Read Jayant Bhushan’s recommendations for online access to Indian laws
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Read Jayant Bhushan’s recommendations for online access to Indian laws

Ashutosh Gambhir

Last month, the Delhi High Court ordered the Secretary of the Legislative Department to discuss the suggestions made by Senior Advocate Jayant Bhushan with regard to the problems faced by citizens in accessing Indian laws.

Bhushan was appointed Amicus Curiae in September last year in a writ petition filed by one Vansh Sharad Gupta.

The Single Judge Bench of Justice Manmohan directed the Secretary to invite the Amicus Curiae for a meeting regarding the same. The other officials include senior officials from the National Informatics Centre, Ministry of Information Technology as well as Directorate of Printing, Ministry of Urban Development.

The meeting shall be convened in the month of July, 2017.

Bhushan’s note to the Court stated that the availability of accurate legal texts at minimal cost is fundamental to the rule of law and was a basic responsibility of the government.

It enlisted several shortcomings in the way legal text is currently available:

  • Older laws are uploaded in inaccessible formats or unintelligible and unformatted text boxes.
  • Almost all web portals suffer from content and design flaws.
  • The interconnection of various laws, rules, regulations etc. is not done on Government websites.
  • The designs of Government websites are not user friendly.

Comprehensive suggestions were expounded in the note:

  1. Adopting technical standards for legislative mark-up such as a Unique ID for every law and following UN accepted standards like Akoma Ntoso would enable the citizens to have a complete understanding of all legal information on a subject in one place, it will enable the Government to function more efficiently. Developed nations like the United States and the United Kingdom have applied such standards to legislative information.
  2. The scope of the IndiaCode website should be expanded to include all subordinate legislation including rules, regulations, notifications and circulars that flow from a particular legislation, in one place.
  3. Every legislative document, including subordinate legislation should be uploaded on the IndiaCode website in a time-bound manner and guidelines should be developed to ensure timely updation of legislative texts.
  4. Consolidated versions of certain pre-1947 legislation that are of critical importance, should be uploaded on a priority basis in a time-bound manner.
  5. IndiaCode should be made open to States where their law departments and other statutory and public authorities, can upload all state laws and subordinate legislation.
  6. The Government should move towards a system where at least one portal has access to all legislative information in one place and where every competent authority is mandated to upload such information in a time-bound manner. Multiplicity of fora to publish information online creates unnecessary hurdles in streamlining access to legislative information.
  7. Professional third party agencies may be engaged to improve the website design and functionality. Also review of similar portals developed in other jurisdictions such as the United Kingdom and Australia will be helpful.
  8. Finally, there should be one nodal officer responsible for addressing grievances from the public regarding updation and improvement of content on the IndiaCode

Read the Order:

legal-access-watermark.pdf
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