The President of India, Shri Ram Nath Kovind inaugurated a two-day National Judicial Conference on Mediation and Information Technology, being organised by the High Court of Gujarat, at Ekta Nagar, Narmada district of Gujarat today (April 9, 2022). 

Speaking on the occasion, the President recalled his days as legal practitioner and said that during those years, one of the issues that occupied his mind was ‘access to justice’. The word ‘justice’ encompasses a lot and it has rightly been stressed in the Preamble of our Constitution. But do all people have equal access to justice, he asked. He wondered how access to justice can be improved for all. Therefore, he found the topics for the conference very carefully chosen. Both the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) mechanism and Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in the Judiciary are important for many reasons; but to his mind, they are important as they will help make the system more efficient and thus better able to dispense justice.

 The President said that during the last two decades, all stakeholders have recognised mediation as an effective tool for dispute resolution and encouraged it. As several legal luminaries have observed, most of the cases pending in the courts between individuals in respect to civil rights are such that they do not need adjudication. The parties in such cases can redress their dispute amicably through a structured intervention of mediators.

 The President said that mediation aims to settle the dispute not by any command or authority. Rather, it encourages the parties to arrive at the settlement by systematic mediation sittings by the mediator. The legislation also provides an incentive: if any pending litigation is settled by mediation, the entire court fees deposited by the litigant party are refunded. Thus, truly speaking, in mediation everyone is a winner.

 The President pointed out that the concept of mediation is yet to find widespread acceptance across the country. He noted that enough trained mediators are not available in some places. Infrastructural facilities at many mediation centres need upgradation. He said that these bottlenecks have to be addressed at the earliest to help a wider population benefit from this effective tool. Moreover, all stakeholders should display a positive attitude towards mediation, if we want to achieve desired results. In this regard, training can make a lot of difference. It can be provided at different levels, from introductory courses at the induction stage to refresher courses for mid-career professionals. He noted that the Mediator and Conciliation Project Committee of the Supreme Court has been doing a great job by organising training programmes in the states.

 Speaking about the second topic of the conference i.e. Information Technology, the President said that we all have passed through a very difficult crisis. Amid unprecedented human misery during the last two years or so, if there was a saving grace it was from Information and Communication Technology. ICT proved most helpful in maintaining essential activities and in keeping the wheels of the economy moving. Like remote working, remote learning helped avoid a break in education. In a way, the crisis has proved to be an opportunity for the digital revolution. The momentum has increased for the adoption of ICT to make public service delivery more efficient. Dispensation of justice, too, was made possible with virtual hearings when physical gathering had to be avoided.

 The President noted that even before the pandemic, the justice delivery system had benefitted from the ICT to improve the quantity and quality of the services delivered to litigants and all stakeholders. He said that under the leadership of the e-Committee formed in the Supreme Court and with the active assistance and resource support of the Department of Justice of the Government of India, two phases of the e-Courts project have been accomplished as per the policy and action plan approved and adopted for the respective phases. As a result, there is smooth access to the statistics as published on the portal of the e-Courts.

 The President said that as with other public institutions, the Judiciary too must have been facing several issues in shifting to the digital world. These are broadly known as change management, and they are part of the transformation. Noting that there is a full working session devoted to the subject of ‘Future of Technology in the Judiciary’ in this conference, he said that among many objectives of the switch to ICT, the topmost has to be the improvement of access to justice. What we are aiming at is not change for sake of change, but change for sake of a better world. He expressed confidence that this National Conference would deliberate upon not only the great potential of both mediation and ICT in courts, but also how best to respond to the challenges along the way.