4 Dec 2020 1:16 PM GMT
"All courts must also endeavour towards creating an active environment for disabled lawyers. There must be equal opportunity cells in the Supreme Court and in each High Court in the country...Our benchmarks reflect the outcome", said Justice DY Chandrachud on Thursday. He was speaking at the Valedictory Session of the 3-day International Summit on Legal Professionals with...
"All courts must also endeavour towards creating an active environment for disabled lawyers. There must be equal opportunity cells in the Supreme Court and in each High Court in the country...Our benchmarks reflect the outcome", said Justice DY Chandrachud on Thursday.
He was speaking at the Valedictory Session of the 3-day International Summit on Legal Professionals with Disabilities, organised virtually.
On to the measures to combat the challenges faced by the disabled in the legal profession, he suggested:
Firstly, instead of the requirement of printing and scanning of submissions, the default position should be for the lawyers to be able to file PDF documents. Scanning and printing of documents is futile and time-consuming. Also, he recommended the use of digital signatures and that the signature be required to be put only on the last page of the paper books.
Secondly, filing of written submissions to be made hundred percent accessible to the blind "i'm happy to say that it is so in my court, in my courtroom. Now the aim is to expand to all kinds of filing and in all courts", he remarked.
Thirdly, for documents which are required to be scanned, he recommended that a very high quality of scan of 300 dots per inch should be used. And stamps and water marks should be placed on pages in such a manner that they don't hamper smooth access to the documents.
Fourthly, he was of the view that the onus of making the filing accessible can't be placed on the disabled lawyers- "That is much like giving a file in a foreign language to an able-bodied lawyer to translate to English. We need to ensure that instead institutionalised systems embed accessibility"
Further, in place of the requirement for disabled lawyers to seek a case by case intervention or instead of having a separate system altogether for them, the judge suggested that the existing filing practises be reconsidered to account for their needs. "I requested Rahul (his law clerk) and another lawyer in Bombay to engage with the National Informatics Centre. They have devised a meeting schedule to meet every Friday to identify the issues they face so that solutions can be come up with in a manner that makes them permanent for the future, not in an ad hoc or backdated manner.
Justice Chandrachud opined that the court websites also need to be made more accessible.
"The use of digital technology ipso facto will not result in a level being playing field. In fact it may increase disparity even more if it is not designed with accessibility in mind. Sometimes accessing court websites for the disabled can be like swimming with one leg and one arm", he indicated. It is suggested that websites which use visual captchas to access information was also be accompanied with text-based captchas. The practice of using watermarks on each page of judgements and orders should be done away with. All websites must have Clearly labelled buttons and calendars to select dates".
Online databases need to be made much more accessible and disabled-friendly. "It is no answer for those running these databases to say that they too well-resources to care about the disabled lawyers! And even if they are not bothered, we, as part of the judiciary and the e-courts project are definitely dedicated to supplying these deficiencies", he added.
The court rooms need to be equipped with mics and speakers, besides the furnishings must be such so as to eliminate echo. "The courts must comply with section 21 of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act 2016 and formulate an equal opportunity policy, besides appointment of Grievance Redressal officers in compliance with section 23 and holding sensitisation sessions on challenges faced by the disabled lawyers and staff members.
Justice Chandrachud had opened his talk, enumerating the various steps taken by the E-committee of the Supreme Court in this direction, including launching an online judgement option, which is a disabled-centric and hence, inclusive. "Even though it is free, this does not anyhow dilute its quality", he said.
"The captchas on the website of the Supreme Court of India were initially only visual. Now, after engaging with the IT team in the court, the issue has been resolved and a text-based captcha has also been introduced", he announced.
"Further, this week I will also be writing to all the Chief Justices of the High Courts to identify the issues associated with technology and to take such steps which provide for a more inclusive atmosphere", he told.
He spoke of implementation of the 3% reservation as contemplated in the 2016 Act in every government department and to make sure that an ideal identification process is undertaken by all these departments to this end. Next, he sought to flag a matter which is subjudice before him regarding the charging of GST on mobility devices.
"The issue is of confronting the disability of the mind of those who are not disabled. The theme of my presentation today is that while exclusion against the persons with disabilities may not be deliberate, inclusion must always be so", he articulated.
Justice Chandrachud spoke of how the only explicit reference in the Constitution to the needs of the persons with disability is in Article 41- "the State shall within the limits of its economic capacity and development, make effective provision for securing the right to work, to education and to public assistance in cases of unemployment, old age, sickness and disablement, and in other cases of undeserved want". "The fact that it has been placed in this list shows that the Constitution deems it as a health and welfare issue more than a social problem. The exclusion of disability in Article 15(1) has also attracted criticism. It shows that the Constitution doesn't give it its legitimate due", he expressed.
Speaking of the six freedoms in Article 19, he explained that for a person with disability to be able to move freely, "we need accessible transport facilities, railway stations with ramps, Braille signage. To be able to enjoy the freedom of trade and profession, we need a level playing field where there are no infrastructural and other barriers and to be able to challenge the stereotypes so that everyone can contribute productively".
"Nature has a unique way of compensating for what it deprives", he affirmed.