By Suryansh Beohar
The Supreme Court on 16 July introduced FASTER (Fast and Secured Transmission of Electronic Records) which is basically an electronic system or process which would facilitate communicating court orders instantly and directly to the prison or investigating authorities, district courts, or high courts through a fast and secure channel. This order was given by the full bench of Chief Justice NV Ramana, Justice Nageswara Rao, and Justice AS Bopanna, while hearing a suo moto writ petition on “Delay In the release of Convicts After Grant of Bail”. The bench had taken suo moto cognizance of the delay in the release of 13 prisoners from Agra despite them being granted bail by the court earlier.
What was the need of introducing such a system one might ask? The necessity of hard copies of the bail orders by any court for the release of the accused posed a great problem for the timely release of the accused as a lot of factors play into whether the hard copies will actually reach the jails on time, and the failure of timely submission of the copies can extend the stay of the prisoner to as much as a day, which is an outright violation of the fundamental rights of a person, specifically article 19. The most recent example with respect to this problem is the delay in the release of Aryan Khan, who was recently taken into custody due to being in connection with the Mumbai cruise narcotics case. The main reason for the delay in release was the late delivery of his bail orders, because as is customary in Arthur Road jail (where Aryan was detained), there is a post box in which the bail orders are submitted, and that box is not opened after 5:30 PM. Aryan’s bail orders were delivered around 6:30 PM. This led to him staying there for an extra night, even though the court had given the bail order beforehand.
Another example of the stand-up comedian Munawar Faruqui can be stated, where the jail authorities of the Indore jail refused to release him even though he was granted bail by the Supreme Court, giving the reason that they had not received the copy of the bail order of the court. Ultimately, a judge of the apex court had to intervene and call the Chief Judicial Magistrate of the jail late at night and had to inform him to check the court’s site where the order was uploaded and thus Munawar was granted ad-interim bail.
In May of last year, student activists Natasha Narwal, Devangana Kalita, and Asif Iqbal Tanha were arrested due to their suspected connection in the Delhi riot case. Subsequently, the Delhi High Court granted them bail, but the orders took 2-3 days to reach the jail authorities, delaying their release by 2-3 days. Such examples are the “high profile” cases, where we know the timeline of the events and what happened. But what about those cases which do not come under the limelight? There are thousands of convicts whose release is delayed on a daily basis due to the delay in the submission of the bail orders to the relevant jail authorities.
Such a violation of someone’s fundamental and human rights is outrageous, to say the least. The Chief Justice of India, N.V Ramana quoted “In this age of information and communication technology, we are still looking at the skies for the pigeons to communicate the orders” expressing his discontent regarding such an incompetent and archaic bail process.
In today’s times when digitalization is taking over people’s lives, and almost every process and service is being provided a digital platform, the dependence of our system on the hard copies for the bails of the accused is antiquated, to say the least.
The Need for Such a System
To counter this very inefficiency, FASTER was introduced by the Supreme Court which would provide the jail e-copies of the orders, and it was mandated by the court for the prison authorities to accept these e-copies right away. The bench stated “It is high time to utilize the Information and Communication Technology tools for efficient transmission of Court’s orders” emphasizing the importance of leaving the archaic process and switching to the e-tools. The Court further ordered the Chief Secretaries of all States and Union Territories to guarantee that each and every jail has access to a high-speed internet connection and to take immediate steps to provide one where it is not currently accessible. Till the time these facilities are installed, the court is directed to appoint nodal officers-in-charge under the FASTER system to facilitate fast communication of the court orders. This system would not only help with faster communication regarding bail or stay orders but it would also prevent the unnecessary arrests of people even if they have been granted bail by the court. This system will be formulated by the Secretary-General of the Supreme Court with the cooperation of the Solicitor General of India. This would also help with the de-congestion of the jails in the country since they are overburdened and contain more people than they optimally can. The release of prisoners due to the fast communication possible by the FASTER system would help clear some space in the Indian jails.
Other Efforts of Digitizing Judiciary
Along with the FASTER system, the expansion of e-courts would be very helpful in the fast and efficient disposal of the large amounts of cases that have piled up over the course of the past few months due to the worldwide pandemic. Justice D.Y Chandrachud attended a virtual event organized by the Allahabad High Court, to inaugurate virtual courts and e-Sewa Kendra’s which would aid the litigants by providing online legal assistance, emphasized the lack of proper communication in whole bail process by stating “A very serious deficiency in the criminal justice system is the delay in the communication of bail orders, which we need to address on a war footing. Because this touches upon human liberty of every under-trial, or even a convict who has got a suspension of sentence pending the hearing on criminal appeal.” The initiative of “e-custody certificate” by the Orissa High Court was also praised by him, as he stated “That certificate will give us all the requisite data with regard to that particular under-trial or convict, right from initial remand to the subsequent progress of each case. This will also help us in ensuring that bail orders are communicated as soon as they are made, from the place they are communicated, to the jails for immediate implementation” Such statements by the judges of the apex court only add to the increasing necessity of the Indian judicial system to start introducing more aspects of the system to the digital world. In the times of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Supreme Court and the High Courts of various states were able to function and dispose of cases that have otherwise piled up had this digital route not been taken.
360-degree profiling, another method which is mentioned in the e-courts project, aims and envisages to create a 360-degree profile of each person by integrating their data and interactions with different government agencies and databases. This would greatly help in arranging data efficiently and in a fast manner regarding any person when required. This data then can be regulated and exchanged between different branches of the state, such as the judiciary, the police and prison systems, etc. through the Inter-operable Criminal Justice System (ICJS). With the help of this system, all the relevant data regarding a person be it FIR, charge sheet, case diary, etc. can be accessed by the High Courts or any subordinate courts of the country in PDF format uploaded by the police. This will allow the access of any relevant information regarding any case by the courts in real-time instantly which would ultimately increase the efficiency of the working of the courts cutting back on the time required to gather information, and this would also help in the timely compliance of any orders issued by the court resulting in effective time management, which would allow the courts to hear more cases and ensure quick justice.
After researching on this very topic one can arrive at a definite conclusion which is, systems like FASTER and the measures were taken towards digitalization of the Indian Judicial system are absolutely necessary not only to ensure quick and efficient disposal of the cases but to regulate and fine-tune the Indian Judicial system according to the constantly changing world and the shifting needs of the people as time goes by. Today, when human rights must be given the utmost importance in every case, the delay in any person’s release even when they have been granted bail by the court is a violation of a person’s fundamental rights because when simplified, this is wrongful confinement of a person even when that person is free to go. The people of this country look at the Indian Judicial system as their guardian of fundamental rights, and the courts must do everything that is necessary to keep that faith intact. Because remember, justice delayed is justice denied.