Highlighting the importance of technology in ensuring access to justice, the Supreme Court on Monday asked all state information commissions (SICs) to provide litigants the option of hybrid mode of hearing. A bench headed by Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud directed SICs across the country to ensure that e-filing of complaints and appeals is allowed to all litigants.
“The use of technology is no longer an option. Properly deployed for the purpose of conducting hybrid or virtual hearing, technology has the potential to ensure access to justice by obviating the need for citizens to travel long distances to secure the right of being heard,” said the bench, also comprising Justices J B Pardiwala and Manoj Misra.
“…consistent with the principles that access to justice is an integral part of fundamental rights under Article 21 and for that matter, a necessary concomitant of the freedom of speech and expression under Article 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution, we are of the considered view that it is necessary that all SICs across the country must provide hybrid mode of hearing to all litigants for the hearing of complaints and appeals,” it said.
The apex court passed the order while hearing a plea seeking directions for better functioning of SICs.
The petition said SICs should hear complaints as well as appeals by giving an option of both physical as well as virtual hearing through digital platforms.
In its order, the apex court said, “All SICs must provide an option for availing of the hybrid mode of hearing which shall be at the discretion of the applicant, or as the case may be, the appellant.”
It said the links for using the option must be stipulated in the daily cause list of the information commissions across the country.
The top court also directed that all SICs must ensure the facility for e-filing of complaints and appeals is provided in a streamlined manner to every litigant.
It said all state and central ministries shall take steps within one month to compile the e-mail addresses of the central and state public information officers (PIOs), which shall be furnished to the Central Information Commission (CIC) and SICs, as the case may be.
“To facilitate the implementation of this order, we direct that the secretary, DoPT (Department of Personnel and Training) shall convene a meeting of all the central and state information commissioners within a period of one month from the date of this order,” the bench said.
It said all state governments shall cooperate in the implementation of the apex court’s order.
While disposing of the plea, the bench said the states have to ensure provision of necessary funds to SICs for setting up infrastructure for conducting virtual hearings.
While hearing a separate matter on October 6, the apex court had said no high court in the country shall deny access to video conference or hearing through hybrid mode to lawyers and litigants after two weeks and made it clear that technology now is not a matter of choice for judges.
It had issued several directions for extending the facilities for hybrid mode of hearing across 25 high courts and tribunals.