• Rajshekhar Govilkar

Appearing in the Court with a Tablet

It is today, no longer unheard of nor is it a surprising phenomenon that the people of my generation, who saw even the audio cassette for the first time when in degree college, face tremendous challenges with technology. The challenges are even more pronounced for those who had not studied any kind of technical or science related subjects. Nevertheless, using and learning technology, has been without doubt a challenge and more so ever an escalating one, with newer technologies being introduced at a speed faster than I am able to learn it properly.

My tryst with technology, or rather computer technology began when I bought a computer in the early 1990s for my kids, who picked up its usage as if it was hard-wired into their brains. But for me, the challenges still continue, at times, even for some extremely basic tasks. When mobile phones were introduced, they were quite easy to use because of their limited functionalities. However, with the advent of smartphones, the same difficulties that I faced with computers, I started facing while using a mobile phone. The Apple iPhone was something that made life much easier for me, given its very user-friendly UI. At the risk of promoting the brand, I will say that the user-friendliness of the device won me over and the lack of any complications or rather, the lack of too many options for me to choose and modify, made its usage for me, very comfortable.

Computers, though, still remain challenging. With the aid of my Juniors, I try to learn and adopt new technology. Albeit slow, there has been progress, at times steady and at times, very rocky. When my son joined me, there was a sudden and drastic improvement in the implementation of technology in my practice and that increased the office productivity manifold. However, I was still only an observer and just deriving its benefits, without actually being the one to use that technology. This is how it would have continued had it not been for the COVID-19 Pandemic and the resulting lockdown, forcing the Courts to adopt the means of holding Court hearing in a virtual manner. All of a sudden, everyone needed PDF reading / editing applications and computing devices with capable hardware and software. Most importantly, everyone needed their case papers in a digital format, because it was not possible to visit the office to retrieve the briefs during the lockdown period. In my office, we were on our way to digitisation but not yet completely ‘there’ yet. The lockdown provided my office an opportunity to digitise all my briefs and be digitally ready. The digitisation was taken up by my son but my time was spent in actually getting conversant with the software applications that I would need to use while appearing before the Court, using a handheld computing device – tablet or a small laptop.

I had strong reservations against using a digital brief. I have practiced law for more than 45 years now, with my case papers / briefs in my hand and before the photocopying machines were ubiquitous, even books on case laws, were carried to the Court, by me in my Junior days, straining my biceps, and now, that of my Juniors and Clerks. I felt that having the papers before me couldn’t possibly be replaced by a digital copy of it on a computer screen. I just didn’t think that I could make my notes, use my ‘post-its’ or my bookmarks and be able to argue at all in the Court using a digital brief. Later, I realised that these reservations really stemmed from not having properly looked at a PDF reader / editor from the perspective of actually using it for arguing before a Court and also not having ever even considered the possibility that I would use a computer screen in the Court rather my case papers / brief. This occasion was not even in the realm of possibilities for me.

After the Courts started conducting hearings virtually using Video Conferencing applications since April 2020, I appeared in several matters virtually. During these appearances, I got accustomed to seeing the Judges on the screen and there were times, where I wouldn’t even see the Judge on the screen, as I would just open up the PDF on the computer screen and argue. I did improvise from time to time and I would then open up the PDF of the brief on my tablet device and keep the Video feed from the Court open on my laptop. Using such a method was tiresome and terribly uncomfortable to begin with. But I realized however, that it was only a matter of time before I got used to arguing in this manner and for certain, my adeptness improved.

On the 12th of November 2020, I appeared physically before the Hon’ble Bombay High Court, after almost 8 months, and this time, I appeared with my iPad in my hand, unlike earlier, with my physical brief. The experience was novel and yet, quite comfortable. Over the last few months, I had made it a point to learn the software applications that I would require to appear before the Court using such computer devices and I admit, I am still not super adept at using the application (which actually my Juniors do it for me) but I am adept enough to appear and argue in any matter using the 'digital brief'. The initial reservations that I had harboured are no longer a hurdle and there is still some time before this will become natural to me but that is to be expected after 45 years of doing something in one manner and then suddenly changing it.

The Pandemic of 2020 has brought about an onslaught of adversities on the world. Billions have suffered but there have been systemic seminal changes in the way industries and also in the way that Governments function. The concept of ‘Work From Home’ has taken on a new significance in people’s lives and people have been forced to embrace change, to embrace technology, regardless of their reservations and whatever preconceived notions that they had about its efficacy or its efficiency. The world has moved along with the aid of technology and I do not see why the justice delivery system cannot also adopt and adapt to the changing times by embracing the advantages brought about by the use of new technological advancements and ultimately improve the overall system. Yes, there will be challenges faced by numerous people but ultimately, I believe that the change will be for the betterment of everyone. I am excited about the new changes that will come about, should the Courts decide to continue down the path of becoming more digital and technologically involved than earlier and I shall look forward to this helping the overall justice delivery system in India become more effective and efficient at the same time.

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