The winter session of Parliament ended last week. Bills were lined up for introduction, consideration and passing, to finally become laws. A few people, especially lawyers, recognise the Latin maxim Ignorantia juris non excusat (‘Ignorance of the law does not excuse’). It simply means people are supposed to know the law and follow it. It is easier said than done. One obstacle in knowing the law is problems in accessing it. To address this, laws have been uploaded on websites of relevant ministries and updated versions of the same are also not hard to find. Yet some complain that information on law, amendments, rules and others is scattered. So how about having a government authenticated website, with all laws and related information at one place? For many, including the citizens who want to know their legal rights and duties, it would be a dream come true.
But how does one conceptualise such a website? To begin with, the laws on it could be divided subject-wise like criminal law, family law, environmental law, corporate law, labour law and so on. The same may be further divided. Within the subject heads, it would help to categorise laws based on the legislature (Parliament or State/UT Legislature) that enacted them. For example, under the head of labour law (if not further divided), the fact that Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act, 1970, was enacted by Parliament should be clearly pointed out. If a law has been enacted by the State/UT Legislature, it should be separated state/UT wise. To bring clarity, relevant entry and relevant List of the 7th Schedule of the Constitution, under which the law is made, should be mentioned. Additionally, relevant Constitutional provisions related to a law, if any, would be a value addition if stated. For example, with Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009, provisions of the Constitution like Article 21A-Right to Education (fundamental right), amongst others, should be mentioned. Many a time, model laws like the recent Model Shops and Establishments (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Bill, 2016, are made. These should also be placed depending upon the subject matter.
The law would be of no use if the same is not uploaded in its latest form. This means it should be regularly updated with the latest amendments. If the law is in the process of being repealed, the same should also be disclosed. For example, the Cine-workers Welfare Cess Act, 1981, is proposed to be repealed by the Repealing and Amending Bill, 2017. This should be disclosed.
Next, the ministry concerned or state department dealing with the law should be highlighted. With a specific law, it would be helpful if the rules, regulations, orders, notifications and the like under it are mentioned. For a better understanding of an issue, the related policies should also be listed.
Coming to the judicial side, it is suggested if latest decisions of the courts that are good in law are placed along with the law. If there are High Court decisions on an issue, but the Supreme Court has clarified the position, only the latter may be mentioned. If a provision has been struck down by the Supreme Court, the same must also be pointed out. For example, Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000, was struck down by the Supreme Court in Shreya Singhal vs Union of India. This would be necessary to mention.
To make the information holistic, there can be a section on the relevant international conventions (related to the law) that India has ratified, if any. For example, next to the relevant labour law, the relevant ILO Convention ratified by India should be stated.
For accountability purposes, nodal officers can be designated each from the legislative, executive and judicial branches for different laws. They would have to update the relevant portions.
Such a website would have various obvious advantages. First, in this age of Right to Information, it will be a big push towards information dissemination. It will allow people to know what the law is at any point in time. Second, it will increase awareness and hence theoretically increase compliance. Third, since it will be a one-stop shop for all information on a law, it will bring down searching costs and time taken. Fourth, since it would be managed by the government, it will be a trustworthy source. Fifth, with regular updates of the information, it would be extremely useful. Sixth, being a government website, it can be accessible freely by anyone.
On the occasion of the National Law Day on November 26, 2017, the Prime Minister had spoken about how the government was taking initiatives towards ensuring ‘ease of living’ for the people. Taking this vision forward, it is time to make the laws and related information accessible to the people. This will surely be acceptable legal‘ease’.
The author is a young professional with the Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister and NITI Aayog. Views are personal