Dear Activist Friends,
Yesterday, five of us – G R Vora, Sunil Ahya, Meenal Rege, Mohammed Afzal and I – went and met Justice (Retired) PB Sawant at his residence in Pune. We were joined by Justice (Retd) BG Kolse Patil, with whom I had discussed our agenda earlier on phone. We had this meeting to discuss how to build a citizen’s movement for better judicial accountability, and the role that Justice Sawant & Kolse Patil could play in inspiring and spearheading such a movement to reform the judiciary.
Currently, the Judicial Reforms discussion is confined to the conference halls and judicial reforms thinktanks run by experts such as Prashant Bhushan. For the purpose of bringing this movement out into the public domain, we discussed naming our campaign ‘Tareekh Pe Tareekh’, as it is something that common man easily relates with the judiciary.
(L to R: G R Vora, Mohd Afzal, Krish, Meenal Rege, Justice P B Sawant, Sunil Ahya and B G Kolse Patil.)
POINTS THAT WE DISCUSSED:
• If there is no timely justice, there is no rule of law, which means that there is no democracy.
• Clean administration in the judiciary is an urgent need. Currently, this is a neglected area as chief justices of high courts have their eyes on advancing their careers. Improving court administration does not win them brownie points for being elevated to the Supreme Court.
• Don’t slavishly address judges & magistrates as Your Lordship, Your Worship etc. (Say Sir instead.) Advocates’ associations must pass the necessary resolutions to stop the colonial practice of fawning before judges.
• Cleanly criticizing what judges do in administrative capacity is not Contempt of Court. Pointing out the judge’s administrative lapses is within every citizen’s rights – but do so with all propriety.
• Each judge has the necessary authority to streamline the procedural aspects and functioning of his own court, and to device methods of clearing backlogs etc. Each judge is responsible for administering his own court efficiently. Tell him so! Remind him, gently but persistently.
• After a judgment is delivered, anybody may analyze and criticize it, as long as he does not impute motives to the judge or indulge in name-calling. Clean criticism is also not Contempt of Court. Judgments may be criticized on the basis of factual errors, and errors of legal reasoning.
• We fearlessly criticize the prime minister and the government to death, but we can’t give a word of feedback to Judiciary, arguably India’s main bottleneck! For judicial reform to happen, this needs to change.
• The citizens’ blind and unreasoned fear of judiciary’s Contempt powers is paralyzing the Judicial Reforms agenda. People are just not speaking up. This needs to change. Activists and the public must speak out for Courts to become more accessible and responsive to people’s needs.
• Activists must educate common people to lose their fear of Contempt of Court and speak out in a clear voice for judicial reforms.
• Is there any real difference between judiciary in colonial era and now? Our courts & law equate activism and people’s agitation with criminal actions, sedition etc. – which is what the British used to do. This must change.
• It is not Contempt to point out to judges that there is corruption among the court staff, and in specific departments such as the court registry and the department that prepares cause-lists. It is dereliction of duty on the part of judges to let corruption flourish under their very noses, while turning a blind eye.
• Chief Justice of India alone cannot reform the judiciary. All the judges of the Supreme Court together can take the lead, but they must have support from High Courts and also the lawyers. Much can be set right by modifying the procedures and rules, without any enactments and amendments in law. For instance, adjournments should not be given for the asking, as it is currently.
• The government will need to be on board for those some key reforms that require enactment or amendments.
• In India, over 60 % of those who have valid cause for going to court are placed outside the sphere of the justice system by: (a) poverty (b) ignorance & backwardness (c) great physical distance from courts. For such reasons, courts are not available to nomadic tribes, adivasis, backward classes etc. and others who reside in the villages, and whose nearest court is at the Tehsil / Taluka.
• Supreme Court, High Court, Sessions, Magistrates Courts & City Civil Court – the main judiciary – currently have pendencies of over 3 crore cases. This is a desperate situation.
• Most pendencies and delays are on account of litigation by the rich in High Courts and Supreme Court, engaging powerful lawyers for a high stakes game. This involves a powerful machinery and frequent contact with court staff and judges, great complications due to maneuvering and machinations, and a lot of getting around laws and rules. Such cases are very time consuming, and get in the way of speedy disposal of pendencies.
• A lot of delays are created by senior counsels who have too much work, and therefore seek adjournments for their own convenience. As long as clients continue to run after senior counsels, this will continue to happen.
• Most of the common man’s cases, involving inheritance, rent act, contract act, property etc. are being with by special courts and tribunals such as consumer court, cooperative court, family court, quasi-judicial bodies etc. Pendencies are relatively low in these courts.
• To clear backlogs, we need more judges. Compared to India, USA has 8 times more judges and 4 times less population. Although shortage of judges is a huge problem in India, the judiciary is not pressing for new judges. There is no dearth of trained lawyers.
• It is necessary to run courts in three shifts – morning, day and evening sessions. Judges – especially those who have retired at early ages like 60 – can preside over morning and evening sessions.
What we discussed revolved around these letters that we recently sent to Chief Justice of India supported by 121 signatories from all over India.
To enable non-English speakers to understand and discuss the issues involved, the letter & covernote was translated in Hindi and Marathi by activists Sumer Bais and Meenal Rege respectively.
Addressed to Chief Justice of India S H Kapadia with whom the buck stops, this letter was also copied to:
1. Chief Justices of 17 High Courts of India
2. Presidents of 17 Bar Associations of India
3. Union Minister for Law & Justice Salman Khurshid
4. Secretary of Law & Justice Dept., Govt. of India
5. Chairman and Secretary of the 19th Law Commission, New Delhi.
In the near future, we will organize meetings in Mumbai for freeing the common man and the activist community of their phobias concerning the judiciary. JUSTICE P B SAWANT AND JUSTICE B G KOLSE PATIL HAVE AGREED TO ADDRESS SUCH MEETINGS and frankly address the fears that citizens have about Contempt of Court. They will also help us understand more about the administrative lapses of judges – for which we, the people of India, must fearlessly pull them up.