The Emerging Future of Law and Justice in India
As a society, we have only just begun to appreciate the potential of data, the solutions that can be built using it, as well as the challenges that it presents.* To realise its full potential, we need solutions at all levels – greater access to available data, collection of new data, building systems that generate better data, guarding against possible misuses of data, and increasing capacity to use data, to name a critical few.
Data must be envisioned as a vital tool to empower justice stakeholders and effectively respond to the needs of all, particularly the most vulnerable. Currently, the collection of legal data does not adequately reflect the knowledge, experiences or needs of the communities and individuals who are the ultimate end users of the legal system. Remedying this may involve aligning stakeholders so that they can collectively work towards capturing better data from diverse sources.
The lack of uniform standards and structure in the collection and organisation of data, and the presence of hundreds of disparate and often questionable sources also pose particularly hard problems. Through the 2020 Prize, we can see an increase in the number, quality and creativity of data-driven initiatives in areas such as case reporting and management, legal journalism, property rights, legal business intelligence, legal research, police work, online dispute resolution and the future of our courts.
Several initiatives are shoring up the reliability of specific data sources by parsing and matching multiple sources for solutions such as Transerve, Landryt and Terra Economics & Analytics Lab (TEAL) to address property rights. The Land Rights Initiative is driving data-driven research and policy-making to enable stakeholders. Transerve is also plugging holes in available data sources by gathering new data, both through primary data collection and cutting-edge technology such as drone mapping. Data is being used by platforms like Provakil (AP18 Industry Prize winner) and Legodesk for case tracking, by COMPLAWYER for intellectual property asset management, and by Credgenics for non-performing asset management and legal research. Initiatives such as TrustIn and Samāna are shifting corporate culture by demonstrating how private data can work in tandem with public data to create more trusted outcomes. Lastly, and possibly most importantly, organisations such as the Internet Freedom Foundation are raising public consciousness about the use and misuse of data.
As a huge amount of legal data gets generated daily, the inadequate processes and frameworks will compromise its quality and usage, as well as the growth of new solutions itself. We eagerly anticipate more public and private solutions that will work at a horizontal level to support many different initiatives. For example, the launch of the Justice Hub** project to enable sharing of open legal and justice data sets; new domestic initiatives akin to the Human Centered Taxonomy of Legal Problems created by the Legal Design Lab at Stanford, which is developing a common user-centric taxonomy of legal issues; and, importantly, institutional and governmental work on standards and processes. This will allow us to unleash the next generation of data-driven solutions.
“We don’t have the people power to explain our data, and the data collected is insignificant compared to the data that we should have. Intelligence gathering, data exchange and analysis needs to happen in a transparent way; citizens should participate in this effort.”
– Paul Radu, Co-Founder and Chief of Innovation, Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (Quote from research interview done by Aapti Institute)
Mainstreaming digital architecture for law and justice
Digital solutions are transforming almost every aspect of law and justice, and the pandemic has propelled this process forward by at least 3-5 years. The early applications of technology in legal practice, case management, contract management, legal research, dispute resolution and online identity, which surfaced in 2018, have given way to sophisticated solutions that have demonstrated incremental value and even created digital-first experiences for many categories. This has been made possible by advancements in foundational technology such as Natural Language Processing and other Machine Learning technologies, as well as greater access to data sources and the buy-in of the government and judiciary at the highest levels. There is also early interest in developing core data and technology architecture that innovators could use via open APIs to develop the next generation of legal and justice solutions, in much the same way that financial solutions have built on the IndiaStack architecture.
The Supreme Court Vidhik Anuvaad Software (SUVAS), launched in 2019, is an example of a digital infrastructure that is enabling accessibility and inclusiveness in courts. The AI-driven translation tool currently has the capability to translate judicial documents, including orders and judgments, into nine other languages, and can be extended to other languages in the future. Initiatives such as Leegality, Signzy (AP18 applicant) and DOQFY are creating an environment where all elements of legal transactions – from documentation (contracts, application forms and submissions) to execution (signing, stamping and registration) – are fully digital. Others like SpotDraft are enabling contracts to be created and managed intelligently, gradually moving them from formalities and cost centres to potential sources of value. Organisations such as Haqdarshak and Saaras Impact Foundation are extending technology into areas such as government entitlements, semi-automated dispute resolution, management of non-performing assets and legal problem diagnostics; and initiatives such as Riverus and LegalMind are ushering in a new generation of practice analytic tools, including intelligent legal research. NITI Aayog has actively championed the application of online dispute resolution technology in private and public systems.
However, for technology to increase access to justice, we need to see the critical values of inclusion, accessibility and security being embedded into its very conception and design. End users of technology are not a monolith but a diverse range of individuals who possess varying infrastructures, abilities and challenges when engaging with technology tools or platforms. If this is not taken into consideration, all these solutions, whether public or private, can further disadvantage vulnerable communities, whose lack of access to justice already has significant knock-on effects on their overall welfare, economic opportunities and well-being. To prevent this, the implementation of digital infrastructure, particularly public solutions, must be carefully calibrated and should function as an option alongside existing offline systems. There are opportunities to engage civil society organisations and communities in ensuring last-mile access to private and public solutions.
“Digital systems allow you to emit data. Open data must be treated as compliance and public good … Only once you can see, can you solve.”
– Pramod Verma, Chief Technology Officer, EkStep and Chief Architect, Aadhaar (Quote from research interview done by Aapti Institute)
Empowering citizens as justice changemakers
The greatest opportunity to advance access to justice lies in seeing our citizens as justice changemakers, not merely consumers and beneficiaries. Citizens are often best placed to not just name their demands but also create the solutions that can work best for them. We have long known that innovations and approaches at the grassroots level are more likely than others to achieve community well-being. Today, we have the power of data and technology to make this endeavour possible – of enabling our citizens to identify and solve the problems affecting them and their communities.
In the Agami Prize 2018, we saw a shift in how innovators were approaching their citizen stakeholders. They sought to engage citizens in the lawmaking process, develop community paralegals, prepare students from underrepresented communities for legal education, and create community legal services. In 2020, there is a giant leap towards the development of citizen changemakers and the democratization of the field of law and justice.
“Changemakers must identify ‘overlooked power nodes’ among their communities.”
– Janet Visick, Senior Consultant, EkStep and Chief Architect, Fellow Consultant, Ashoka Innovators for the Public (Quote from research interview done by Aapti Institute)
Initiatives such as ARTAM, Criminal Justice and Police Accountability Project (CPAP) and Haqdarshak are enabling community changemakers to advance local dispute resolution, access government entitlements and ensure police accountability. Roots Resource is supporting grassroots lawyers to be better informed about the playbooks they need to represent citizen rights. Organisations like IDIA are equipping local chapters of volunteers to increase representation in law schools as well as address local justice issues, while Zenith – Society for Socio-Legal Empowerment and Parichay are empowering law students to reimagine legal aid and learn and make change at the same time. CAMP Arbitration & Mediation Practice, Centre for Mediation and Conciliation, House Court By Arbitration Rooms, Sama’s Indian Mediation Week, India’s First Youth-run Conflict Management and Community Mediation (Y-CMCM) initiative and others are building mediation awareness movements, where volunteers are moving from spreading mediation literacy to becoming case managers ensuring alternative resolution of disputes.
“Empower people to make better decisions… It could be an individual user, or it could be a decision-maker, or a tech company. That’s how we see ourselves – as enablers or facilitators.”
– Stephanie Hankey, Co-Founder and Executive Director, Tactical Technology Collective (Quote from research interview done by Aapti Institute)
In order to mainstream this ongoing evolution, where citizens move from active participants to genuine changemakers, we need to build the changemaker muscle – critical capacities to solve local problems, navigate complex systems and collaborate with ease, whilst nurturing personal and collective well-being. Justice innovators can also learn from domestic and international organisations that have actively developed citizen changemakers in the last decade. One such model is the system of Youth Courts in New York, which is creating capacities amongst the youth to be able to understand and mete out justice by training them to handle real-life cases involving their peers, offering a restorative response to misbehaviour.
Lastly, there are always undervalued actors in communities. The world-renowned Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project engaged librarians from various universities since they had access to relevant databases and knew how to support reporters and activists covering crime and corruption. Such engagement of undervalued actors makes for a more diverse network of changemakers and unlocks new resources and skills. We may or may not be able to scale solutions to address the needs of our entire 1.3-billion-strong population, so our surest path lies in equipping citizens to become changemakers themselves.
Inviting non-traditional actors to drive inclusive innovation by bringing outside expertise and networks
Complex language, archaic processes and dominant operatives have long kept non-legal actors out of law and justice. Innovators entering the sector have struggled to gain acceptance, access networks and secure resources. In some cases, such as with Agami Prize 2018 winner Indian Kanoon, they have faced active resistance and scepticism despite their profound impact. The emergence of networks and resources, including many from within the current system, to provide technical as well as emotional and social support is thus vital – and as important as the solutions for law and justice problems.
In 2018, we saw a surge of technologists, journalists and media, finance and business professionals participating in the Prize as founders and co-founders. As validation of the unique capabilities of non-law actors to innovate law and justice, all winners of the first Prize were non-lawyers – Indian Kanoon, Provakil (with one lawyer as co-founder), Civis and Impulse Model Press Lab. In 2020, this trend continues to gain momentum. Initiatives such as Article 14 and Youth Ki Awaaz have founders with a media background, while founders of LegalKart, DiL SE WiLL and Law on Wheels come from the field of management and commerce. Designers are also increasingly making their presence felt, with initiatives such as Legal Design India and Justice Adda. At the same time, the participation of engineers continues to grow from strength to strength.
New actors bring new perspectives, skills and energy that almost always increase innovation in the field. They are willing to challenge assumptions or norms and connect dots that traditional actors might entirely miss. The outsized impact of their participation is a pattern long-observed in other sectors, where some of the biggest disruptions have been made by non-traditional actors. To further increase their participation, we need to democratize access to legal knowledge, content and practices. Visual media and representations, in particular, have immense potential in being able to convey and unpack complex information in a way that is accessible for non-legal actors and audiences. Global justice innovator Stephanie Hankey has adopted this approach by bringing on board creative people, including designers, film-makers, storytellers and artists, to create content like the Data Detox Kit that informs people on how to take better control of their privacy and digital life. Closer to home, the Internet Freedom Foundation routinely uses infographics, songs and memes to engage and inform diverse audiences with limited legal expertise.
Even a small increase in the number of non-traditional actors can fundamentally alter our systems of justice.
“We need a non-lawyer cadre to be part of the ecosystem of justice delivery.”
– Gagan Sethi, Founder, Janvikas (Quote from research interview done by Aapti Institute)
Increasing our capacity to resolve disputes collaboratively and remotely
The resolution of disputes outside of courts, preferably through collaborative means such as negotiation and mediation, has always been regarded as essential to ensuring the ease of doing business and greater access to justice. We’ve seen a steady growth in such alternate dispute resolution (ADR) in the last two decades, but it has remained a fringe phenomenon as opposed to becoming the first choice for categories of high volume disputes. The rise of online dispute resolution (ODR), where technology is used to supercharge alternate dispute resolution, is changing this. It has demonstrated the possibility of dispute resolution solutions that are faster, more cost-effective, more flexible and also, in many cases, more collaborative and trust preserving.
In 2018, the Agami Prize surfaced the first crop of ODR service providers in a very nascent marketplace without any large enterprise users. Nevertheless, 3 initiatives – Solve All Disputes Amicably (Sama), Resolve Disputes Online (RDO) and Presolv360 – easily made the shortlist for their sheer ingenuity. In the same year, Agami also launched a national initiative to drive innovation, market adoption and policy change in ODR, beginning with the E-ADR Challenge in partnership with ICICI Bank in 2019. Accelerated by the pandemic in 2020, Agami’s efforts have helped create a thriving ODR environment with over a dozen start-ups; 50+ enterprise users; a national ODR policy initiative led by NITI Aayog and supported by Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy; and a vibrant community of ODR enthusiasts (called Autonomy). Initiatives such as Credgenics (AP20 applicant) and Sama (E-ADR Challenge winner) are addressing use cases for the BFSI (Banking, Financial Services and Insurance) sector – Sama has already brought 5 state Lok Adalats online – while CORD and CREK are providing a range of tools for dispute resolution professionals to serve their clients in a remote environment.
However, there is more to be done to push the wave of innovation in this space. ADR and ODR must be truly inclusive if they are to meaningfully enhance access to justice. All citizens must be able to participate and benefit from these systems, or else it can lead to further disenfranchisement of people who do not have high levels of digital literacy or access. There is a huge opportunity to learn from and incorporate traditional mechanisms of resolution embedded within communities and create the next generation of dispute resolution solutions that can serve all Indians. Bolstered by community level insight and cultural and social knowledge, these new solutions could be much more resilient and scalable.
ADR, particularly technology-driven mediation, must be seen as a critical societal muscle that is a tool not just for a small cadre of professionals but for every community and, ideally, every citizen. As this capacity to resolve disputes and, more generally, other kinds of conflict grows, we shall see knock-on effects in every aspect of life, not just access to justice.
“Mediation should be a part of the organisational design of the future.”
– Laila Ollapally, Founder, CAMP (Quote from research interview done by Aapti Institute)
WHAT'S ON THE CUSP
Empowering law schools and law students to drive justice innovation in their communities
The role of universities is changing all over the world. From being closeted environments developing professional and career skills, they are increasingly coming to be seen as critical social hubs to drive innovation, develop community capacity and provide leadership. Some of the most creative innovations in recent years, such as Project Echo in the United States, have been built entirely on a reframing of this role of the university vis-à-vis the community. In the case of Project Echo, reimagining medical schools as hubs that can provide expertise, inspiration and social support for local healthcare centres to scale their impact was a game-changer in healthcare. Law schools, including in India, have long had a strong public orientation, and almost every law school has a legal services clinic or legal aid cell. However, these models have become dated and plainly inadequate. For the sake of both the country and the law students themselves, we must hasten the creation of a new role for law schools and their students in India as law and justice changemakers.
In 2018, IDIA was the only participant whose alumni were playing the role of changemakers in their communities. In 2020, we are seeing green shoots of new initiatives that are linking the unexplored potential of law schools and students to the needs of systems and communities. Initiatives like Parichay are equipping law students to support the appeals of those excluded in Assam by the National Register of Citizens, while Zenith – Society for Socio-Legal Empowerment is reimagining legal aid clinics to empower both law students and grassroots community leaders. The Good Rural Governance and Citizen Participation initiative at Jindal Global Law School, Sonipat and the Legal Aid Society at VM Salgaocar College of Law in Goa are engaging law students with communities and bringing the law closer to the people. Initiatives such as the Prison Project at Dr Ram Manohar Lohiya National Law University, Lucknow are collaborating with legal services authorities and drawing on their research skills to supplement the legal services being offered to undertrials. Project Neev at National Law Institute University, Bhopal is working on the underlying framework of legal aid clinics, which they are sharing with other colleges, especially the newer NLUs.
What’s heartening to see is more youth involvement overall in issues of law and justice, especially the way in which they are organising themselves as peer networks to expand and take justice to the last mile. However, there is a long way to go, and we are confident that we will see new models for legal services clinics and legal aid cells that do justice to the potential of law schools to innovate for their communities. In fact, this needn’t be restricted to legal aid; it can also extend to innovation by way of sandboxing research and policy work that drives improvements in systems of law and justice. The opportunities for law schools are endless.
Making police and prisons more humane and accountable
The first-hand experience of the justice system for every citizen, and in a way the face of it, is the police. As gatekeepers of the criminal justice system, they play a crucial role in justice delivery. Issues of police accountability made it to the headlines on multiple occasions in 2020 with the Hathras case, the Delhi riots and globally, in the case of George Floyd in the United States. Meanwhile, our prisons, with a few exceptions, have long been miserable places where the majority of those incarcerated – 7 in 10 as per the 2019 National Crime Records Bureau data – have not even been convicted.
Both these systems are fraught with challenges such as poor working conditions, disregard for well-being in high stress jobs, and lack of capacity building to keep up with emerging knowledge and best practices in their areas. They also suffer from trust deficits, requiring us to innovate extensively in and around them.
In 2018, this was a paralysed sphere of work, with hardly any AP18 applicants working in police reform. Prison reform too saw only a handful of initiatives, such as Unnati Plus in Telangana prisons – a part of that year’s State Innovation Showcase – which is re-examining practices within the criminal justice system by focusing on the intersection of law, psychology, mental health and medicine. In 2020, this trend has improved significantly, with 25 AP20 initiatives (many of which are new) working to strengthen these systems inside out and outside in.
In 2018, we saw efforts like the Bharosa Project, which is trying to build trust between the community and the police, and People’s Archive of Rural India (PARI), which seeks to change the ‘othering’ narrative when it comes to prisons. In 2020, we’re seeing early-stage initiatives that are building capacity for better policing. For example, IDFC Institute’s Police Knowledge Hub, which seeks to create a cross-sharing learning platform of best policing practices and implementable solutions; and the Assam Police Sishu Mitra Resource Center, a public-private partnership to provide a more humane response to child victims by equipping staff with knowledge and behavioural support tools. To increase citizen participation, initiatives like Criminal Justice & Police Accountability Project (CPAP) are getting communities to anchor and drive the process of holding everyday policing processes accountable by increasing costs on the system, while Phoenix “A Smart Prison ERP”, operational in Haryana prisons, is bringing empathetic and user-centric technology design to better manage prisons.
The sensitive and entrenched nature of this area of work means that progress is slow, but we’re observing a welcome trend in how changemakers and innovators are increasingly looking at collaboration with the system. Opening pathways for interaction and engagement will increase empathy on both sides, bettering solutions and services.
Creating a collaborative ecosystem for changemakers to solve complex problems
Many of the problems that we seek to solve are complex problems that require us to act collaboratively. The disastrous consequences of the absence of collaborative networks became painfully evident in the early days of the COVID-19 lockdown, when relevant systems were unable to kick into action and provide timely support to migrants. Given the lack of open and fluid structures to facilitate collaboration, relief efforts carried out by concerned citizens were limited, sporadic and temporary. In essence, innovations that focus on enabling collaboration are as important, if not more, than the innovations that solve justice problems. The capacity to collaborate should be integral to any act of changemaking. Only then will we see rapid proliferation of ideas that can truly serve justice.
To develop the capacities and conditions for collaboration, it will require organisations and individuals to operate as social architects, capable of breaking the mould of what has gone on before to introduce new ideas, inject new energy and curate spaces in a way that allows for existing actors to collaborate and new actors to enter. These social architects must lead the task of building a shared infrastructure for the field, where resources are shared and serve to strengthen or amplify each organisation’s existing efforts.
Initiatives like Open Knowledge Engine by Ooloi Labs and Roots Resource are creating a backbone of best practices and useful knowledge through cross learnings, for the benefit of lawyers, paralegals and community mobilisers. Collaborations are especially critical in areas with deeply entrenched problems, often under the purview of the state, where partnerships are the only way to make inroads and often the most effective way to yield systemic change. For example, Studio Nilima is implementing interventions to facilitate greater collaboration and create solidarity amongst state institution stakeholders. Currently working in 8 Assam prisons, they have brought together judges and policymakers in dialogue with prison officers and District Legal Services Authorities through regular visits and round-tables. This has led to better coordination and legal representation across the 31 prisons in the state and is a model for a more wholesome and inclusive prison reform.
Much of Agami’s work has been focused on developing and nurturing a collaborative ecosystem to support changemaking towards goals such as mainstreaming online dispute resolution in India and building a data and knowledge sharing resource for the field. The impact of this effort has already been felt and continues to grow, with more people and organisations joining in, making this truly a network-of-networks. The inclusive and diverse nature of such an ecosystem ensures that it can answer not just one, but a range of challenges.
WHAT'S NOT MOVING
Evolving legal education into justice education
Despite its orientation towards developing legal practitioners, legal education has always had a broader impact. Countless civil society leaders, political leaders, CEOs and public intellectuals are products of law schools. This has a lot to do with their orientation towards public service, critical thinking and multidisciplinary studies. However, the time has now come for legal education to embrace its true potential – to equip young people with the skills and knowledge not just to understand and navigate our legal systems for a few, but to engineer better systems for everyone.
We cannot ignore the fact that we exist in an environment where most citizens do not have access to justice. Training students to understand the laws but also ensure justice in a variety of different contexts is vital. This cannot happen with minor iterations of the old models of legal education. We must reimagine legal education by drawing inspiration from the evolution of other models around the world. Justice education should bring to society as many entrepreneurs, changemakers, community paralegals and systems thinkers as it does practitioners. A promising start in this direction has been made by the South Asia Network for Justice Education (SANJE), which aims to bring together educators and experts from diverse fields to create a transformative pedagogy that can empower everyone from law students to legal professionals at all levels.
In 1987, Padma Bhushan NR Madhava Menon created the national law university model, beginning with the National Law School of India University in Bengaluru. That model has made its mark, launching over 23 national law universities and creating a new generation of corporate general counsel, law firm partners, senior advocates and high court judges since the early 2000s. Initiatives like IDIA seek to make the new models more inclusive and impactful. Now we need to see the next generation of innovations from within the law schools to achieve the goals of justice education.
Shifting mindsets at a societal level
A significant number of initiatives are focused on building awareness about rights and enabling legal aid support for marginalised groups, especially women and Dalit communities. Their efforts range from organising awareness training and workshops, building apps that offer information, creating helplines, and building a network of paralegals or lawyers who can assist in securing justice. However, for ‘wicked problems’ like gender justice, the core issue lies in the societal mindset – the shared, unstated beliefs and assumptions about women and their roles.
We might instinctively believe that societal mindsets are harder to change than anything else about a system. But the truth is that there’s nothing physical, expensive or even slow about the process of paradigm change. In a single individual, it can take place in a millisecond. All it takes is a click in the mind, a falling of scales from eyes, a new way of seeing. However, the process of changing the mindsets of whole societies is another matter – they fiercely resist change. Lessons from history tell us that it requires fundamentally different strategies than merely awareness building or mass sensitization. Central to such strategies is identifying the anomalies and failures in the existing mindset – why it is not working for anyone (not just women) – and presenting an alternative new reality by inserting people with a different mindset in places of public visibility and power. Efforts to change societal mindsets need changemakers to model a new system, which takes them outside the system and forces them to see it as a whole.
Resourcing justice innovation
Justice innovation is very poorly resourced the world over. Partly due to the strong association of justice delivery with state responsibility and partly as a result of the fear of associating with rights-based work, there is very little non-state institutional funding for legal literacy, affordable legal services, dispute resolution and rights and entitlements. In India, this trend has become even more marked, with hardly any CSR funding or family philanthropic funding going to justice innovation. Only 18% of AP20 initiatives have raised any kind of institutional funding and 40% identified money as the number one resource they need.
While much work needs to be done to unlock more institutional funding in the sector, we also need to see more creative ways of resourcing law and justice initiatives. We eagerly await both innovative fundraising models such as community fundraising, powerful campaigns and peer support, now visible in other sectors, as well as inventive ways to manage resources more efficiently such as shared data resources, shared networks and long-term volunteering strategies. Creative funding models, such as membership-based ones, can also build community trust and accountability. Building on the experience and example of organisations like Amnesty International and Greenpeace, the Internet Freedom Foundation has shown the way by implementing such a model that gives members more oversight over their work, thereby naturally increasing their ownership and participation.
Increasing the representation of women in law and justice
Globally, women’s participation in the workforce is 48%. In India, this drops to a woeful 27%. India ranks 120 among 131 countries in female labour force participation rates as per World Bank’s 2017 India Development Report. Only 14% of the country’s elected Members of Parliament are women, compared to, say, 24% of the members of the House of Representatives in the United States, not to mention the new Vice President, Kamala Harris. Corporate India has also failed to bring more women to the top. Of every 100 CEOs and managing directors of companies listed on the National Stock Exchange, only about 3 are women. Sharpen that lens to the justice field, and the picture is even grimmer. In our independent history, only 8 women have been appointed as judges of the apex court so far, while the 25 high courts in the country have had only 78 women judges out of 685 (as on August 1, 2020). Amongst AP20 initiatives, 37% of the justice innovators were women.
Clearly, concerted efforts need to be made to bring more women into the fold. Though many teams have co-founders or team members as women, it would be incredible to have this trend turn the majority into women, because the future, as they say, is female.