The article highlights the issues facing the judiciary in India and emphasises the need for addressing these issues.
Separating judiciary from the executive
Today, the judiciary, especially the SC, is called upon to decide a large number of cases in which the government has a direct interest.
These can be politically sensitive cases too.
The framers of the Constitution understood the importance of the oath of office of judges of the Supreme Court of India (SC) and carefully designed its language.
The words, “without fear or favour” to “uphold the constitution and the laws” are extremely significant and stress the need for a fiercely independent court.
Article 50 of the Constitution provides: “The State shall take steps to separate the judiciary from the executive in the public services of the State.”
Master of roaster issue
The Chief Justice of India is the first amongst the equals but by the virtue of his office assumes significant powers as the Master of the Roster to constitute benches and allocate matters.
The SC has re-affirmed this position in a rather disappointing decision in Campaign for Judicial Accountability and Reforms v. Union of India, (2018).
The result has been catastrophic.
Many matters were either treated casually or deflected for no reason from serious hearing.
Accountability from legislature and executive
The SC is expected to seek strict accountability from the legislature and executive and any infraction of the Constitution and laws must be corrected.
Yet, this is not happening.
A country of billion-plus needs its highest court to stand for the people, not seemingly for the executive of the day.
Inherent and fundamental challenges
The judiciary is besieged by inherent and fundamental challenges.
Millions of pending cases, quality of judges and their decisions, organisational issues and its integrity and impartiality, need urgent attention.
Yet, in the last two decades precious little has been done.
Justice is eluding the common man, including the vulnerable sections of society.
Role and challenges judiciary faces
In recent years the Supreme Court has done little to stop or stem the degradation of democracy.
Some examples: Court’s refusal to strike down laws like UAPA that should have no place in a constitutional democracy.
Its unconscionable delay in hearing major cases.
The COVID-19 crisis has accelerated trend towards authoritarianism and the centralisation of power.
But the hearings and orders of the past few months show, the Supreme Court seems unable or unwilling to check these ominous trends.
The failure of the SC is in part a failure of leadership.
One chief justice has accepted a Governorship immediately on retirement, and another has accepted a Rajya Sabha seat.
Powers of the Master of the Roster are imperfectly defined, and can lead themselves to widespread misuse by the incumbent.
Suggestions to improve the Judiciary:
The Preamble of the Indian Constitution begins with ““We, the people of India”. So the powers of the Judiciary is also come from the people, like the executive and the legislature. The Judiciary has to accept this.
Revitalising the administration of justice: This is feasible if the CJI take concrete steps such as
Freeing himself from the bias in constituting benches and allocating cases
He can seriously introspect and review the actions of his immediate predecessors,
All this will restore the “rule of law” and the proper fulfilment of the provisions of the Constitution.
National Mission for Justice Delivery and Legal Reforms
The mission has been set up to ensure better access to justice by:
Reducing delays and arrears
enhancing accountability through structural change.
Computerization of district and subordinate courts
ICT infrastructure of the Supreme Court and the High Court
At present, Case Information System (CIS) 2.0 is being implemented across the country.
The Gram Nyayalayas Act, 2008 was enacted to provide for the establishment of Gram Nyayalayas
These are mobile village courts; aimed at providing inexpensive justice to people in rural areas
Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Mechanism:
Arbitration, Mediation, Conciliation and negotiation and
Lok Adalats: Community based dispute resolution mechanism
National Court Management System:
To address issues of case management, court management, setting standards for measuring performance of the courts and a national system of judicial statistics.
National Litigation Policy
Government regarded to be the biggest contributor (46%) to litigation in India
NLP introduced to reduce government litigations
Government also launched Legal Information Management and Briefing System as a database of all the ongoing cases with the government as a party
Fast Track Courts: for quick disposal of cases pending in the lower courts
Nyaya Mitra Scheme: Aims at reducing pendency of cases with special focus on those pending for more than 10 years.
Scrapping off redundant laws
The new Chief Justice must seriously introspect and free himself of the bias in constituting benches and allocating cases and take concrete steps to revitalise the administration of justice.
Only then will the rule of law be restored and the Constitution served.