(Photo: iStock)
(Photo: iStock)

'Open Data' policy can make Indian judiciary more accessible, accountable: Report

  • Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy’s report said digitisation initiatives increased access to legal information for all Indians
  • An 'Open Data' policy for the judiciary would entail making judicial data and records on e-courts and other digital databases of the judiciary available to the public in machine readable formats.

New Delhi: A lot more can be done by the Indian judiciary to facilitate innovation if it adopts an ‘Open Data’ policy that will make accountability and dissemination of legal information its goals, says Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy’s report.

The think tank examines how an open data policy can make the Indian judiciary more accessible and accountable.

With measures like the National Judicial Data Grid, e-courts, audio-visual recordings of court proceedings, and websites like India Code, the judiciary and government have made a commendable effort to embrace the digital age. These digitisation initiatives increased access to legal information for all Indians, including print disabled citizens, it has also revolutionized the legal sector by facilitating innovation from private players like Indiankanoon.org.

However, The Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy’s latest report titled “Open courts in the digital age: A prescription for an open data policy" identifies that while the Central Government has announced the National Data Sharing and Accessibility Policy (NDSAP) to enable the sharing of its own digital data that has been collected through the expenditure of public money, the judiciary lacks such a policy framework to enable the sharing of its digital data.

An 'Open Data' policy for the judiciary would entail making judicial data and records on e-courts and other digital databases of the judiciary available to the public in machine readable formats. Such a policy would merely be an extension of the open courts principle which has for long recognized the right of Indian citizens to witness judicial proceedings in open court. Such a right can be viewed as an extension to the fundamental right to information.

The report recognizes that an 'Open Data' policy for the judiciary not only increases transparency and accountability for the institution, but also allows citizens to actively contribute to improving the justice system. It facilitates research and innovation that will help in both, dissemination of legal information and furthering judicial accountability.

The report further says that there are exceptions to the principle of open courts, which require the fundamental right to information to be balanced against the fundamental right to privacy. This is especially true in the statutorily recognized exceptions in cases of matrimonial affairs, sexual offences, juvenile justice and national security, it says.

The report finally suggests that in these cases ex-ante anonymization of the personal sensitive information will have to be considered by the judge. In its conclusion, the report recommends the adoption of this policy so that it ‘catalyses innovation for common citizens and the legal community’ to ‘strengthen the rule of law in India.’

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