Gujarat HC's 'war room' shows how to improve proceedings, monitor courts

The data warehousing and mining centre will help the Gujarat High Court improve judicial proceedings across lower courts in the state
There is an array of large LCD monitors mounted side-by-side on a wall with some running statistical figures, while the others displaying CCTV footage. This remote monitoring centre is a “war room” recently set up on the premises of the Gujarat High Court in Ahmedabad.

Set up under the aegis of the State Court Management Systems (SCMS), the data warehousing and mining centre will help the high court monitor and improve judicial proceedings across lower courts in the state. Justice Anant S Dave, the Acting Chief Justice who is also the chairman of the SCMS Committee, had envisioned this project.

Of the six screens in the war room, one is for accessing CCTV footage from all the courtrooms across the state. Apart from monitors, the room is equipped with an LED projector, as well as video conferencing set-up with access to live-streaming of the footage of the CCTV network installed in lower courts.

According to H D Suthar, registrar general of the high court, the CCTV footage for any courtroom within the state can be accessed immediately and it will allow the high court to “keep an eye” on judicial officers across courtrooms, apart from monitoring the presence of advocates and police personnel during hearings.

“Earlier, there was no way to monitor or assess the functioning of lower courts. Data sourcing was cumbersome and took time. As a result, cases of high pendency or lower disposal rates and errors could not be flagged immediately,” said Suther.  Officials said the centre will now help the high court compile and analyse statistical data, which can help improve the judicial and administrative system in lower courts. These will include statistical data related to city-specific civil cases, the number of judges available or absent, pendency, the disposal rate, types of cases and the functioning of special courts.

Data from the taluka level to the high court level will now be easily accessible for analysis. “Litigants will benefit in the long run,” said Suthar.

Manned by three persons, three of the six screens in the war room monitor statistics with respect to subordinate courts' judicial pendency, while one screen looks at the high court's pendency and disposal status — case-type wise and Bench-wise.

Officials said the war room will act as the centre for all compiled statistics on the administration of justice — namely, judicial, administrative, financial, physical infrastructure, and human resources across the judicial set-up of the state. The war room will also be the nodal point for dissemination of all state-related statistics to the Supreme Court, as well as various other organs of the government.

Experts, too, have lauded the Gujarat High Court's initiative, especially when only a few high courts have been able to improve their administrative infrastructure.

“Very few high courts have annual reports like Gujarat does. Now, even the war room is a somewhat unique initiative. This is a model worth emulating. Other high courts should learn from Gujarat to prioritise data collection, gathering, and quality,” said Surya Prakash B S, programme director, Daksh, a civil society organisation that undertakes research and activities to promote accountability and better governance.

However, experts highlight the need for robust data analysis. “While there is a lot of data to be gathered, data analysis is not happening as expected,” noted one of the former registrars for information and technology at the Karnataka High Court.

Some experts believe high courts can do well by roping in third-party players to analyse the data. While courts could have inhibitions on whether or not to expose themselves to private sector players, to begin with, top institutes like IITs and IIMs could be roped in for such data analysis, experts said.

However, the government will need to formulate some guidelines for such interactions between courts and third-party players, noted the earlier quoted Karnataka high court's former IT registrar.

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