Supreme Court Asks State Information Commissions To Provide Hybrid Modes of Hearing to All Appellants
Moneylife Digital Team 09 October 2023
The Supreme Court, while hearing a public interest litigation (PIL), directed all state information commissioners (SICs) under the Right to Information (RTI) Act across the country to provide hybrid modes of hearing to all appellants for hearing complaints and appeals and to make electronic filing efficient and accessible for all litigants.
A bench headed by chief justice DY Chandrachud and comprising justice JB Pardiwala and justice Manoj Misra says, "All SICs must provide with option of hybrid hearings at discretion of complainant or appellant. The links must be on the daily cause list. We also direct that all SICs must ensure that e-filing of complaints and appeals is provided in a streamlined manner to every litigant."
"The Central Information Commission (CIC) conducts its proceedings in a hybrid manner. This ensures ease of access to citizens in pursuing complaints and appeals under the RTI Act. However, it appears that there is a variation in practice followed across different states. The use of technology is no longer an option. Technology has the potential to ensure access to justice by obviating the need for citizens to travel long distances to secure the right to be heard," the bench says.
The bench also observed that access to justice is a fundamental right under Article 21 of the Constitution and an essential component of the freedom of speech.
The apex court directed all ministries in the Union government and all states to take steps within a month to compile the email addresses of CICs and SICs. It also asked the secretary in the department of personnel and training (DoPT), which is the nodal agency for the implementation of the RTI Act, to convene a meeting within a month with all SICs to set up a time frame.   
"State governments shall provide with funding. Website of the DoPT would be at liberty to avail facilities of national informatics centre (NIC)," the bench says.
Last week, while expressing strong disapproval over judges at the Bombay High Court (HC) doing away with video conference (virtual) hearings or hybrid mode hearings, CJI Chandrachud asked why, apart from justice Gautam Patel, no one else is using the virtual mode for hearing at the HC. The apex court asked all the 25 high courts to collaborate with states to put in place in two weeks the virtual mode of hearing cases for the benefit of lawyers and litigants. (Read: Chief Justice DY Chandrachud Pulls Up Judges at Bombay HC for Doing Away with Virtual Hearings)
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