Ms. Ghimire is a research intern at Samriddhi Foundation, an economic policy think tank based in Kathmandu. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not represent the views of the organization. Author can be reached at Dipti Ghimire [email protected].
A Parliamentary Committee hearing held on August 21, 2023 declared the possibility of AI adoption in Nepal’s judicial system to be under study by the current Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Nepal, Vishwambhar Prasad Shrestha. Along with this ambitious goal, a commitment to e-justice was also reiterated. A UNDP report defines e-justice as endeavors that use digital technology in any stage of justice delivery. The Supreme Court of Nepal has also implemented some e-justice technologies to provide swift justice to the public.
Guided by the ICT master plan, the Supreme Court established a centralized data center and implemented the Digital Case Management System (CSM), transforming the way cases are handled. Automating case assignment has eliminated the possibility of bench shopping, fostering trust in the court’s impartiality. The CSM’s transparent public cause lists, accessible case tracking, and online verdicts have enhanced public access, trust and understanding of the judicial process. These digital advancements have not only streamlined record-keeping but also promoted open governance and improved access to justice.
Despite progress, the Supreme Court’s technological initiatives could be considered inadequate. Nepal has only implemented online case and database management. E-service for individuals is still in its preliminary phase with an SMS service. Video conferencing, introduced during the pandemic, was largely discontinued afterward. AI and ML tools remain untapped. Nepal can learn from India’s virtual court system for petty offenses, which has handled over 28 million cases. Nepali judiciary should also look into the feasibility of adopting these tools.
Although the digital divide in Nepal poses a significant challenge to the successful implementation of e-courts, their potential benefits cannot be ignored. The most vulnerable populations, who often rely heavily on court services, may find themselves excluded due to limited access to digital technologies. Additionally, the absence of electricity and internet infrastructure in distant district courts hinders the adoption of e-courts and virtual justice processes. According to the latest census, only 37.8% of households in Nepal have internet access. Given Nepal’s higher mobile penetration rate, the judiciary should focus on mobile-based services over web-based ones. Mobile-based services like case tracking apps, emergency legal assistance hotlines, and legal information apps should be prioritized. Concerns regarding privacy and data security are also valid, as the Nepalese government’s websites have been vulnerable to cyberattacks in the past. To ensure the integrity and confidentiality of sensitive legal information and maintain public trust, cybersecurity measures are crucial for an environment conducive to digital justice. Overcoming these challenges requires a combination of skilled human resources, adequate government funding, and a willingness among courts, lawyers, and service seekers to embrace e-justice.