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Above: Supreme Court/Photo: Anil Shakya

CJI Ranjan Gogoi is making institutional changes, but the setting up of an in-house think tank raises questions about other similar institutions  

By Vrinda Agarwal

The Supreme Court has been in the headlines this year for many reasons, including a slew of landmark verdicts. And on November 1, it grabbed headlines again when Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi announced the setting up of an in-house think tank called the Centre for Research and Planning (CRP). While this initiative has garnered praise, questions are being raised about whether such a think tank was necessary at all, given the vast pool of knowledge and resources already available to each Justice of the Supreme Court.

A press release issued by the Supreme Court states that the CRP’s main mandate will be to carry out cutting-edge research into “fundamental jurisprudence and doctrines of law” and “judicial reforms for improvement in justice delivery and judicial independence”. To this end, it has been assigned the following specific tasks: (a) conduct its own research and harness those relevant to the judicial system; (b) create a network of leading independent scholars in key domain areas; (c) create a permanent and accessible database of relevant knowledge through a series of publications, working papers, thematic briefs, case notes; (d) prepare summaries of the Supreme Court’s key judgments for general audiences in non-technical language; (e) conduct periodic seminars on doctrinal issues.

It is widely believed that the high pendency of cases, delays in judicial appointments, lack of physical infrastructure in courts and poor quality of legal education will be some of the focus areas of the CRP. It will be headed by Dr Mohan Gopal (academician and former vice-chancellor of National Law School of India University, Bangalore).

However, the CRP’s prescribed mandate seems to overlap with that of other similar institutions. Its creation thus raises questions over the efficacy of these institutions. There exists a network of national and state-level judicial academies for the purpose of strengthening the administration of justice through judicial education, research and policy development.

There is also the Law Commission, constituted every three years, for the purpose of reviewing laws that need to be updated and suggesting legal reforms. The Bar Council of India (BCI), a statutory body in existence since 1961, is responsible for suggesting reforms for improving the quality of legal education and practice. There is a case to be made for these institutions to be galvanised before new institutions are set up to work on similar areas.

“Don’t fill it with academicians”

RUPINDER SURI, senior advocate in the apex court, tells INDIA LEGAL that while the attempt to set up a think tank is laudable, it is not the first attempt of the Supreme Court to do so. He said it is necessary for the Court to learn from past shortfalls and ensure that the Centre for Research and Planning utilises people who are aware of  the ground realities. Excerpts: 

The Supreme Court led by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi has taken a laudable step by creating an in-house think tank within the Centre for Research and Planning. This Centre would be the key to building knowledge infrastructure for the judiciary. This would bring uniformity across India on current trends on the judicial canvas.

There can be no doubt that each judge is good, but it is questionable whether judges interact with each other on issues of importance. Similarly, each judicial academy is good, but it is doubtful whether information is shared among them. This body would bridge the gap. It would make a highway through islands of judicial thinking and bring everybody onto the same page. It would bring clear thinking and uniformity in judgments as well as judicial interpretations.

Another area which this think tank seeks to work towards is to ‘translate’ Supreme Court’s judgments into a language that is easily understandable and accessible to the common man. This is vital for ensuring effective access to justice.

The issues which come for adjudication before the Supreme Court have roots in the past, whereas judgments have to decide the present and govern future scenarios. Changes due to technology and business are so rapid that law is normally lagging behind. Sometimes, even before a legislative enactment is passed, it becomes obsolete and irrelevant. There is a dire need for law to keep pace with the changes.

The Centre for Research and Planning in its ideal functioning state would fulfil this requirement and mitigate the rigours of change. Futuristic planning would become a part of legal adjudication. However, this is a normative thought till it is effectively implemented.

It is also not clear whether lawyers have any role to play in the Centre for Research and Planning. This is not the first attempt of the Supreme Court in setting up such a body. It is necessary for the Court to learn from past shortfalls and ensure that this Centre reaches its full potential. Filling the Centre with academicians, however bright, without utilising people who are aware of ground realities can make the entire functioning of the Centre irrelevant. It would require constant supervision and periodical correction.

Eminent legal scholar, Professor Upendra Baxi, told India Legal: “In principle, the setting up of an in-house think tank in the Supreme Court is an excellent idea but much depends on how its mandate is translated into practice. It seems similar with that of the Indian Law Institute (ILI) and National Judiciary Academy (NJA), Bhopal. The ILI, established more than 50 years ago, was envisioned as a sort of think tank. In fact, both ILI and NJA are under the chairpersonship of the learned Chief Justice of India, so I am not certain whether this arrangement to have a think tank housed within the Supreme Court was entirely necessary. Let us hope that with the setting up of the think tank, these institutions do not get compromised. We will, of course, have to wait for more details to emerge about its work before its impact and reach can be properly assessed.”

Professor NR Madhava Menon, founder director of NLS Bangalore, also sounded a word of caution while calling the creation of the CRP a welcome move. “For an institution as large and important as the Supreme Court, it is imperative that its knowledge needs are properly addressed. While CJI Gogoi appears serious about implementing institutional reforms, real change can usher in only when every single judicial officer of the country benefits from the work undertaken by the think tank. The onus will be on the Supreme Court to ensure that the benefit flows through. We will have to see how the recommendations of the think tank are acted upon by the chief justice.”

Ending his address during the inauguration of the CRP, CJI Gogoi said: “Both of these (opening of the Supreme Court to visitors and setting up of the in-house think tank) are experiments and let’s see what the future holds.”  It’s important that the think tank experiment turns out to be a successful one so that its existence stands justified.

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