Let's Build a Responsible Cyber Society



Role of Media in ensuring that Justice Reaches People

The fact that the President of India cleared a mercy petition of a victim who had been convicted 7 years ago by the highest Court of the land has naturally made news. If the Executive which has to only review the facts and circumstances based on the trials already conducted in three or four different Courts needs 7 year’s time to decide yes or no on the mercy petition, no body can blame the Judiciary which takes ages to decide on the underlying cases.

Most criminal cases in India get decided after the victim and his relatives are dead and gone. Even murder cases are often delayed beyond the life time of the immediate kith and kin of the victim who would have been very keen in the beginning to see that the offender gets punished. By the time justice is rendered, everybody would be aged enough to have shed the initial enthusiasm and resign to fate. It is a great way of promoting philosophy that nothing is in our hands and God sees the truth but waits..sometimes into your next birth.

If this is the fate of criminal cases, one can imagine the fate of Civil cases which many times go beyond one generation into the next generation or two. If the Grandfather has filed a property case, it gets settled in favour of the grandchildren. In the meantime the Grandfather and the Father would perhaps be reborn somewhere else and fulfilling their karmic destiny.

I have heard many advocates being proud of getting adjournments and tell their clients that even if I cannot win your case eventually, I will get you adjournments and ensure that the case drags on for a decade. They also place their faith on draining out the energy of the victims until the time they come for a compromise. Like “Squatting” of property this is a new method of gain which we may call “Justice Squatting”.

All persons who are interested in Judiciary being respected must think on we can improve the situation. The key to the answer lies in the Judiciary itself. It is the Judges who grant adjournments without valid reasons who need to hold themselves responsible for the delays in the Court. Advocates are perhaps doing their duty the clients though they are often mistaken to be serving the Courts for rendering justice. It is like the Indian Cricket players who owe allegiance to their Franchise owners more than the Country and their attitude is understandable.

There is however no compulsion for a judge to grant needless adjournments knowing fully well that every such adjournment is a pain to the other party. Some Judges may try to compensate the victim through exemplary damages being given in their favour in the end. But this is like letting an injury happen and then apply medicine rather than prevent the injury itself.

Many times the procedures of Civil Procedure Code are blamed for the delay. However, more than the procedure itself, it is the way it is implemented that causes a delay. For example, CPC clearly says that no adjournments should be granted without valid reasons and if adjournments are caused by reasons such as nonappearance of a party, the cost of the adjournment should be borne by them. It would be interesting to see statistics if this provision has ever been invoked.

Sometimes Courts admit petitions without examining them in detail and grant interim stay on proceedings elsewhere. In such cases one judicial authority actually causes delay in the delivery of justice by a lower judicial authority without even applying its mind. Even when the Court to which an interim stay application is made is the appeal court which would naturally hear the same case on appeal after the decision of the lower court, the Court proceeds to admit a petition for stay and issue notices to the other party delaying the process by 2 to 3 weeks. If the other party submits any reply, time is again given to the petitioner to reply in the next hearing which may be after a few more weeks. Then there may be arguments and counter arguments, with adjournments in between and the process gets delayed for nearly a year before the Court may come to the decision that there was no case for admitting the petition in the first place.

In Civil cases where one party is holding on to the property of the other party, every delay is an opportunity for the wrongful holder of the property to enrich himself before he is forced to repay the amount with nominal interest. In case of Bank frauds, the Bank will be earning at 36% p.a. while in the end it may pay back the money with interest 12% p.a. Every delay is therefore an opportunity to earn at the rate of 24% .p.a. It is therefore a great strategy for a Bank to let any dispute go to Court and let the victims fight for years. Even if they lose the case in the end, they would have gained by way of opportunity benefits.

It is in this context that the role of Media in highlighting certain cases becomes useful to the society. Though we may call it as “Trial by Media”, it often quicker decisions. The need for such media intervention is therefore necessary to ensure that the judicial system is not rendered more and more inefficient due to lack of timely delivery of justice.

The need for such intervention is there not only in cases such as the 2G scam but also in other cases where the victim does not have the resources to fight a long legal battle against a powerful business entity. Such instances arise frequently in Cyber Crime cases involving Banks where customers who have lost their funds through frauds in the Bank arising out of the Bank’s negligence file cases against the Bank. In the current context where all Banks use electronic systems for account keeping, all such frauds come under the purview of Information Technology Act (ITA 2000) (Current version often referred to as ITA 2008), which was designed to provide quick justice through a system of “Adjudication” and “Cyber Appellate Tribunal (CAT)”.

Those who framed the initial laws and the rules for adjudication and appeal at the CAT gave lot of thought to reducing the delays and complications of procedures and designed a model system which was meant to bring positive changes to the way civil judiciary could address such disputes. Hence there were suggested time limits, suggestion to use video conferences etc. Though the two agencies were given the powers of a Civil Court, they were freed from the procedural hassles of CPC. Thus the infrastructure for a fast redressal of disputes arising out of Cybercrimes was put in place in India way back in 2000.

Though in recent times, there is an attempt by some litigants to make these cyber judiciary institutions revert back to inefficient systems used by the civil courts, there is still hope that Cyber Judicial officers will not let the systems degenerate and lapse into a state in which today our Civil Courts find themselves in.

If the hands of such honest judicial officers are to be strengthened, there is a need for media to become more conscious of the cases that are before the Cyber Judiciary. Unfortunately, despite huge national interests involved, Cyber Crime cases of civil nature does not attract media attention. Cases where there is pornography attracts media but cases where a customer of a Bank has lost money due to Phishing does not appear to be as sensational as the pornography case. Media is therefore losing an opportunity to observing, reporting and catalyzing developments in the Adjudication Offices across the country and the CAT. Many Journals send their reporters routinely to Court halls to find out what is going on. But most of them have no idea of what is going on in Adjudication offices or the Cyber Appellate Tribunal.

If Media was more pro-active and had been reporting the developments in the Adjudication offices and the Cyber Appellate Tribunal, by this time lot of awareness would have been created in the public for these institutions. We may recall that one article in Ananda Vikatan (Tamil publication) resulted in a spurt of complaints to the Adjudicating Officer in Tamil Nadu. Today Tamil Nadu Adjudicating officer has already disposed of 4 cases and is sitting on more than a dozen other complaints making it an icon amongst Adjudication officers. Media need to study the reasons for such phenomenal success and bring it to the notice of the public.

In fact Bangalore which boasted of the first Cyber Crime Police Station in the Country is unable to register even one case of adjudication indicating the value of what Chennai Adjudicator has so far achieved. I wish the National Legal Service Authority recognizes the service rendered by the Chennai Adjudicating Office for the contribution made to the cause of judiciary in India.

Similarly, media should be reporting on the cases pending at the CAT where some cases are in the final stages of disposal. Though the CAT came into being in 2007, it was only in the last year that the first proper appeal was filed with CAT and that is awaiting disposal.

The appeal which arose out of an earlier adjudication in Chennai is being heard by CAT in a sitting in Chennai itself on 1st June 2011 which is likely to be the last hearing before judgment is pronounced. Media should therefore keep its eyes and ears open for the outcome of this hearing. Of course one of the parties to the case has successfully delayed the proceedings of this case which ought to have been otherwise completed by this time, using all the tricks known to advocates and may try to see that the June 1st hearing is also aborted without progress. Hopefully their efforts may not succeed and we may see the culmination of one of the most celebrated Adjudication case in the country which is today part of discussions in law schools.

The appeal when decided is also expected to give rulings on many interesting aspects of Banking law and practice in the digital era and is bound to be also a part of every text book on Cyber Crimes from now on. It has the potential of being an internationally celebrated judicial decision.

Hopefully, the vigilant Chennai media will not miss an opportunity to follow the deliberations.



27th  May 2011

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