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Opinion

Covid-19: the Ministry of Justice provided the courts with infrastructure to go virtual

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As the coronavirus pandemic caused courts to embrace the new normal and go virtual in 2020, the Union Law Ministry contributed by providing the necessary infrastructure to ensure that online hearings go smoothly.

As part of its push to improve India’s ranking on ease of doing business, the ministry also introduced an ordinance to amend the arbitration law.

Issued in November, the ordinance guarantees that all interested parties have the opportunity to request an unconditional stay of enforcement of arbitration awards when the arbitration agreement or contract is “induced by fraud or corruption.”

The ordinance that further amends the Arbitration and Conciliation Act of 1996 also removes the eighth annex to the law, which contained the necessary qualifications for accreditation of arbitrators.

This provision had faced criticism from some quarters that the conditions prescribed in the law prevented India from benefiting from having foreign arbitrators.

“But that was not the case and the wrong impression was generated. Still, to put an end to that impression, the schedule in question has been eliminated, ”explained a government official.

Now, the qualifications based on which the arbitrators will be accredited will be prescribed by regulation, which will be framed by a proposed arbitration council.

Until recently, an arbitration award was enforceable even if an appeal was filed against it in court in accordance with Section 36 of the law. But the court could grant a stay of the award under the conditions it deems appropriate.

According to the latest amendment introduced through the ordinance, if the award is awarded on the basis of an agreement based on fraud or corruption, then the court will not impose a condition to suspend the award and grant an unconditional suspension during the processing of the appeal if it has been challenged under Section 34 of the arbitration law.

The Ministry of Justice ordinance said the amendment was necessary “to address concerns raised by stakeholders after the enactment of the Arbitration and Conciliation (Amendment) Act 2019 and to ensure that all stakeholders have the opportunity to seek an unconditional suspension of the application of arbitration awards where the underlying arbitration agreement or contract or the issuance of the arbitration award are induced by fraud or corruption ”.

In February, the Union Cabinet approved the constitution of the Law 22 Commission, which advises the government on complex legal issues. The previous statute panel’s term had ended on August 31, 2018.

But the Justice Ministry has yet to notify the new panel, which will have a three-year term. The panel will have a full-time chair, four full-time members (including a member secretary), and law and legislative secretaries.

In order to increase the ability of the lower judiciary to hear cases online, funds have been released to establish “video conferencing booths” in 2,506 court complexes across India.

While funds in the amount of Rs 5.21 crore were released in September to install video conferencing booths, another Rs 28,886 crore were released in October to purchase additional video conferencing equipment, including hardware, cables and monitors.

The funds were provided by the electronic committee of the Supreme Court and the Department of Justice of the Ministry of Justice.

While India has 3,288 court complexes, housing thousands of subordinate courts, funds have been released for 2,506 court complexes to install video conference booths.

Larger court complexes with a large number of courtrooms would have multiple booths compared to smaller complexes.

The size of a court complex, including the number of courts it houses, depends on the size or population of the state.

As the courts continue to hear cases online amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the government has also obtained 1,500 additional video conferencing licenses at a cost of approximately Rs 9 crore to provide the facilities for superior courts and district courts.

While the acquisition is complete, the installation process is underway.

Such licenses are necessary for the legal and extended use of the video conferencing facility software.

From the day the nationwide lockdown to control the spread of the coronavirus was imposed until October 28, India’s high courts and district courts have heard more than 49.67 lakh of cases virtually, according to the data. compiled by the ministry of justice.

The Center had imposed the blockade since March 25 to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus. As of June 8, he began to gradually relax the restrictions on “Unlock”.

This year, the Justice Ministry also asked states to establish special courts to resolve disputes related to infrastructure project contracts under a law that was amended two years ago, saying that it is very important to improve the classification of ‘Ease of doing businesses’ from India and states.

Citing the examples of the Allahabad, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh High Courts, he has suggested that other High Courts allocate a special day for designated special courts already in place to treat infrastructure project litigation as dedicated courts.

Section 20 B of the Specific Reparation (Amendment) Act 2018 establishes designated courts. But the Justice Ministry wants a designated court to function as a dedicated court on special days.

In a letter to the Registrars General of all Superior Courts last week, the Secretary (Justice) of the Ministry of Law said that the Superior Courts of Karnataka, Allahabad and Madhya Pradesh have established designated special courts rather than dedicated special courts under of the Law of specific aid. .

The superior courts have dedicated special days each week to allow the exclusive handling of specific relief matters related to infrastructure project contracts.

“This arrangement could be considered for adoption in your superior court as an alternative measure until dedicated special courts are established. This could be helpful in enforcing the contract from both a time and cost perspective, thereby stimulating investor confidence and creating a conducive business climate, ”the letter said.

In October, Justice Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had written to all senior ministers lobbying for special courts under the Specific Relief (Amendment) Act 2018.

Hindustan Times

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