SC directs district courts to digitise all records of criminal trials, civil suits

New Delhi: Observing that technology has increasingly enmeshed with the systems of dispute resolution, the Supreme Court has directed district courts to digitise all records of criminal trials and civil suits.

A bench of Justices Krishna Murari and Sanjay Karol noted that the E-­committee of the Supreme Court had issued an SOP for digital preservation on September 24, 2021.

The top court said a robust system of responsibility and accountability must be developed and fostered in order to ensure the proper protection and regular updation of all records facilitating the smooth functioning of the judicial process.

“Technology has, in the present time become increasingly enmeshed with the systems of dispute resolution and adjudication with the trends pointing to all the more interplay, both supplementary and complimentary between technology and law.

“The Registrar General of the high courts shall ensure that in all cases of criminal trial, as well as civil suits, the digitisation of records must be duly undertaken with promptitude at all district courts, preferably within the time prescribed for filing an appeal within the laws of procedure,” the bench said.

The apex court also directed the district judge concerned to ensure that the records so digitised are verified expeditiously once the system of digitisation along with the system of authentication of the digitized records is in place.

“A continually updated record of Register of Records digitized shall be maintained with periodic reports being sent to high courts concerned for suitable directions,” it said.

The apex court’s direction came while setting aside conviction of a man in a corruption case by the Allahabad High Court.

The question for consideration was whether, in the absence of the records of the trial court, the appellate court could have upheld the conviction and enhanced the quantum of fine.

The top court noted that the alleged offence was committed 28 years ago and the relevant trial court record has not been able to be reconstructed, despite the efforts of the courts.

“Protection of the rights under Article 21 entails protection of liberty from any restriction thereupon in the absence of fair legal procedure. Fair legal procedure includes the opportunity for the person filing an appeal to question the conclusions drawn by the trial court. The same can only be done when the record is available with the court of appeal,” the bench said, while acquitting the man.