This post has been written by Raunak Chaturvedi, a 1st year student of B.B.A.-LL.B.(HONS.) at Amity University, Kolkata. His areas of interest include Judiciary; Criminal, Constitutional, Contract and Tort Law. He is an avid mythologist, synthesizer player and an enthusiastic researcher, studying the impact of Law on society and its practitioners, imposed by legislators.
With technological and informational revolutions, advocacy has definitely metamorphosed in its functioning. Gone are the days when the advocates had to go through each and every concerned A.I.R. manual, in order to locate the most relevant case law so as to convince the Judge to rule in their favour. But, contemporarily, we see that advocates have the concerned information just at the distance of a few clicks, thanks to the digitalisation of the records and also, due to the advent of internet and the search engines, especially Google. But, did advocacy become easier? Was the older way of getting the things done more self-developing? We will look at all these aspects in details.
How has it Become Easier-
With the incoming call of the internet age, definitely, many processes of advocacy have become much easier, as they were back in the days of the youth of the Union of India. Advocates now can access almost all the case laws, legal philosophies, maxims, concepts, relevant statutes, rules, ordinances, regulations, etc. by just opening their smartphones or laptops or any other device. In fact, this has resulted in a significant decline in the maintenance cost for an advocate. Earlier, all advocates had to buy the concerned journals and maintain a personal library to ensure effective functioning. Moreover, after a certain period of time, those books would become useless only because the laws and amendments kept changing and so, some case laws which were applicable a few years back would be nullified and new ones would be applicable instead. But now, the only thing an advocate requires is an electronic device to access the relevant information. Thus, we may see that nowadays the need for maintaining a huge library is not required. But, earlier the newbies had to depend upon the senior professionals or libraries or other sources to access the journals. So, we may say that they were at their mercy for accessing the required data. Apart from this, the advocates with a big personal library had an upper hand over the ones who didn’t, because they had instant and an assorted information at their disposal. But, now sources of all information have become a matter so commonplace, the competition has now predominantly been stationed upon/ shifted to the individual’s skill.
Drawbacks of this Revolution-
1. The biggest drawback of this revolution is the fact that advocates have started to lose the quality of brevity in their submissions and arguments. Just because information is available, does not mean that only the relevant one will be used. Inexperienced professionals, in their feat to impress the fraternity, submit case drafts comprising hundreds of pages, that makes the task for the Judges not only difficult but, also affects the quality of arguments of the advocates.
2. Secondly, the concerned webpage from which the information had been extracted may not be accessed the next time they search for it. Firstly, because they use a search engine to find that information. Now, it may so happen that without opening a website link, we just look at the search results and mark out a particular result on the basis of its caption, which we will consult later. The next time when we type the same keyword, it isn’t necessary that the same result is shown. Moreover, even if we open the page and retrieve the necessary data, many a times when we try to access the same page, it won’t open, thus creating a lot of trouble when the Judges ask the pleaders to show the official proofs by opening the website.
3. Thirdly and most irritatingly, the clients who come, make their own assumptions by reading the statues and try to confuse the minds of the approached advocates with their theories and counter-arguments. And when the advocates are unable to seek the desired outcome due to a genuine reason, then, many a times they condemn them and sometimes even proceed against them. When my father served as a Member Judge in the District Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum of Howrah, a case had come before him where the plaintiff was claiming a hefty compensation from a lady advocate for not getting a favourable judgement from the Calcutta High Court!
4. The zeal to patiently research upon a topic has also been eroded from the minds of the current professionals, as everyone has become used to the one-click-one-world approach.
5. Also, earlier when the professionals would personally search for a piece of information in a book or an Act, then, unknowingly, they would also encounter some extra information which wasn’t relevant instantaneously but would come to their avail later. As a result, nowadays, we are producing more robots in the legal market rather than law wizards, who simply search and get what they need.
Current Scenario in the Light of COVID-19-
In the current biologically turbulent waters of the storm named COVID-19, we have seen that the Courts are conducting their proceedings through a virtual platform and are passing binding judgements for relieving the concerned parties. This is definitely a big step by India’s judiciary to make sure that justice is not delayed, or else it may be denied. But, we must look into certain points in great details. Firstly, the speed of the transmission of the image of the video and that of the audio is not same. Thus, the software many-a-times faces problem in the synchronization and causes the video to reach first and then the audio, causing a lot of distraction and difficulty for both the sides of the bench. Secondly, during the course of the arguments, many-a-times the network fluctuates thereby hindering the voice of the speaker, which also affects the quality of the hearing. Also, we must see that most of the judges are aged, along with many advocates so with how much efficiency would they be able to adapt to the new ways of conducting the hearings is a matter of grave concern. Also, there are so many advocates in the rural districts and in the less developed towns, where such infrastructure is unavailable. So, for example if an advocate of Medinipur (West Bengal) has his case in the Calcutta High Court, then, he may not possess the necessary equipment and pre-requisite knowledge to conduct the same. Moreover, economically it may not be possible for some of them to own a laptop. The recent super-cyclone ‘Amphan’ has also rendered the network connectivity totally unavailable for many major districts of West Bengal and Odisha, thereby affecting the proceedings. Also, there is a hell and heaven difference between the authenticity and human touch of a proper Court room proceeding than one being conducted over a virtual platform, where there are so many chances of technical failures, glitches and inefficiency of the procedure. Thus, we must say that COVID-19 has although pushed our Court rooms into our mobiles, but, it could not push the advocate out of the Court room. Also, in case of Criminal matters, the evidence being presented should be adjudged by the presiding Judge personally, but, how nicely can it be presented on a virtual platform, that is a rhetorical question and also there are chances that there might be cyber interference with the proceedings thereby causing major legal issues.
The COVID-19 pandemic has definitely shaped India’s advocacy significantly, but, as we may see, still a titanic amount of work needs to be done. In the light of this, it may not be out-of-question to mention that very recently, the President of the Bar Council of India had written a 26-page petition to the Chief Justice of India, condemning the electronic and virtual proceedings and saying that enough infrastructure and expertise isn’t available to do the same efficiently. However, the Bombay High Court recently said that physical appearances of advocates and video conferencing will continue for some time to go hand-in-hand. The revolution of the access to information, although, on one hand has helped to reduce the costs of maintenance and also has equitized the competition, still it has generated new problems like over-educated clients who hinder and condemn their advocates’ work based on their partial knowledge and also, the quality of brevity in the submissions has been depleted significantly due to easily accessible plethoric data. But, we must look on the better side of the whole picture and see that at least the cost of maintaining legal books has been nullified, being available on the websites (although getting full access, after paying the requisite subscription charges).