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"Steps Need To Be Taken To Make eCourts Accessible To Specially-Abled": Justice DY Chandrachud Writes To CJ's Of High Courts

Sanya Talwar
22 Dec 2020 2:18 PM GMT
Steps Need To Be Taken To Make eCourts Accessible To Specially-Abled: Justice DY Chandrachud Writes To CJs Of High Courts
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In another notable move towards accessibility to e-courts services, the Supreme Court's eCommittee has stressed upon importance of having accessible websites.A letter has been addressed to the Chief Justice's of High Courts across India by Justice DY Chandrachud, Supreme Court Judge and Chairperson of the eCommittee of top court putting forth suggestions elaborating the urgent need of...

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In another notable move towards accessibility to e-courts services, the Supreme Court's eCommittee has stressed upon importance of having accessible websites.

A letter has been addressed to the Chief Justice's of High Courts across India by Justice DY Chandrachud, Supreme Court Judge and Chairperson of the eCommittee of top court putting forth suggestions elaborating the urgent need of having accessible infrastructure, including digital ecosystems and enabling physically challenged Lawyers and litigants to participate in the legal profession in equal footing.

"The creation of accessible infrastructure, including digital infrastructure, and an appropriate support system in the judiciary for lawyers and litigants with disabilities is imperative in order to create a level playing field. This obligation is a natural corollary of the right to equality guaranteed to lawyers and litigants with disabilities under Article 14 of the Constitution of India and the right to practice a profession of one's choice under Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution of India," the letter states.

While highlighting the steps taken to make e-courts more accessible to physically challenged lawyers and litigants, it is stated that the Supreme Court website now has a fully functional audio captcha. "Until recently, it was not possible for the blind to independently access the website due to the visual captcha. This is a Significant step which has been taken by the Supreme Court," the letter states.

Taking cue from the above, it is suggested that The High Courts can take certain Steps to make filings and their websites' more accessible. "I request you to undertake these steps with a sense of urgency," Justice Chandrachud states.

It is substantiated by the understanding that the work in this regard must be guided by two overarching principles. These are elaborated as,

"First, the onus to make filings accessible cannot be placed on disabled lawyers. This would be much like serving a file to an able-bodied lawyer in a foreign language and placing the onus on them to translate it into English. Instead, we must ensure that we institutionalize systems that embed accessibility for all times to come. 5. Second, instead of requiring a disabled lawyer to seek case-by-case intervention, or having a separate system just for them, we have to ensure that existing filing practices are reconfigured to take account of their needs"

Highlighting the specific steps to be undertaken, the letter states that instead of printing and scanning their submissions, lawyers should be required to file PDF documents, as they are prepared.

"The pleadings made in Microsoft word can easily be Saved as PDF files. The current practice of printing and scanning documents is a futile and time-consuming process that does not serve any purpose. I am very happy to report that my court has adopted the above practice, making filings of written submissions 100% accessible to the blind. We have to expand this to cover all kinds of filings, in all courts," Justice Chandrachud states.

The Supreme Court Judge has also stated that every cause-list of his court is earmarked as under:

"Whenever submissions are directed to be filed by the court in any proceedings, advocates and parties in person are requested to email a soft copy in a PDF form on or before the Stipulated date to the following: Email ID: xxxxxxxx@gmail.com The soft copies which are emailed should not be scanned copies of printed submissions. No other documents other than written submissions should be filed in this email." 

Next, the letter states that if there are hard copy annexures that need to be made part of the paper-book, these can be scanned. "They must then be saved as a PDF file, but only in Optical Character Recognition (OCR) based PDF format," it says.

Further, the letter states that, "We have to devise a practice of using digital signatures, or requiring signatures only on the last page of paper-books, in order to ensure that lawyers do not feel compelled to print and then scan paper-books, because of the signature requirement".

The letter further highlights the need to reinforce accessibility by making audio captchas available and judgements in the PDF format be auto-tagged in order to be accessible to visually challenged persons.

"Court websites must have Clearly labeled buttons, and calendars to select dates must be accessible," it adds.

Justice Chandrachud adds,

"I am sure that with your personal intervention, persons with disabilities will be able to find an accessible court environment. I earnestly request you to ensure that steps are taken in that direction both by the High Court and by the district judiciary"

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