Why should you read this?
Ever heard of popular petitions for preventing animal cruelty, climate change, and safer Uber rides?
Have you ever wondered what online petitions are all about?
Do these online petitions land before the courts of law? We’ve heard about petitions under Article 226 and 32 of the Constitution.
But, what about online petitions that you see on social media?
There are dozens of online petitions that are available that might confuse you, and make you wonder if you are going to actually make any difference by signing them?
Also, shouldn’t you know your legal position, if such petitions actually go to courts?
Let’s look into this blog to know more about online petitions, their practical effectiveness and legal importance!
Table of contents
- What are Online Petitions?
- Legal liability after signing online petitions?
- Does it get filed as a petition before courts?
- What happens to online petitions?
- Do online petitions reach courts?
What are Online Petitions?
Ever come across those online petitions on Social media and Internet. For example, A petition to save dolphins, trees, or a petition to get the accused in the Nirbhaya case hanged!
Do these petitions land in court or parliament?
They might or might not.
It is a platform that helps people to gather collective support for a cause and to bring attention to issues that people are not aware of.
This politically seeks to influence decision-making of the government by organized effort.
Does it really work?
Online petitions have been very impactful in India.
A few examples are given below :
- After, the infamous rape of a 6-year-old school girl in Karnataka, a petition started by the mother of a 3-year-old girl received attention from the Karnataka government which passed laws making Karnataka schools safer.
- No bail for those who attack doctors.
- Sushmita Dev (Member Of Parliament) started this petition to Arun Jaitley (Minister of Finance) which was supported by various activists and organizations to abolish the tax on Sanitary napkins.
- Uber was compelled to have 7-year background checks for their drivers.
Legal liability does not occur from signing a petition as it is just a manifestation that certain issues are critical and it requires to be addressed by the officials who hold an office in a government organization and have the power to exercise authority.
Exception – Signing a petition which is defamatory or seditious in nature will put you in legal trouble and might even result in criminal proceedings. So read all the pointers very carefully before signing such petitions.
Online petitions usually don’t get filed as a petition in the court, but they add up to the supplementary material and are used to put forward as pleas that were intended in the original drafting.
However, some online petitions are initiated during the case. For example, while the case of Mukesh & Anr vs State For NCT Of Delhi & Ors was still in the process, an online petition was filed by Ashi Devi, the mother of Nirbhaya demanding the Prime Minister to intervene and speed up the delivery of justice.
As the purpose of online petitions is only to show societal support, and they find no mention in the Indian Evidence Act, they hold no evidentiary value whatsoever and cannot be relied on for the purposes of delivering a judgement.
When a certain petition gets enough votes or signatures, the petition is forwarded to the officials to whom it is addressed to, to any decision maker who has the authority to bring the change. Many certified websites also go on to offer signers the opportunity to contribute money to the cause of the petition.
An idea to change, amend, or create a new law is presented by a concerned citizen or group to a Representative. The Representative then introduces it to the Lok Sabha.
Writ petitions can also be filed under Article 226 before the High court and under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution before the Supreme court.
However, online petitions and writ petitions are two completely different things.
Anyone can create a petition, any person who does not have proper information on the issue or who does not have honesty and decency. It is easy to attract senseless causes.
Online petitions are at times also abused for spamming, thus undermining its validity.
Sites offer opportunities to create online petitions and don’t have issues regarding identifying or authenticating signers.
For example, Avaaz.org and Change.org allows one to create an account with an email address, or to use a Facebook or Twitter account as a credential. A signer has to enter a name, email address and postal address, including country.
It then follows up with a confirmation email. The site does not say if it deletes the name from the petition if the email bounces. The site offers a link to be shared on social media to help propagate the petition.
There are also many websites with fraudulent petitions. Some ways to check whether a site might be fraudulent includes:
- Google search and cross-reference.
- Only using sites you are familiar with.
- Look up previous petitions, see if there were any results.
Did you know? “Slacktivism” is the practice of supporting a political or social cause by means such as social media or online petitions.
Petition websites have undoubtedly played a pivotal role in pressuring organizations to act responsibly, it has given individuals a platform to become a social activist. Many websites are available globally allowing people to start a petition in multiple languages.
It creates awareness that more positive change can be brought in our society. It has been viewed as lazy activism at times but online petitions have more potential to go viral and affect the lives of millions of people if they are made with goodwill and for the benefit of the people.
- https://www.change.org/. ↑
- Preethi Herman, Meet 5 inspiring women who drove India’s biggest campaigns on Change.org in 2015 (March 8, 2016, 1:37 PM IST). ↑
- A defamatory content is basically content which speaks false statements about a person or an institution resulting in dishonour to the particular person or institution. A Seditious content on the other hand is anything which has the effect of disturbing the integrity of the country. ↑
- 2 SCC (Cri) 673 (2017). ↑
- Asha Devi starts petition asking PM to expedite death penalty of Nirbhaya’s convicts https://www.thenewsminute.com/article/asha-devi-starts-petition-asking-pm-expedite-death-penalty-nirbhaya-s-convicts-113978 ↑
- John Georgey, Authentication of electronic petition (JUNE 23 rd 2015)http://www.slaw.ca/2015/06/23/authenticating-electronic-petitions/. ↑