Sunday, August 27, 2006

Systemic reforms needed to rejuvenate the judiciary

As India celebrates this year as Year of Excellence in Judiciary, one needs to explore ways to rejuvenate the administration of justice at various levels. During a recent visit to Bhopal, the Chief Justice of India, Justice R.C. Lahoti said that one of the main reasons for the judiciary’s failure to deliver quick justice is the lack of manpower to clear the huge backlog of over 30 million cases. He also advocated c
hanges in the legal system to expedite justice.

Clearly, the increasing number of cases proves that the people’s faith in the judiciary is also increasing. But the number of judges is too small to handle the workload. One of the suggestions is for fixing a timeframe within which the case should be heard and decided. But what is required is both increasing the strength of the judges and the timeframe. At the same time, there is need for revamping the whole procedural law and bringing new laws which would reduce delays.

We still follow a legal system introduced by the British to suit their needs. Our lawmakers have designed the system in such a way that cases go on and on to give maximum chance to the accused to prove that they are innocent. One cannot blame them because the very system presented an opportunity to the law to be misguided.

The law enforcing authority (read Police) may be given more powers but with necessary safeguards so that petty cases are solved at the ground level itself, thus reducing the burden on the judiciary. Another solution is for revamping the procedural law, giving jurisdiction and authority to the police to deal with such offences which need not go to the courts.

Creating a new and parallel system, the same as the existing one, but only one with jurisdiction and authority to decide cases of petty nature can also be an answer. This will lead to the dilution of cases right at the inception stage. This will serve two purposes: easing the burden on judiciary; and settlement of these types of cases within a short time.

The aspect of appeal and re-appeal should be looked into. If a party to the dispute is not satisfied from the decision of the district court, it appeals to the High Court and, if still unsatisfied, goes to the Supreme Court. Though it is the discretion of the concerned court to allow the party to appeal, in most cases, the appeal is allowed. Consequently, loose implementation of the process of appeal leads to the loss of valuable time, though the higher court only hears the same facts again including the examination of the same witnesses.

Why, then, follow the same practice of wasting time and resources again and again? Clearly, provisions for appeal need to be tightened: the petitioner should have a substantial ground for seeking an order of appeal.

A careful study of the Criminal Procedure Code and the Civil Procedure Code would suggest that though these laws have numerous offences listed under various heads, some of the offences can be clubbed together. It would be appropriate to suggest that the minute distinction between various sections should be removed and offences of similar nature should find place in one section. This will go a long way in reducing the filing of a single case under various sections and thus help reduce the time and resources.

Keeping in view the increasing workload on the judges, it must be made explicitly clear how many cases a judge needs to hear everyday. Similarly, the region falling under the jurisdiction of a single judge should not be too large. Otherwise, it won’t be of any help because the judges will be forced to decide a large number of cases. Dividing regions into small numbers and appointing judge for every region would help reduce the burden on a single judge. The end result would be that each case could be decided within a reasonable timeframe.

Unfortunately, the Union Law Ministry has not done enough work on judicial reforms. The kind of importance this Ministry holds, one would have expected it to be treated at par with any other governmental department like Finance, Home or Defence. But this has not been the case. There is reasonable justification for increasing the budget for the Law Department. More resources should be allocated to the various branches of the Law Ministry keeping development and reforms in sharp focus.

Many state governments have put a moratorium on inducting new judges. This should be revoked, and regular induction of judges should take place on the basis of examinations. Also the time period of promotion of a Sessions Judge to the High Court should be reduced.

President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, while delivering the convocation address at Jodhpur Law University recently, suggested the creation of Indian Judicial Service (IJS). He promised to write to the government on this issue. The creation of IJS, on the pattern of the Indian Administrative Service (IAS), will help expedite pending cases as young judges will be more active, enterprising and render speedy service. The recruitment norms and procedures for the IJS could be on the lines of the Civil Services examination conducted by the Union Public Service Commission.

Institutes like the National Judicial Academy (NJA) in Bhopal should be given due attention. Every region in the country should have an institute based on the NJA model. The NJA’s basic aim is to train judges, improve their skill, and make them acquainted with legal fields like cyber law, arbitration law, environmental law etc. These areas, having developed in recent times, need to be given the attention they deserve.

National law schools in various parts of the country have been playing their part, by giving well-informed, well-moulded legal graduates. Encouragingly, there are more than 12 law schools all over the country.

As this year is being celebrated as Year of Excellence in Judiciary, we have to strive for the all round improvement in the judiciary.

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