30 March 2023 3:49 AM GMT
In a plea filed by the Madhya Pradesh High Court Bar Association, the Supreme Court affirmed mandatory e-filing in Debts Recovery Tribunals (DRTs) and Debts Recovery Appellate Tribunals (DRATs). The court, while remarking that other Courts and Tribunals should also replicate the model of mandatory e-filing, also passed certain directions to make e-filing more accessible for everyone. The...
In a plea filed by the Madhya Pradesh High Court Bar Association, the Supreme Court affirmed mandatory e-filing in Debts Recovery Tribunals (DRTs) and Debts Recovery Appellate Tribunals (DRATs). The court, while remarking that other Courts and Tribunals should also replicate the model of mandatory e-filing, also passed certain directions to make e-filing more accessible for everyone.
The bench comprising CJI DY Chandrachud, Justice PS Narasimha, and Justice JB Pardiwala, through its order highlighted that e-filing not only provides for transparency and efficiency in the administration of justice but also facilitates 24/7 access to justice and enforces convenience of lawyers and litigants.
The plea challenged notification of the Ministry of Finance which amended Rule 3 of the Debts Recovery Tribunals and Debts Recovery Appellate Tribunals Electronic Filing (Amendment) Rules, 2023. As per the amended norms, e-filing of pleadings by applicants before DRT/DRAT is made mandatory without any limit. Earlier, e-filing of pleadings before the DRT/DRAT was only mandatory if the debt to be recovered was Rs. 100 crores or more.
The petitioner argued that that the amendment to the rules making e-filing compulsory in all cases irrespective of the valuation of the case was introduced without holding deliberations with all stakeholders. Also, the change was too sudden and litigants were not given enough time to adjust to it. While stating that many DRTs were situated in areas with low internet connectivity, the petitioner argued that technology should be an enabler and not a disabler and that mandatory e-filing would be detrimental to many. In this regard, he asked for exceptions to the Rule to be provided in cases of just and fair cause, for senior citizens, and for female practitioners and clients.
CJI DY Chandrachud was surprised at the submission that female practitioners should be provided with an option of hybrid filing and expressed his disapproval at the presumption that women would be ad at technology.
The Union of India, opposing petitioner's submissions, stated that mandatory e-filing facilitated compliance in timelines and also facilitated 24/7 filing by litigants even from remotest places. As per the Union's affidavit, there were help desks for facilitating stakeholders set up at all DRTs and DRATs where 90 staff members were working as operators to assist with e-filing. Further, a help desk option was also provided at e-filing portals. It was urged on behalf of the Union that as the counter affidavit indicates, the introduction of e-filing was not hasty or abrupt. On the contrary, it was preceded by stake holder consultation and training programmes.
Moreover, it was urged that the implementation was done in gradual stages in three phases. The first stage was introduction of E-filing Rules in 2020, as per which, e-filing was made optional. In the second stage e-filing was made compulsory where pecuniary value of dispute was more than Rs 100 crores. It was only after that, in the third stage, mandatory e-filing was introduced.
The court noted that these three phases showed that the process had been gradual and had given time to all stake holders to adjust. \
In its order, the bench highlighted the importance of e-filing and remarked–
"E-filing provides for transparency and efficiency in the administration of justice. It provides for 24/7 access to justice and enforces convenience of lawyers and litigants. The decision to take up e-filing should be replicated by other tribunals including the High Courts."
However, at the same time, being mindful of the "digital divide" in the country, the court said–
"Technology is an enabler and a facilitator and no citizen should be left behind because of lack of access to it, least of all to justice. The contentions are borne out of ground realities. Hence no segment of citizens should be left behind in advent of technology. Not all lawyers may have facilities required. However, such facilities can be easily accessed."
Accordingly, the bench passed the following directions–
1. The bar association was permitted to submit their representations in case of any difficulties faced. The court stated that such representations shall focus on concrete suggestions to make e-filing more accessible.
2. The court directed all chairpersons of DRTs and DRATs to submit reports on a monthly basis initially for a period of 6 months suggesting if any upgradation was necessary.
3. The court requested the Director General of National Informatics Centre to constitute a team to monitor the progress of e-filing in DRTs and DRATs.
4. The court asked the Union government that in addition to setting help desks, it would be appropriate if "e-seva kendras" were also set up at DRTs and DRATs. It directed that all e-seva kendras should have adequate technical infrastructure like printers, scanners, and internet facilities. Further, the court stated that it would be appropriate for the Financial Services Department to prepare a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for e-seva kendras and that the same would be in line with the mission of the e-Committee of the Supreme Court.
While stating that the Department of Finance would be at liberty to take these actions, the court stated that the exercise shall be completed in 3 months.
Case Title: MP High Court Bar Association v. Union of India | W.P.(C) No. 155/2023
Citation : 2023 LiveLaw (SC) 276
Practice and Procedure - E-Filing - Supreme Court affirms mandatory e-filing in DRTs and DRATs-Issues directions to enable access to people who are technologically deprived- Directions issued to set up e-sewa kendras-
E-Filing and Virtual Courts - There can be no gainsaying the fact that e-filing provides transparency and efficiency in the administration of justice. E-filing provides for 24x7 access to the court system and, in fact, facilitates the convenience of lawyers as well as litigants. With the march of technology, it would be too late in the day to postulate that e-filing should not be adopted. As a matter of fact, the decision to take up e-filing must be replicated by other tribunals and courts in the country, including the High Courts in a phased manner and that it eventually becomes mandatory - Para 12
E-Filing - Supreme Court refuses to allow an exception to women lawyers- not inclined to accept the submission that there should be a general exception to female practitioners and litigants. There is no reason to postulate that there is a gender divide in one’s inherent ability to use technology- Para 20.
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