Due to COVID-19, the system has become stagnant, leading to the closure of courts and urgent cases remaining unlisted. Thus, to encourage paperless filings and introduce cost-saving efficiencies, the Supreme Court approved e-filing of the petitions by Advocates on Record (AoR) and hearing the cases through the Cisco WebEx application during the lockdown in the country due to the ongoing pandemic.
Last year, Chief Justice Bobde introduced an electronic filing manual developed by the Supreme Council of the Electronic Court for online case filing in a webinar hosted by Chief Justice Bobde. During the webinar, the Chief Justice stated that the transition to digitalization would not be easy, but it will remain the same for now, and it is the only way to do justice in the country.
The user manual launched at the webinar is a step-by-step guide to enable e-filing, reduce paper consumption, and improve electronic registration. Not all documents with digital signatures are uploaded to the registration portal. This manual explains in detail how to create a digital signature and use it for filing purposes. There are two ways to digitally sign affirmations, a formal statement by the parties involved in the litigation, in the petition. One way to sign is by using a digital signature token provided by a Certified Authority approved by the Information Technology Act 2000. Another option to sign the document is to use the electronic signature facility. This service is provided by the Indian government (operated exclusively by CDAC). This electronic signature service is provided free of charge, especially for litigants and lawyers who do not have digital signature tokens or cannot pay for such signature tokens.
Based on the manual prescribed by the Supreme Court (https://tinyurl.com/4ar2hzt8), the Delhi High court has specifically listed the manner in which a case can be mentioned (http://delhihighcourt.nic.in/efiling.asp). Similarly, different courts have different methods as prescribed on their websites.
Procedure for filing urgent matters in a virtual courtroom.
Procedure of Mentioning
Various courts have set timings for mentioning. For example, the Delhi High Court has changed timings to mention the urgent matter to 9 AM to 10.30 AM from10.30 AM- 12 PM on all working days. The applicant is required to prepare a document not exceeding one page explaining the urgency. This document has to be uploaded in a PDF format, and its size must not exceed 5MB.
For listing the matter before the Delhi High Court, the applicant must access the link: https://tinyurl.com/y7se5gl2 and fill in the parties' names, category of the case, name, email ID and contact number of the counsel for Petitioner/Plaintiff, whether the matter is fresh or pending and upload the document explaining the urgency. If the formalities are completed, an SMS indicating the receipt will be received on the phone number submitted on the link.
In case the Requested Matter is Declined
The counsel will receive an SMS on the mobile number submitted by them on the link informing them that the request has been declined. There will be an option to request the designated Hon'ble Judge for reconsideration by 3.00 PM on the same day itself.
If Mentioning is Allowed
The counsel will receive an SMS informing the acceptance of the matter for urgent listing. A reference number and date of acceptance will be requested, along with a direction to effect advance service on the opposite party/counsel through email and over mobile. Furthermore, the contact information and email IDs of the government will be provided for effecting advance service. The pleadings have to be submitted within two hours of the receipt of SMS on the given email ID. Details of AOJs to be contacted for further follow-up will also be given.
The whole set of pleadings have to be served upon the opposite party through email and over mobile. Proof of advance service containing email IDs and contact number of the opposite party must be attached as an annexure to the pleadings. The applicant then has to mail the entire set of pleadings, a list of advocates for petitioners, a list of advocates for the respondent, and contact details to the email address given for this purpose.
Procedure of Listing
If there are any defects in the matter/pleadings, an SMS will be sent on the mobile number submitted by the counsel informing the defects, a request to clear defect and the time within which defects have to be cleared. The matter will be listed only after the defects are cleared.
If there are no defects, SMS informing the diary number, case number, and tentative date of hearing will be sent to the counsel. A day before the hearing, Court Master will call on the mobile number of the counsel confirming the Email IDs of Counsels appearing for the matter. After that, the Court Master will send the link for the video conference, date and time of the hearing, meeting number and password, and the iCalender filed, automatically adding the event to the counsel’s calendar.
Procedure of Hearing
First, download the Application called Cisco WebEx Meetings from https://www.webex.com/downloads.html/ and log in by entering the name and email ID. Click on the 'join meeting' button in the link sent to the email ID by the Registry. Some minutes before the meeting, Court Master will inform the Counsels over a call that the next item is of them and the meeting is about to start. Finally, the Bench introduces all the counsels, and the proceedings start.
Requisites of Pleading
- File must be in PDF format
- Scanned soft copy has to be uploaded
- Application with a prayer for exemption from filing duly affirmed affidavit(s) and an undertaking to pay the court fees/deficit court fees within 72 hours from the date of resumption of the regular functioning of the Court.
- Filing of Proof of Service is mandatory and must be marked as the last Annexure.
- The Party and Counsel should sign pleadings and Applications.
The entire set of pleading, including Affidavits, Annexures, Application(s) and Last Annexure (proof of service), should be sent as one file. It is important to note that the pleading must be kept ready before submitting the request for Urgent Listing. Once the request is allowed, the counsel must mandatorily mail the entire set of pleadings within 2 hours of receipt of acceptance SMS.
For COVID-19, due to the partial shutdown of the courts, the system has become stagnant, and emergency cases have not been resolved. Therefore, in unresolved urgent cases, the court decided to submit cases electronically in a virtual model. The initiative was adopted by the Supreme Court of India, which allows Advocates on Record to submit cases electronically because it saves paper and time and prevents the spread of COVID-19. It is also a profitable method because it does not use paper, and urgent cases can be easily filed from anywhere, saving the litigant's time, and hence the time to list cases is less than before. Therefore, electronic filing plays an important role in continuing judicial work without harming the spread of the virus effectively and inexpensively.