Saturday, April 13, 2024

CJI Chandrachud speaks on adjournment culture, says repeated requests for delays in proceedings affects efficiency and integrity of legal system

Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud has expressed his strong reservation against the adjournment culture, stating that repeated requests for delays in proceedings leads to far-reaching implications on the efficiency and integrity of legal system.

Speaking during the All India District Judges Conference at Kutch in Gujarat, the CJI said that this culture of adjournments effectively suspended time within a case, prolonging the agony of litigants and perpetuating the cycle of backlog.

He said ithat in today’s times, common citizens felt that adjournment had become a part of the judicial system. Calling the perception as disheartening, he said the adjournments, which were never intended to be common place, have now become normalised within the judicial process.

Judges, therefore, have to be conscious of this fact, because while even one adjournment might look like a routine affair, it can have severe ramifications for the litigants, he noted.

The CJI gave example of a farmer entangled in a property dispute, saying that in case the outcome of this legal battle did not come to light during the farmer’s lifetime, the burden would fall upon their legal heirs, who may find themselves embroiled in protracted legal proceedings long after their loved one’s passing.

The judiciary should not wait for the citizens to die before their case was decided by a court of law.

Asking whether this could be termed as a clear violation of the citizen’s fundamental right to access justice, he said that the concept of access to justice should extend beyond mere access to the courts; it should also guarantee that citizens receive timely judgments from courts of law.

Speaking about the adjournment culture, he said that the concept of access to justice should extend beyond mere access to the courts; it should also guarantee that citizens receive timely judgments from courts of law.

Stating that the district judiciary formed the backbone of the legal system, the CJI said the purpose of organizing this Conference was to celebrate the commitment and role of the district judiciary. At the same time, it was important to listen directly from the judicial officers about what was affecting the working of the district judiciary and how it could be improved.

He said everyone, who was part of the judiciary individually and collectively, has volumes to learn from various perspectives and, most importantly, from each other. All one needed was the humility to recognize this vast scope for learning and create platforms for such an exchange.

This conference aimed to promote introspective discourse and constructive dialogue, fostering an environment where ideas can flourish and solutions can be sought. To facilitate this exchange, three sessions have been organised, each delving into critical aspects of the judicial system.

The first session will focus on the role of the district judiciary as the first responder of the judicial domain. Here, the challenges and responsibilities that come with this pivotal position will be explored, emphasizing the need for proactive and efficient judicial intervention.

The second session will address the crucial issue of infrastructure and resources, with a focus on improving the work culture within the courts. As custodians of justice, it is incumbent to ensure that the judicial machinery operates smoothly and efficiently, with adequate resources to support the endeavours of the judiciary. The third and final session will delve into the transformative power of technology in judicial processes.

He said as the attention was drawn towards the overarching concerns that confront the judiciary, it was imperative to delve into a comprehensive exploration of the challenges that beckon focus and necessitate a united and determined response.

The CJI further said that the district judiciary assumed an indispensable role within the legal framework of the society. It served as the primary interface between the justice system and local communities. However, the district judiciary needed to constantly reflect and evolve its working, so that the faith of citizens was maintained.

When a common citizen interacted with the district judiciary, several key issues may impact their experience and access to justice. One of the foremost challenges was the development of adequate infrastructure to support the needs of the district judiciary and the citizens it serves.

Infrastructure encompassed physical facilities such as court houses, court rooms, and administrative offices. Many districts faced shortages of such facilities, leading to overcrowded court rooms, insufficient space for legal proceedings, and delays in case hearings. Citizens may encounter long wait times and difficulties navigating congested court premises, hindering their access to timely justice, he noted.

The focus must be on developing adequate infrastructure, which could accommodate not only the current composition of the district judiciary, but was also modern in its facilities, as well as cognizant of the emerging challenges.

While the infrastructure aspect would be solved by the collective efforts of high courts and the state governments with necessary inputs from the district judges, certain issues were within the control of the district judiciary and could be solved at a local level, he added.

Speaking about the significant backlog and an alarming level of pending cases, the CJI said it presented a formidable challenge to the efficient administration of justice and the timely resolution of legal disputes.

The issue required a multi-faceted approach encompassing systemic reforms, procedural enhancements, and the deployment of technological solutions.

Efforts to streamline court procedures, expedite case disposal, and promote alternative dispute resolution mechanisms could help alleviate the burden on the judicial system. This was where the role of district judges became crucial, he stressed.

He said there was a rising apprehension that district courts were increasingly reluctant to entertain matters concerning personal liberty. The longstanding principle that ‘bail is the rule, jail is the exception’ seem to be losing ground, as evidenced by the growing number of cases reaching High Courts and the Supreme Court as appeals against the rejection of bail by trial courts.

The CJI said this trend warranted a thorough re-evaluation. He said he wanted to hear from the district judges why this trend was emerging across the country.

Emphasising ‘critical’ importance of inclusivity and diversity within the judiciary, he said it was heartening to note that strides have been made towards achieving greater gender representation, with women now constituting 36.3 percent of the working strength of the district judiciary.

He said the recent recruitment trends indicated a positive shift, with more than 50 percent of selected candidates in the last Civil Judge (Junior Division) recruitment exam being women in 14 out of the 16 states examined.

However, while progress has been made in terms of gender representation, there remained a pressing need to ensure that the judicial institutions were truly inclusive and accommodating for all. It was concerning to note that despite the presence of female judges, amenities and facilities catering to their specific needs were sorely lacking, noted the CJI.

Noting that only 6.7 percent of toilets in District Court complexes have facilities for sanitary napkin vending machines and were female-friendly, he said this was inadvertently putting an additional burden on women, hindering their ability to participate seamlessly in the professional arena.

Stating that only 13.1 percent of District Court complexes had the availability of childcare rooms or facilities, he said these gaps in the infrastructure were not just physical; they represented symbolic barriers that obstructed the potential of women in the judiciary.

Recognizing that childbearing and childcare are significant life choices, the absence of adequate facilities not only placed an undue burden on women but also signalled a profound deficit in the commitment to providing an inclusive and supportive workplace, added the CJI.

Speaking about the ‘staggering’ vacancy rates for the seats reserved for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, constituting 66.3 percent of the total unfilled posts, he said it highlighted the urgent need for proactive recruitment strategies.

Additionally, the vacancy of support staff at 27 percent underscored the importance of addressing staffing needs alongside judicial officer recruitment.

Furthermore, inclusivity did not merely mean the presence of a diverse set of people. It also reflected a culture. Quite often, judgments coming from district courts use gender-stereotypical language, which denigrated the dignity of women.

The judges in the district judiciary must be conscious of the language they use in court proceedings and judgments. After all, language holds immense power and influence within the realm of law and justice, noted the CJI.

He said the words used by judges not only reflected norms and attitudes, but also shaped perceptions and outcomes. When judgments employed gender-stereotypical language or perpetuate biases, they perpetuated systemic inequalities and contributed to the marginalization of women within the legal system.

At the same time, the persistence of regressive terminology and outdated designations, such as ‘Subordinate Court Staff’ and ‘Jamadar,’ in certain states’ service rules reflected a colonial mindset that must be rectified.

He said embracing modern categorizations was essential to fostering a workplace culture that is inclusive and equitable for all employees.

Ensuring adequate judicial infrastructure was not merely about physical structures. Technological advancements can facilitate court processes. The evolution of judicial infrastructure must also include developing technological infrastructure.

He said technology was not a privilege reserved for the elite; it was a tool for all those for whom the delivery of justice was intended.

Just as sunshine was said to be the best disinfectant, technology was the best tool at our disposal to eliminate the inefficiency and opacity surrounding judicial processes.

As per the CJI, the full potential of technology must be tapped to overcome the procedural barriers to justice. In pursuit of this goal, the e-Courts Project has been initiated, aiming to provide qualitative and speedy justice through efficient court management.

This project recognizes the essential correlation between judicial infrastructure and the quality and speedy dispensation of justice. By leveraging technology and digital solutions, the court procedures can be streamlines, it can reduce delays, and enhance transparency in the legal system.

Stating that no one must be left behind in the pursuit of justice, he said accessibility should extend beyond urban centers and reach remote areas, ensuring that every citizen, regardless of their location or socio-economic status, can access the justice system.

Moreover, inclusivity required considering the diverse needs of all stakeholders, including litigants, witnesses, and legal professionals. Technology should be harnessed to provide alternative modes of court processes, such as video conferencing and online filings, making it easier for individuals to participate in legal proceedings without physical barriers.

He said a cause for concern arose from the fact that only 57.4 percent of courtrooms in the district judiciary have VC-enabled computers on the judge’s dais, as per data submitted by judicial officers on iJuris.

This deficiency in digital infrastructure raised questions about the effectiveness of virtual court proceedings and impedes the goal of providing efficient and accessible justice.

He further spoke about the influence of social media, stating that in recent times, there has been a noticeable increase in judges facing criticisms and commentary on social media platforms.

As per the CJI, even if he said just a single word on the bench, it seem to get reported faster than a speeding bullet. But, should the judges be unduly affected by this?

He said the role of a judge was to dispense justice impartially, without being swayed by external pressures or public opinions.

He said the Supreme Court, in coordination with the High Courts, was making active efforts to remedy the problems faced by the district judiciary.

Last year, the Apex Court launched a handbook on combating gender stereotypes, and a report on infrastructure, vacancies, and ICT enablement of the judiciary. Digital SCR and e-SCR now allow district court judges to find precedents even without paying a subscription fee to a private publisher.

Through platforms such as NJDG, JustIS and i-Juris, the district judges can monitor the progress of their work on a real-time basis.

Stating that nothing was impossible if the whole judiciary worked together to find effective solutions. In this collective endeavour, the district judiciary played a crucial role as the first responder.

As per the CJI, the Supreme Court could only create schemes and policies, but it was the push by the district judiciary, along with the administration, which changed the ground reality. The judiciary was here not only to dispense justice, but also to engage in a continuous process of introspection and improvement.

The inputs and insights of the district judiciary were invaluable in shaping the evolution of the legal system, he added.


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