Tag Archive | Chief Justice

How ‘Functional Felony’ Creeps Into Judiciary : CJI – By Mukesh Jhangiani

                                                                                                                March 14, 2005

CJI R C Lahoti

How ‘Functional Felony’ Creeps Into Judiciary : CJI

By Mukesh Jhangiani
United News of India

New Delhi (UNI) – Personal visits to Judges’ residences, dinner invitations from lawyers and political pressures are some of ways in which ”functional felony creeps into the judiciary,” India’s Chief Justice has cautioned.

As a counter, Justice Ramesh Chandra Lahoti has stressed such time-tested judicial ethics as independence, impartiality, integrity and propriety.

Justice Lahoti was delivering the Inaugural M C Setalvad Memorial Lecture on Canons of Judicial Ethics organised by the Bar Association of India recently.

It was an evening given to remembering one of India’s finest lawyers– a ‘grand’ practioner, who charged ‘reasonable’ fees irrespective of stakes and respected Judges, but declined Judgeship.

The hall packed mostly with judges and lawyers heard a message from former Supreme Court Judge V R Krishna Iyer: ”Today, when the decline and fall have become deleteriously visible in the two sister professions, the memory of Setalvad will be a necessary admonition.”

The ethics topic sat well with 2005 dubbed the Year of Excellence in Judiciary. Judicial misconduct in India has no legal remedy.

Codes of ethics have been tried time and again, Justice Lahoti said, adding that if required to make a reference to such documents, he would ”confine myself… to three”:

— The Restatement of Values of Judicial Life adopted by the Chief Justices’ Conference of India, 1999

— The Bangalore Principles of Judicial Conduct, 2002

— The Oath of a Judge as contained in the Third Schedule of the Constitution of India.

As Justice Lahoti spelt out the documents it became clear that a number of Judges are already in violation of one or another of the canons of ethics.

Take Canon 4 of the Restatement: A Judge should not permit any member of his immediate family, such as spouse, son, daughter, son-in-law or daughter-in-law or any other close relative, if a member of the Bar, to appear before him or even be associated in any manner with a cause to be dealt with by him.

Over a year ago, the Bar Council of India (BCI) asked the government to transfer 130 High Court Judges who have relatives practising in courts in which they function. That meant almost one in four HC Judges. India’s 21 HCs between them had close to 500 Judges in place, the remaining positions being vacant. No action ensued.

The BCI is the apex statutory grouping of India’s 800,000 or so lawyers.

The trouble, experts say, is that a code of ethics cannot be enforced.

Indeed, as Law and Justice Minister Hans Raj Bhardwaj reminded audience, ethics cannot be foisted on anyone and should be left to the institution to evolve or embrace.

Nor does law in India make a proper provision to discipline Judges.

One option provided is impeachment, which, experts say, is more a political remedy than legal. It failed the only time it was invoked in 1992 against a Supreme Court Judge accused of corruption.

With Congress Members of Parliament under a whip to abstain in the vote to impeach Justice V Ramaswamy, Parliament virtually abdicated its duty to ensure accountability in Judiciary.

That was not perhaps the first time an Indian Judge had misbehaved. It certainly was not the last.

A spate of allegations has surfaced over the years involving HC Judges– in Karnataka, Rajasthan, Bombay, Delhi, Chennai, Calcutta and Punjab and Haryana– in bribery, sex and abuse of office, resulting in a few cases to transfer, removal, even arrest.

In one bizarre episode, dozens of HC Judges took leave en masse because two of them were asked by their Chief Justice to explain why they took complimentary membership from a club, which was a litigant.

One of Justice Lahoti’s predecessors, Justice Sam Piroj Bharucha told a lawyers’ meet in Kollam, Kerala three years ago that ”more than 80 per cent of the Judges in this country, across the board, are honest and incorruptible.

”It is that smaller percentage that brings the entire judiciary into disrepute. To make it known that the judiciary does not tolerate corruption in its ranks, it is requisite that corrupt Judges should be investigated and dismissed from service.”

A year later, Justice Bhupinder Nath Kirpal told a judicial colloquium that Judges ”are also Indian citizens who come from the same aggregate as those in the legislature and the administration.”

”Therefore,” Justice Kirpal said, ”there are also instances where corruption and incompetence have also pervaded the judicial establishment that cannot be denied.”

But as Justice Lahoti pointed out, ”The Judge can ill-afford to seek shelter from the fallen standard in the society.”

The trouble, experts say, is that in absence of a clearly laid down law, opacity takes over where will to cover up asserts itself.

Former Chief Justice Jagdish Sharan Verma, during whose tenure the Supreme Court Judges adopted the resolutions on Values of Judicial Life in May 1997, has called for a clear law to discipline errant Judges.

In a radio talk show aired two months ago, Justice Verma said: ”Time has come for enforcing judicial accountability.”

Asked to explain his insistence that the process be conducted by the judiciary itself, he said any external effort would be dangerous for judiciary’s independence.

Justice Verma said he sent the resolutions in December 1997 to then caretaker Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral, requesting enactment of such a law. ”It has not happened so far.”

Some two months ago, Bhardwaj announced a Group of Ministers set up to suggest steps to strengthen the Judges Inquiry Act 1968 as part of an effort to ensure accountability in governance.

Asked after the Lecture as to when the group will give its findings, the Minister told UNI it would probably be after the Budget session.

Corruption in their ranks is not the only issue Judges must reckon with: they have a huge workload– 24 million pendencies– and inadequate strength– 14,000 judicial officers from district level upwards, as against an estimated need of 50,000, topped by a large many vacancies.

Experts question lingering HC vacancies considering that the five member apex court collegium expected to select appointees knows well in advance when a vacancy is due to arise.

Law Ministry officials say 222 HC positions were vacant against an approved strength of 719 last year when the United Progressive Alliance took over from the National Democratic Alliance.

Bhardwaj has said all vacancies will be filled by the end of this year.

”It is futile to think of excellence,” Justice Lahoti said in his lecture, unless judges– howsoever highly or howsoever lowly placed– ”were to follow the canons of judicial ethics.”

He recounted how veteran Judges handled ethical issues. One instance involved a dinner for Judges given by a lawyer– paid for by a client whose matter was to come up in the court a day later while another was about a Vacation Judge approached for ‘interim’ stay by an advocate who happened to be the son of the then Chief Justice.

The dinner story in former Chief Justice Pralhad Balacharya Gajendragadkar’s words: ”So far as I know, I and K C Das Gupta did not attend. Most of others did. The dinner was held on a Saturday at a hotel. On Monday next, before the Bench over which B P Sinha presided and I and K C Das Gupta were his colleagues, we found that there was a matter pending admission between the management of the hotel chain and its workmen.

”I turned to Sinha and said: ‘Sinha, how can we take this case? The whole lot of supervisors and workmen in the hotel is sitting in front and they know that we have been fed in the hotel ostensibly by the lawyer but in truth at the cost of the hotel, because the very lawyer who invited the judges to the dinner is arguing in the hotel’s appeal.’

”Sinha, the great gentleman that he was, immediately saw the point and said: ‘This case would go before another Bench’.”

Justice Iyer’s tale of the Vacation Judge: ”Naturally, since the caller was an advocate, and on top of it, the son of the Chief Justice, the vacation judge allowed him to call on him. The ‘gentleman’ turned up with another person and unblushingly told the vacation judge that his companion had a case that day on the list of the vacation judge. He wanted a ‘small’ favour of an ‘Interim stay’.

”The judge was stunned and politely told the two men to leave the house. Later, when the Chief Justice came back to Delhi after the vacation, the victim judge reported to him about the visit of his son with a client and his ‘prayer’ for a stay in a pending case made at the home of the Judge.

”The Chief Justice was not disturbed but dismissed the matter as of little consequence. ‘After all, he only wanted an interim stay’, said the Chief justice, ‘and not a final decision’.”

The incident, Justice Lahoti went on, ”reveals the grave dangers of personal visits to judges’ residences under innocent pretexts.

”This is the way functional felony creeps into the judiciary. A swallow does not make a summer maybe, but deviances once condoned become inundations resulting in credibility collapse of the institution.”

”A little isolation and aloofness are the price which one has to pay for being a judge, because a judge can never know which case will come before him and who may be concerned in it. No hard and fast rule can be laid down in this matter, but some discretion must be exercised.”

Audience were told of a lawyer who actually observed ethics.

Setalvad remained ever a lawyer and never agreed to become a judge. His fees ”were reasonable and did not vary depending upon the stakes involved in a case.”

He seemed to have instinctively grasped the true function of a Law Officer stressed in English Courts– Counsel for the Crown neither wins nor loses. He is there to state the law and facts to the Court.

Setalvad joined the Bombay Bar in 1911 and rose to occupy such high offices as Advocate General of Bombay 1937-42, Attorney General of India 1950-63, Chairman of the Law Commission 1955-58 and Member of Rajya Sabha 1966-72.

He also represented India before the Radcliffe Commission and the United Nations 1947-50.

”In those days,” Bhardwaj said, recalling the post independence era, ”there were no sharp practices at the bar at all. There was no need for such concerns. Such an occasion never arose.”

These are ”difficult times,” he acknowledged. Standards have ”gone down.”

He said the BCI had not performed its duty. The Bar has been ”left behind by many decades… So much adulteration has come into this institution.”

Many lawyers may not even know who Setalvad was, he remarked.

Organisers thanked Chennai-based Senior Advocate G Vasantha Pai, a former BAI General Secretary, who contributed Rs 15 lakh to conduct the lecture annually, for ”giving us back” Setalvad.

UNI MJ MM CS1100

 

Advertisements

Judges Urged To Help Counter Vote Bank Casteism – By Mukesh Jhangiani

Different Castes and reservations available in...

Different Castes and reservations available in India. (Photo: Wikipedia)

                                                                                                                       July 6, 2003

Judges Urged To Help Counter Vote Bank Casteism

By Mukesh Jhangiani
United News of India
New Delhi (UNI) – Indian Judges have been urged to help counter the caste system which lost economic bearings long ago but is ”fostered and sustained socially” by ”vested interests for vote bank politics.”

The suggestion came from a fellow Judge of the Allahabad High Court in an academic paper arguing that the Gujarat and other killings in the name of religion and caste belie hopes that a modern constitution by itself would make a society modern.

Justice Markandey Katju’s paper titled ‘Access to Justice With Special Reference To Socio-Economic Rights’ was published as part of the proceedings of a seminar held recently in the Capital.
Although long outlawed, caste discrimination largely affecting 240 million of India’s dalits and tribals has far from disappeared.
Published accounts say two Dalits are murdered and three Dalit women raped every day across India. Activists say that is an underestimate.
”The belief that by merely importing and transplanting a modern Constitution from above will result in our society quickly becoming modern has proved to be mistaken,” Justice Katju wrote.
He cited as proof ”what… happened in Gujarat” and the barbaric ”honour killings” of young men and women aspiring to marry out of caste in Meerut and Muzaffarnagar in Western Uttar Pradesh.
”People have killed each other in the name of religion in the year 2002– as they did at the time of Partition in 1947– although the Constitution has been in force since 1950.
”Similarly, the ‘honour’ killing of young couples of different castes by their kith and kin shows how casteist we still are,” the paper said.
This, it pointed out, was notwithstanding the fact that things had ”totally changed” insofar as caste was no longer a decisive factor in how a person makes a living.
”The son of a badhai (carpenter) now does not become badhai, he comes to the city and becomes an electrician or motor mechanic, or having acquired education, he becomes a clerk, or a lawyer, engineer, doctor.”
Division of labour now ”has to be on the basis of technical skills. A factory recognises no caste or religion but only efficient production based on technology.”
The judge saw similarity between the Indian caste system and the division of labour in feudal Europe.
”The same thing happened in Europe, too, up to the feudal age. Even today many Englishmen have surnames like Taylor, Smith, Carpenter, Potter, Gardener, Barber… which indicates that their forefathers belonged to these professions.”
Noting that in India, too, individuals were no longer confined to pursuing ancestral vocations, Justice Katju said ”this has largely destroyed the economic foundation of the caste system.”
But he warned that ”the caste system is being deliberately fostered and sustained socially by certain vested interests for vote bank politics.”
Experts say caste polarisation is more pronounced around election time.
A government-appointed commission headed by former Chief Justice M N Venkatachaliah recommended mandatory punishment for anyone — including candidates — fomenting caste or communal hatred during elections.
”Any election campaigning on the basis of caste or religion and any attempt to spread caste and communal hatred during elections should be punishable with mandatory imprisonment,” it said.
But experts and activists say record of such prosecution even under existing laws is thin.
National Minorities Commission Chairman Tarlochan Singh placed the blame on political parties which even pick candidates on such considerations.
National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Chairman Bizay Sonkar Shastri said casteism was not ‘officially’ a factor in such considerations, but its role needed to be determined.
The trouble in India, critics say, is that laws and the legal system are not effective.
Justice Katju said underdeveloped countries such as India were going through a transitional stage– from feudal, agricultural society to a modern, industrial society, which ”is a very painful and agonising period.”
England went through such transition during the 16th-18th centuries and France during the 18th-19th centuries– periods ”full of turbulence, turmoil, revolutions, intellectual ferment. Only after going through this fire… modern society emerged in Europe.
”India is presently going through this fire… Our national aim must therefore be to get over this transitional period as quickly as possible, reducing the agony, which to some extent is inevitable in this period.
It said justice in such context meant creating a social order in which every human gets a decent life– a process in which the judiciary could play a supportive role by upholding the Constitution in its true spirit, giving it teeth and content, rather than limiting itself to deciding disputes.
It stressed a ”powerful cultural struggle” to combat feudal and backward ideas such as casteism and communalism. ”The Indian judiciary, too, must contribute to the progress of the nation and to our goal of creating India as a strong, modern, Industrial State.
It asked the judiciary to strike backward, feudal laws, customs and practices violative of Article 14 — Equality Before Law — and Article 21 — Life and Personal Liberty and uphold political rights and civil liberties inscribed in Part III of the Constitution.
It also suggested encouraging business and industry — rapid industrialisation can create jobs and wealth for people — and ensuring that the State looks after the people’s welfare in providing food, water and employment.
Justice Katju said freedoms of speech, expression, travel and trade guaranteed by the Constitution were meaningless for someone hungry or unemployed or with no money for those pursuits.
He recalled sarcasm levelled in the 19th century by an English Judge at his country’s judicial system. In Justice Darling’s words: ”The law-courts of England are open to all men like the doors of the Ritz Hotel.”
UNI MJ MM AKK1034

Related articles

PM Underscores Tackling Corruption In Judiciary – By Mukesh Jhangiani

Manmohan Singh

Manmohan Singh (Photo: Wikipedia)

                                                            March 11, 2006

PM Underscores Tackling Corruption In Judiciary*

By Mukesh Jhangiani
United News of India

New Delhi (UNI) – Corruption in the judiciary and court delays were counted by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today among common litigants’ problems that must be examined and remedied.

”Instances of corruption have now begun to surface in our judicial system, too,” Dr Singh remarked, opening a conference of state chief ministers and high court chief justices at Vigyan Bhavan.

The conference centring on Justice: Accelerated and Affordable heard a keynote address by Chief Justice Yogesh Kumar Sabharwal promising ”zero tolerance” to corruption and a welcome address by Law and Justice Minister Hans Raj Bhardwaj.

The Prime Minister emphasised that ”an important aspect of the reform and modernisation of the judiciary and improving the incentive mechanism, is to tackle corruption in the judiciary.”

Dr Singh said the prosecution trend where cases ”fall because witnesses turn hostile or change their evidence is causing concern to ever increasing sections of society.”

The allusion applied to the infamous Jessica Lal case outcome– absolving all nine accused in a murder committed in a packed bar room seven years ago.

The outcome sent a wave of shock across the nation, leading to calls for an effective system of justice which actually punishes criminals and violators and relieves victims.

The widespread public concern was acknowledged by the Prime Minister who stressed ”need for all of us to reflect whether the existing procedures are adequate and foolproof.”

Dr Singh called for an introspection ”whether we are using all available provisions to prevent deviant behaviour and whether we need new provisions in law so that the justice system is seen to deliver justice.”

Speaking as a ”lay man,” the Prime Minister said ”apart from delay in settlement of cases, lengthy court procedures, frequent adjournments, evidence taking procedures, corruption in the judiciary is also a problem of public concern that we must address.”

Dr Singh referred to the ever mounting court case arrears– currently close to 30 million– a problem which ”requires urgent attention.”

Acknowledging that the ”criminal justice delivery system appears to be on the verge of collapse due to diverse reasons,” Justice Sabharwal asserted that ”some of the responsibility will have to be shared by the executive branch of the state.

”Not much has been done for improvement of the investigative and prosecution machinery. Significant suggestions for separation of investigative wing from law and order duties and changes in rules of evidence still lie unattended.”

Justice Sabharwal noted that the public outrage over the failure of the criminal justice system in some recent high profile cases ”must shake us all up into the realisation that something needs to be urgently done to revamp the whole process, though steering clear of knee jerk reactions, remembering that law is a serious business.”

Justice Sabharwal said the main reason for persistent pendencies ”is huge increase in new cases instituted,” adding that it reflected ”more awareness and more rights created by numerous new legislations.”

But he cautioned that if the huge arrears of about three crores in high courts and subordinate courts is not tackled now there would be ”no magic wand available to tackle the menace” when they climb to three and a half crores or four crores. ”We have to turn the tide now. It is now or never.”

Justice Sabharwal said while judiciary was held responsible for mounting arrears, it neither has any control on resources of funds nor any powers to create additional courts or hire staff.

He suggested giving high courts at least ‘limited financial autonomy’ and backing up judicial efforts to bring about urgent legal reforms so as to galavanise the system to ”provide complete justice” instead of subjecting vital proposals for procedural laws to endless debates.

The Chief Justice said the judiciary ”craves for full support from the government. The process of appointments of judges in the high courts at the level of government needs to be expedited.”

He said the topic of corruption was a burning issue in all spheres of public life. The judiciary was committed to continue cleansing itself by coming down with a heavy hand on unscrupulous elements that may exist within and also by removing the deadwood. ”We have adopted a policy of zero tolerance on this subject.”

Referring to the outcomes of past such conferences, Justice Sabharwal said, ”we have been cajoled enough to sit up and take notice. It is time we proceeded to stand up and take action.”

The delays in filling judicial vacancies was acknowledged by the Law and Justice Minister who said the working strength of judges in courts needed to be ”optimised.”

Mr Bhardwaj said that ”though there are still about 100 vacancies of judges to be filled up in various high courts, we could achieve (an) all time high of incumbency, which is 560.”

India’s 21 high courts between them have a total sanctioned strength of close to 700, but remain perennially underfilled.

Mr Bhardwaj said that in district and subordinate courts, too, 2,655 of 14,305 judicial posts were vacant and urged participants to take timely action to fill up vacancies.

Earlier, the Prime Minister urged the Chief Justice and his colleagues to ”lead and guide the judiciary to achieve the formidable goal of reducing pendency and providing speedier and more affordable justice to the common man.”

Dr Singh declared the central government’s ”full support” in this endeavour and also urged the Chief Ministers to make available the necessary infrastructure needed by courts to ensure their effective functioning.

He stressed the need to maintain credibility of the system, improve the utilisation of existing laws and regulations, effective mechanism to ensure judicial accountability and a balanced approach in taking up PIL cases.

Underlining the need to exercise restraint in judicial activism, Dr Singh observed that it must also take adequately into account the administrative viability of the reform process.
UNI MJ NK DS1527

Related articles

Lawyers’ Chambers – Photostat Shops ? – By Mukesh Jhangiani

                                                                                                        January 8, 2007

Lawyers’ Chambers – Photostat Shops ?*

By Mukesh Jhangiani
United News of India

New Delhi (UNI) – A lawyer sought to be evicted from a Supreme Court Chamber he has used for 24 years has turned to a lower court for justice.

In the process, S K Bandyopadhyay, a senior government counsel, may be stepping on the toes of 34 occupants he says are in violation of rules.

The land’s highest court is said by lawyers who practise there to have limited facilities for advocates– let alone amenities for litigants.
”We are awfully short of space for both advocates and the litigant public,” says Ravi Mohan, an advocate who also shares space with an allottee.
He says there is a crying need for more chambers for lawyers and at least a common room where visitors can wait their turn, buy a cup of tea or escape adverse weather.
A recent Delhi High Court order took note of Bandyopadhyay’s petition that allottees ”are violating Rules” by ”subletting” or ”commercially installing photostat machines” in chambers.
Justice Anil Kumar also noted how an allottee ”is in Canada for the last five years” and ”not practi(s)ing” or another one ”never comes to the Supreme Court for a single filing (or) appearance.”
Three weeks ago, Bandyopadhyay complained to police against the Supreme Court’s Registrar, the caretaker and the Deputy Registrar ”for illegal sealing of my Chamber No 28.”
The petitioner says he has shared the chamber with allottee Advocate P K Mukerjee since 1982, paying rent and other charges.
The premises were sealed within hours of the Supreme Court rising for winter vacation on December 16.
Bandyopadhyay says his computer unit, furniture, telephone, books, journals and more than 150 files and records of pending cases are all in the chamber, which has rendered him unable to work.
He has invoked his right to information for rules under which his application five years ago for chamber space was considered– and denied late last year.
Six years ago, Mukerjee, then about 80, informed the Registrar that on account of age he had ”reduced my work (of) filing and appearance” while ”my other occupant (Bandyopadhyay)… fulfils the criteria.”
In December 2002, Assistant Registrar V K Nigam wrote to Bandyopadhyay that he was directed by India’s Chief Justice to obtain a letter of consent from Mukerjee ”before your request for joint allotment with him may be considered.”
In October 2005, Mukerjee wrote to the Deputy Registrar that he had ”no objection” to the Chamber being allotted to Bandyopadhyay if he cleared arrears due against the allottee.
Here are some prevalent violations listed by the petitioner:
— 20 occupants have been subletting or commercially installing Photostat machines in chambers;
— Occupant residing at Canada for the last five years, without practice in India;
— Occupant never comes to Supreme Court for filing or appearance;
— Occupant residing out-station not practising for last 20 years;
— Occupant is a housewife not engaged in legal profession;
— Occupant not opened chamber once in last 20 years;
— Occupant given co-allottee status with his father after a year in practice.
UNI MJ PK ND1120

Snags in Hiring More Judges To Dispense Justice ! – By Mukesh Jhangiani

                                                                                                    November 3, 2002

Snags in Hiring More Judges To Dispense Justice !

By Mukesh Jhangiani
United News of India

New Delhi (UNI) – Notwithstanding Supreme Court directives, States claim they have ”serious difficulties” in raising the strength of judges to dispense justice to the wronged, whose ranks continue to swell.

Informed sources say the matter also figured at the Chief Ministers’ conference in the past fortnight and the Centre has been requested to make ”necessary submissions” before the apex court on financial constraints in implementing its judgement.

The court judgement on March 21 favoured a ten per cent annual increase in judges strength over the next five years, which is estimated by Law and Justice Ministry officials as likely to cost thousands of crores of Rupees.
Considering population, India is rated by experts to have among the lowest number of judges in the world, only 10.5 per million people in India as against 50.9 in Britain, 57.7 in Australia, 75.2 in Canada, and 107 in the United States.
The never-ending pendencies and all too frequent adjournments– which delay and proverbially deny justice– symptomise the teetering state of the country’s judicial system. It may have unseated a prime minister but it is known to routinely let common criminals– blue collar and white collar– slip away.
Top law professionals acknowledge that the shockingly low– 6.5 per cent– conviction rate in serious crimes tells potential law-breakers they have a 93.5 per cent chance of getting away.
”That,” says Prof Satyaranjan Sathe, Honorary Director of Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, a Pune-based private research group, ”is one of our biggest worries– there is not much out there to deter a violator.”
— January 2, 1975: An explosion at a public function at Samastipur, Bihar kills India’s Railways Minister. The case is transferred to nine judges, statements of two of seven accused have been recorded and key witnesses dropped– as untraceable or not having come forward.
— January 10, 1999: A reckless driver in the Capital mows down six human lives in a night. The accused is pursuing Business Administration studies abroad while the trial continues.
— July 25, 2001: Driving home from Parliament during lunch break, a Member is shot dead in broad daylight as she arrives at her official residence barely a kilometre away. Eleven men charged are in jail, awaiting trial.
— February 23, 2002: A co-accused in shooting a bartender in May 2000 for not serving a drink is arrested as prime accused in the murder of a young man who dances with his sister at a wedding. The first trial is on. The accused is in judicial custody in the second matter, charges for which are yet to be framed.
Not just thugs or criminals, even professionals, administrators or businessmen are not afraid to break the law.
— August 21, 1989: Political foes allegedly plant a report in leading newspapers about huge offshore accounts supposedly held by a future Prime Minister. Leading politicians are named conspirators, but not one is convicted in 13 years. The simplest thing might have been to start by nailing those who planted the story. As an on line critic put it, the Press ”played a nefarious role in broadcasting these forgeries” and should bring out these names.
— March 12, 1993: Explosions rock several areas in Mumbai, killing 300, with RDX smuggled into the country by bribing a customs official Rs 20 lakhs to look away. The trial continues.
— August 8, 1995: A judge orders Delhi Municipal Corporation to compensate survivors of an employee who died after 15 years of abuse, and deduct the payment from the salary of ”the responsible officer.” Lawyers say the system is lazy and ill-equipped to punish officers in such cases; Taxpayers usually end up paying. No lessons are learnt.
— November 19, 1999: An industrialist owning more than one companies is allowed by a court to shut down one of them– a soft drink plant– reportedly after denying wages to hundreds of workers for eight months. Fired employees are in courts seeking statutory wages.
— January 4, 2000: A list made public unmasks thousands of big-spending industrialists defaulting on huge borrowings from State-owned banks, creating non-performing assets now touching Rs 110,000 crore. Cases continue, at further expense to taxpayers.
Examples abound. Years pass before trials take place, giving the guilty ample time to manipulate evidence or break witnesses. After a while memories may fade anyway, making testimonies easier to shake.
Critics argue that such a legal system is itself the best bet for an offender trying to escape punishment.
Even in India’s trumpeted labour laws, for instance, ”deterrent punishment is usually not provided. But even where it is provided, Courts tend to take a lenient view of offences,” said a veteran labour administrator, requesting anonymity.
Labour tribunals, the Government official went on, may help employees against small employers, but ”when we face big employers, we are stuck in technicalities that consume years.”
The chilling reality was spelt out matter-of-factly by an employer to an employee considering legal recourse over years of harassment. ”Remember, I have the organisation behind me, I won’t even have to go to Court. Our lawyers will do that. I will just hand over the file to them. You, on the other hand, will be on your own– whether it takes five years or seven years or longer!”
Lawyers with decades of experience say such attitudes are not altogether uncommon, nor such threats empty.
Critics say India’s judicial system is in a mess, with cases going on and on for years, giving little respite to the wronged and plenty of leeway to wrongers. The issue has often figured in Parliament.
India’s senior and subordinate judiciaries between them have less than 13,000 officers ranging from Munsifs to the Chief Justice and almost 24 million cases pending.
More than a fourth of them– 26.7 per cent– or 5.3 million cases have been in courts longer than three years, Home Ministry officials say.
Worse. More than half a million cases have been pending for over a decade– the bulk in the High Courts of Allahabad, 2,88,472; Calcutta, 1,27,190; Punjab and Haryana, 49,951; Bombay, 28,131; and the Capital, 35,865.
But the figures do not even begin to tell the impact on millions of lives at the receiving end of such dispensation.
Forty-eight years after a complainant filed a petition, Madhya Pradesh High Court was yet to deliver the verdict. Bihar High Court had a 47-year-old case pending, Calcutta High Court, a 43-year-old case, and Rajasthan High Court, a 42-year-old case pending.
Judgements in hundreds of cases are being delivered long after the hearing is over. At one count, Madras High Court alone had judgements pending in 566 cases, 229 of them six months after the hearing. A far cry, indeed, from what victims need !
”The consumer of justice,” India’s Chief Justice once observed, ”wants unpolluted, expeditious and inexpensive justice. In the absence of it, instead of taking recourse to law, he may be tempted to take the law in his own hands.”
In lay man’s terms: One should be able to walk into a court and walk out with a verdict within at most a few months.
Knowing that justice would be swift and punishment severe should deter perhaps a large many potential violators, reducing burden on courts and the exchequer and ending the prevailing cynicism.
Currently, experts fault mainly two key factors– complex and inefficacious laws and procedures and shortage of judges and courts.
They say Indian laws, procedures and practices tend to be cumbersome and ineffective.
The 93-year-old Code of Civil Procedures just amended seeks to compress the time frame for disposal of all civil cases within one year by setting a time limit for every stage of litigation and allowing at most three adjournments.
But it is yet to be seen how the changes work in practice.
On reforms in criminal justice system, a committee set up by the Home Ministry in November 2000 has yet to submit its findings. Its Chairman, V S Malimath, a retired judge who once served as a High Court Chief Justice in Karnataka and then in Kerala, has been busy the last two years writing effective procedures to punish crime.
The Judge recently told a conference of professionals that people ”have by and large lost confidence in the criminal justice system. Wherever I go people ask:
— How is it that when everyone around knows that the accused has committed the offence, the Courts find reason to acquit him?
— Why is it that when one Court finds the accused guilty, the High Court says he is not, and the Supreme Court says he is guilty?
— Why is it that it takes so many years, sometimes decades to dispose of criminal cases?
— How is it that the rich and the powerful who commit serious crimes are seldom punished?”
The paucity of courts is another key problem, experts say. And it’s compounded by vacancies. India’s 21 High Courts with a strength of nearly 650 judges have almost 150 vacancies and 12,000 plus subordinate courts have 1,684 vacancies. Almost a third of labour courts also remain unfilled.
Fifteen years ago, the Law Commission of India in its report titled ‘Manpower Planning in Judiciary: A Blueprint’ recommended raising the strength to at least 50 judges per million citizens.
As the Commission put it, India was persisting in a pattern of conscious judicial under-staffing followed by the British rulers in keeping with their colonial interests.
The findings were shelved. The case arrears kept mounting.
Some eighteen months ago, the authorities launched so-called Fast Track Courts to deal with long pending cases of heinous crimes and those involving undertrials in prison, the idea being that no one should be in prison longer than necessary.
More than 800 Fast Track Courts now working are reported to have cleared nearly 64,000 cases.
Experts say they see no reason why fast Track Courts should not cover undertrials on bail– to put them where they belong. They say the move has either not been considered or has been dismissed not to inconvenience those resourceful enough to obtain bail in heinous offences.
Imagine the effect, if the high and mighty on bail found guilty were sent behind bars– not walking free.
Seven months ago, on March 21, the apex court ordered a phased increase in the strength of judges over the next five years.
In mid-July, the Union Government announced it had ”initiated necessary action” to increase the strength of Judges in Union Territories in compliance with the judgement.
The first sign of trouble, sources say, came at a meeting convened by Finance Minister Jaswant Singh on September seven at which State Finance Ministers voiced ”serious difficulties regarding the Constitutional, financial and administrative issues involved in implementing the Supreme Court judgement of 21-3-2002.”
On an average, a court costs Rs 25 lakhs to set up– Rs 15 lakhs to build the court room, Rs five lakh to furnish it and install computers and another Rs five lakhs to build judges’ residence– and Rs 11 lakhs a year to run.
Officials estimate that the cost of adding the numbers of judges as per the apex court directive may exceed Rs 10,000 crores.
The State Finance Ministers expressed difficulties pertaining to pay scales and other service conditions of subordinate judiciary ”including increase in judge strength and all other matters related thereto.”
The States’ financial woes and fears of going ”broke” trying to implement the judgement, were mentioned by Law and Justice Minister K Jana Krishnamurthi at a news conference on the eve of the Chief Ministers’ conference. He indicated that ”we are having talks” with the States authorities after which the apex court would be approached for directions.
On October 18, the Chief Ministers’ conference ratified the Finance Ministers’ findings without making any counter proposals, leaving it to the Centre to find a cure.
According to sources, Senior officials in the Home Ministry are giving final touches to proposals setting afresh ”additional judge strength required as per pendency and workload,” taking into account existing judicial vacancies.
Sources say the proposals estimate that the number of additional judges needed on the basis of the pendency and the judges’ average case disposal rate is 1,314. Cost estimate: Rs 700 crores.
UNI MJ RP GC1010

Snags in Hiring More Judges To Dispense Justice ! – By Mukesh Jhangiani – November 3, 2002

CJI Against ‘Undue’ Haste In Dispensing Justice – By Mukesh Jhangiani

                                                                                                    July 28, 2006

CJI Against ‘Undue’ Haste In Dispensing Justice*

By Mukesh Jhangiani
United News of India

New Delhi (UNI) – India’s Chief Justice has advocated more judges, more courtrooms and double shift courts, but cautioned against ”undue haste” in dispensing ”justice.”

   Delivering Justice Sobhag Mal Jain Memorial Lecture on Delayed Justice on Tuesday, Justice Y K Sabharwal acknowledged delays and aging backlogs.

The tone was set by Himachal Pradesh Governor V S Kokje who was emphatic that ”delay defeats justice.”
A former Judge, Governor Kokje cited the near absence of adequate compensation to victims and wondered if it’s ”justice at all.”
Many a times, he said, a winner is really a loser considering the costs and years spent in courts.
Supreme Court Bar Association President M N Krishnamani, in introductory remarks, criticised outright dismissal of a bulk of matters filed before the apex Court, calling it just ”quantitative” justice.
A Senior Advocate, Krishnamani also criticised long adjournments, pointing out that it made little sense to adjourn a matter for a year because someone is a bit indisposed.
Such practices contribute to delays, he said.
Justice Sabharwal acknowledged Courts’ obligation to deliver ‘prompt and inexpensive’ justice to those who suffer physically, mentally or economically and seek redress without taking law into their own hands.
He recounted judges’ role in enlarging and enforcing human rights and handling Public Interest Litigation, saying it brought courts ”closer to the oppressed and weaker sections of the society.”
But he said Indian Courts ”held in high esteem” around the world, faced ”growing criticism” at home– sometimes uninformed or ill-informed.
”There is growing criticism, sometimes from uninformed or ill-informed quarters about the inability of our Courts to effectively deal with and wipe out the huge backlog of cases.”
He said delay in dispensing justice ”is a major problem being faced by Indian Judicial system.”
He acknowledged how process-induced delays result in miscarriage of justice.
”Long delay,” Justice Sabharwal said, ”has also the effect of defeating justice in quite a number of cases. As a result of such delay, the possibility cannot be ruled out of loss of important evidence, because of fading of memory or death of witnesses.
”The consequences thus would be that a party with even a strong case may lose it, not because of any fault of its own, but because of the tardy judicial process, entailing disillusionment to all those who at one time, set high hopes in courts.”
He said delay in disposing of cases affected not only ordinary cases but even those which by their very nature, call for early relief.
”The problem of delay and huge arrears stares us all and unless we can do something about it, the whole system would get crushed under its weight,” Justice Sabharwal said.
At the same time, he said, ”we must guard against the system getting discredited and people losing faith in it and taking recourse to extra legal remedies with all the sinister potentialities.
”Many times such inordinate delay contributes to acquittal of guilty persons either because the evidence is lost or because of lapse of time, or the witnesses do not remember all the details or the witnesses do not come forward to give true evidence due to threats, inducement or sympathy.
”Whatever may be the reason, it is justice that becomes a casualty.”
Experts have long voiced concern over poor conviction rate– 6.5 per cent– in heinous crimes as a factor that encourages criminal behaviour rather than deter it.
Justice Sabharwal told audience that India’s international trade and other commitments made it ”necessary to have an efficient and effective justice delivery system at affordable costs.”
But, he said, courts have no magic wand to wipe out the huge pendency of cases nor can they ignore injustices and illegalities.
”If the courts start doing that, it would be endangering the credibility of the Courts and the tremendous confidence they still enjoy from the common man.”
He said volumes of Law Commission recommendations and expert reports have not enabled the system to bridge the gap between institution and disposal of cases or even make a dent in the mountain of arrears.
The inadequacy of research on Indian legal and judicial system was also criticised by Governor Kokje who said he was trying to help remedy it in Himachal institutions.
Presumably alluding to Law Commission suggestions to quintuple the number of Judges, he pointed to judicial vacancies and said if finding ten judges is difficult where would one find fifty.
Among steps Justice Sabharwal stressed were filling high court vacancies, setting up more courts, holding courts in two shifts, managing caseloads, giving judiciary financial autonomy, settling disputes through mediation and other ways and plea bargaining.
Justice Sabharwal suggested making it a practice to estimate additional facilities needed to adjudicate rights and offences new laws create– as Americans do.
He also suggested using computers, Internet and video conferencing, sharpening judges’ adjudicatory skills through training, curbing frivolous government litigation, framing rules for easier service of summons and making adjournments cost.
For instance, the sanctioned strength of High Court Judges is 726, and the actual strength 588, leaving 138 vacancies. The sanctioned strength of subordinate judges is 14,582 and the working strength– on April 30, 2006– 11,723, implying 2,860 vacancies.
He made it clear that the backlog ”cannot be wiped out without” hiring more judges, particularly when the institution of cases is likely to increase, not come down, in coming years.
”We will have more litigation in future when those sections of the society, who have remained oppressed and unaware of their legal rights, become more aware of their rights due to spread of legal literacy, and increased awareness equipped by effective legal aid and advice.”
”While laying stress on the urgent need of elimination of delay and reduction of backlogs, we cannot afford to act in undue haste so as to substitute one evil for another one.
”Stress on speed alone at the cost of substantial justice may impair the faith and confidence of the people in the system and cause greater harm than the one caused by delay in disposal of cases.”
His message: the quality of justice must not suffer on account of quantity.
UNI MJ

Simplify Language Of Laws Of Land: PM – By Mukesh Jhangiani

March 6, 2005

Simplify Language Of Laws Of Land: PM*

By Mukesh Jhangiani
United News of India

New Delhi (UNI) – Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today launched India’s first national legal literacy mission: 2005-10 with a call to simplify the language of laws of the land.

”The complex legal language of our statutes acts as a hurdle to legal literacy… compounded by the intricacies of legal language in judicial pronouncements,” Dr Singh told invitees at the launch at Vigyan Bhavan in New Delhi.

He said ”an attempt should be made to simplify the language of the law so that any one who reads judgements and laws can easily understand their true meaning.”
The legal literacy mission is intended to empower millions of disadvantaged and other Indian citizens through awareness and free legal aid.
”This mission is a step in the direction of empowering people to enjoy their rights,” Dr Singh said. ”Equality in law requires equal access to law for this noble principle to translate into reality.”
Prime Minister Singh reminded that Article 39A of the Constitution gives a directive to the States to ensure that the operation of the legal system promotes justice on a basis of equal opportunity.
”It directs the State to provide free legal aid with the aid of suitable legislation or schemes. It also directs it to ensure that opportunities for securing justice are not denied to any citizen for reason of economic or other disabilities.”
He said the dictum that ignorance of law is no excuse ”creates a duty on the part of government” to make people aware of laws it enacts.
In spite of their publication in Gazette, due to low literacy, a majority of the population is not aware of its rights and duties, he said.
”This is an initiative that is dear to me and has my whole hearted support,” Dr Singh said.
The Mission has identified a set of beneficiaries it immediately expects to address: children, minority communities, victims of militancy, victims of crime, disaster and disease, child and bonded labour, landless farming community, dalits and tribal communities, especially in the northeast, farmers hit by droughts and floods, trafficked girls and sex workers and the poorest of the poor.
”From Ignorance to Legal Empowerment” was the goal proclaimed as part of the Mission’s emblem and mascot unveiled by the Prime Minister jointly with India’s Chief Justice Ramesh Chandra Lahoti and Law and Justice Minister Hans Raj Bhardwaj.
Justice Lahoti recalled the founding fathers’ vision of India as just and equitable for all citizens, but said ”this dream is yet to find fruition.”
In the 21st century– 57 years after independence– ”concepts such as just and equitable remain unfamiliar for the millions of people who still remain beyond the safety net of law and justice.”
Justice Lahoti said when citizens, particularly marginalised or underprivileged groups, know what the law has to offer them, they can recognise and challenge the injustices forcefully.
”The first step towards that knowledge of the law, which can transform people’s lives, is legal literacy.”
Bhardwaj told audience that the Mission was aimed at addressing the farthest geographical areas and the most vulnerable sections of the population in the first phase.
”The people need to be told the benefits of legal aid… otherwise they will continue to resign to their fate for exploitation and discrimination.”
The ceremony was also attended by Supreme Court Judges N Santosh Hegde and Y K Sabharwal and a number of other sitting and retired Judges, including Chief Justices of various High Courts.
Justice Hegde, Chairman of the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA), which has undertaken the Mission, reminded that legal aid was not charity– but an obligation of the State ”enshrined in Article 39A of our Constitution.”
He said NALSA was formed for this very purpose– ”to provide free and competent legal services and encourage the general public to settle their disputes amicably.”
A note of caution and realism was struck by Justice Sabharwal, Chairman of the Supreme Court Legal Services Committee.
”I must emphasise,” Justice Sabharwal said, ”that from Ignorance to Empowerment is a long journey and let us not hope that one NALSA will achieve it in next five years like a magic.”
”Only providing legal aid to settle a dispute is not a solution for the progress of our country.
”The solution lies in our hands if we can grant these people a window of social justice by way of monitoring why such benefits meant for them have not been delivered to them and if not delivered to them, then who in this country is responsible for such a lapse.
”We need to set examples of accountability in our Governance,” Justice Sabharwal said.
Asked afterwards whether legal literacy would include informing beneficiaries as to delays or other inadequacy involved in litigation, Justice Hegde said the effort would be to have matters resolved through pre-trial options.
These include Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) techniques such as conciliation, mediation, arbitration and so on. Litigation would be the last step, he said.
Justice Lahoti said three steps were being taken to reduce pendencies in courts.
They included relying in a big way on ADR, making justice delivery system more effective and introducing information technology in judiciary.
Justice Lahoti also mentioned two major studies which have been undertaken jointly along with Asian Development Bank and the United Nations Development Progamme to identify shortcomings in the system.
Asked about inquiry commissions, some of which end up in the archives, Justice Lahoti said governments– he was not referring to incumbent government– sometimes buy time by appointing inquiries essentially to let tempers cool.
UNI MJ RP GR1823