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The panelists on the weekly India Legal show telecast on APN TV discussed at length the need for judicial reforms

There is no gainsaying the fact that the judiciary in India is crying for reforms. A plethora of problems have afflicted the judicial system in India—backlog of cases, lack of infrastructure in courts, pending vacancies of judicial officers in all tiers of the judiciary, poor access to justice for the deprived and the underprivileged, excruciatingly long time taken for the disposal of cases, redundant laws, inadequate use of technology, abject condition of undertrials, faulty bailing system… the list could go on and on.   

The recent weekly India Legal show telecast on APN TV discussed threadbare the need for judicial reforms in India and how the government and the judiciary must work collectively on the issue.

The panel included Ramesh Menon, managing editor, India Legal magazine; Justice RB Misra, former chief justice, Himachal Pradesh High Court; Justice VS Sirpurkar, former judge, Supreme Court; Vikas Singh, senior advocate, Supreme Court; and Professor (Dr.) MP Singh, chancellor, Central University of Haryana. All of them listed out the bottlenecks faced along the way and how things could be expedited. All issues were discussed and deliberated upon to the last detail with one aim—how the judicial system could be made more effective and responsive.

Justice Misra agreed that there are several pending cases. “Justice is right guaranteed to every citizen. Everyone should get justice easily and it should be affordable. The reach to justice and the reach for justice should be easy and without any partisanship. Legal education and awareness, support from the government and the common man’s hunger for justice play crucial roles.”

On National Judicial Appointments Commission

Sharing his views on the collegium system that has embroiled the center and the apex court in a tug of war, Prof Singh said: “It is not written in the constitution. It came from judicial interpretation. In 1993, the case, Advocates on Record vs Union of India first brought to light the Article 124 of the constitution which mentions that President shall appoint judges in consultation with the chief justice of India—which means that the chief justice’s consultation is important. And, on that basis the judgment of a larger bench came to form NJAC.”

Pointing out that transparency was important, Menon said, “No system is bad, it is made bad. The National Judicial Appointments Commission is good, the collegium system is good. We need good judges and for that we need transparency in the system. The whole democracy in India today is resting on judiciary.”

Singh stated that it was the judiciary’s responsibility to instill transparency. “When we talk about the functioning of the collegium system, it is the judiciary that has taken the onus. It means that the responsibility falls on the judiciary to appoint deserving people and bring in transparency into the system. If the judiciary interprets the constitution, it is obligatory for it to bring in transparency. Considering that the judiciary sets the criteria for aspirants, an independent committee should have been set up to review selected judges. The judiciary should have ensured fair play in the procedure of recruitment so that there is no room for nepotism. It has the right to appoint judges and has taken charge. That is good. But, it should not misuse the rights.”

Pointing out that the Memorandum of Procedure (MoP) is already under consideration of Supreme Court, Justice VS Sirpurkar said: “A debate between Supreme Court and government is going on. The court has picked up some points on the basis of suggestions given by the bar. I expect that the top court will consider all the aspect about the so called ‘transparency’, independence, will examine every case on the basis of merits. And it is only then the final MoP will come into effect.”

On Ethics and Efficiency of Judges

For Justice Misra, a judge will be good, if his sources are good. “The judges are appointed on the basis of written exam and interview but that doesn’t decide the character of the judge. It is yet to be ascertained whether he is honest, what are his principles, will he stay in the profession, so on and so forth.”

Sharing his understanding on the issue, Singh said: “There are two questions. First, the question on their training and second the quality of judges appointed in lower courts and even to some extent in high courts. Those who are getting a lot of cases, they are good judges, no doubt. But, those who are appointed by lobbying, the question definitely arises on their practice. And such cases are substantial. Also, there are many who actually deserve to be at a much higher position but don’t prefer as the income in this profession is not satisfactory. If today, the democracy has to function then it must increase the income in judiciary.”

On Accountability of Judges

When asked about the accountability factor, Justice Sirpurkar chipped in: “No doubt the judges are accountable but, along with it, the government, lawyers, litigants as well as the media are also accountable.”

On Malimath Committee

Menon referred to the recommendations of the Malimath Committee on Reforms of Criminal Justice System 2003 which suggested some crucial judicial reforms in the criminal justice system. “The report proposed that it is the duty of the states to protect the rights of all its citizens; the criminal justice system is 100 years old, now the modus operandi of crime has changed; the victims of the crime shall be given justice; they shall be vigilant on fault witness and security for witnesses, as there are many cases where the witnesses have been killed.”

While laying the onus on the government, Menon concluded: “The government has full responsibility for judicial reforms. If it wants, reforms can happen. It should give the facility of video conferencing in jails and courts as it will reduce a lot of time being wasted; Lok adalats can be given more powers to handle simple cases like check balancing, thousands of under trials are rotting, which these courts can deal; 100 percent filling of vacancies of judges is required, there should be no excuse for it; and, an adequate representation of women in judiciary is important.”

Compiled by Srishti Sonewal

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