Friday, February 3, 2023

Supreme Court to continue hearing plea for construction of Judicial Vista

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The Supreme Court will continue its hearing in the plea seeking directions for a “Judicial Vista” over the land adjoining the present premises of the Apex Court enabling access to better and dignified working conditions for Judges, members of the Bar and officials of the registry of the Court.

On March 8, the bench of Justice Vineet Saran and Justice Aniruddha Bose had sought the response from both its administrative wing, as well as the Centre.

Pointing out that the workload and the number of judges, advocates and litigants have only increased whereas the size of the premises has not, the plea called for the construction of:
• A multi-level complex with 45-50 courtrooms and 5,000 chambers for senior lawyers;
• 10,000-car capacity underground parking facility;
• Adequate office, working and waiting space for law officers, advocates, standing counsel;
• Library, medical and photocopying facilities;
• Dedicated office space for all lawyer associations and bar councils.

The plea also sought direction to provide better facilities to the litigants visiting the premises of the Court for hearing of their cases, and further to direct the Government of India to Constitute an independent Central Authority for the sole purposes of judicial infrastructure exclusively funded by the Consolidated Funds India, for the purpose of ensuring that the infrastructure in the Courts/Tribunals in India is adequate for the Judges, Advocates and the Litigants, so as to ensure that he quality of dispensation of justice is not compromised.

The PIL under Article 32 of the Constitution of India has been filed by Supreme Court Advocate-On-Record Ardhendumauli Kumar Prasad.

The petition is seeking the realisation of the rights guaranteed under Article 14/19(1)(g)/21 of the Advocates, the staff and the Litigants at large.

The petition submitted that the independence of the judiciary is a part of the basic structure of the Constitution, and an important facet of a rule of law governed country.

The petition further submitted that the lack of judicial infrastructure, ie, Court Rooms, basic amenities, etc for Judges, Advocates and the Litigants across the country, in the Subordinate Judiciary and Tribunals, is a very serious issue, and the lack of autonomy of the Judiciary in the matter, and the dependence on the Central Government and the State Government, defeats the cause of judicial independence.

It is also submitted that the judicial infrastructural independence is quintessential for the furtherance of the cause of judicial independence, and hence the need to set up a National Judicial Infrastructure Authority, and falls within the most basic fundamental rights under Article 14/19(1 )(g)/21 of the Constitution.

It is further submitted that the proposed “Judicial Vista” is in furtherance of the infrastructural autonomy of the Court, and therefore the independence of the judiciary, which is a quintessential part of the rule of law and part of the basic structure of the Constitution, guaranteed by Article 14, as well aimed at a dignified work place for the thousands of Advocates practicing at the Court, as protected by Article 21 of the Constitution.

The proposed “Judicial Vista”, it is submitted, would cater to the needs of the Court, the Registry of the Court, the Advocates, their staff and the ultimate consumer of Justice, i.e, the litigant for decades to come.

The factual background leading to the filing of the PIL as follows:

India became independent on 15th August, 1947 and became republic on 26th January, 1950 and the Constitution of India was implemented to govern the Country.

However, despite more than 70 years of the coming into force of the Constitution, the judicial organ is dependent.

As provided under Article 124 of the Constitution of India, the Supreme Court of India was inaugurated ceremonially on 28th January, 1950 with a strength of six Judges. At that time, the Court started functioning in Princes’ Chamber of Parliament House, as a make-shift arrangement, and since the Federal Court had been functioning in the same premises till then.

As per the records available to the petitioner, in 1950, a little above 1000 cases were filed before the Court and the Court rendered judgments in about 50 cases.

However, the necessity of a separate building for the Court was felt and the present premises of the Court were constructed and the Court started functioning in the present premises in 1958. Initially, only five Court Rooms were constructed. In the meanwhile, the strength of the Court was increased from 8 to 11 Judges in 1956 due to the increasing work-load.

Therefore, five Court rooms were available for 11 Judges.

When the work-load increased further, the strength of the Court was accordingly increased from 11 to 14 Judges in 1960. However, no additional infrastructure was provided.

The Petitioner noted that the number of Advocates practicing before this Court were a few hundred, most of whom were regular practitioners of some High Court and used to visit the Court only for the hearing of their matters. However, only Agents were required to regularly attend the Court, but the infrastructure available in the premises was sufficient to cater to their needs.

In view of increasing work-load, the strength of the Judges has been increased twice, firstly from 26 to 31 in 2008 and again from 31 to 34 in 2019. However, the infrastructure was not enhanced proportionate to the growth of the Court, the work-load and the practicing Bar.

It is submitted, the structure built in 1958 for a much smaller Court is presently catering to a much larger Court. It is submitted that the work load in this Court is amongst the largest in the World, and the regularly practicing Bar is one of the highest for any Apex Court globally.

Presently, the Court, apart from having a full working strength of 34 Judges, has more than 2000 Advocates on the Rolls of the Court as Advocates on Record, several hundred Senior Advocates, and other regularly practicing Advocates. Further, there are thousands of people employed in the Registry of the Court, Members of the Media, apart from Clerical and other staff of the Advocates on Record/ Senior Advocates/Advocates. The Court is also a learning ground for interns, who are training in the law.

On any Miscellaneous day, thousands of people enter the high security zone, and attend the proceedings, during the pre-pandemic times. The CourtRooms, the Corridors, Entry Gates, Parking, Library, Cafeteria/Canteen, etc are always over crowded, and many times, Senior Advocates/Advocates/ Clerks/Litigants have had to push through the crowd.

The infrastructure of the Court has not proportionately expanded with the growth of litigation and work load, except a few new Courtrooms have been carved out in the old structure. However, these new Courtrooms do not have adequate space for lawyers even to stand before the Court.

Even though the Court of the Chief Justice of India has the largest CourtRoom, it does not adequately accommodate the members of the Bar and their staff, due to lack of space. The problem of space is often faced in the Court of the Chief Justice of India during the hearing of several constitutionally important matters, as well as during Oath Ceremonies of the Judges or Full Court References.

In March 2021, the then Justice and now Chief Justice N.V. Ramana, reflecting on the poor conditions at some courts, had said that the Central and the State governments should come together to create a National Judicial Infrastructure Corporation to cater to the rising need for judicial infrastructure in the country.

“Talking of impediments in the path of modernisation, financial constraints must never come in the path of progress. There is a need for the Centre and States to co-operate and create a National Judicial Infrastructure Corporation, as a one-time measure, to cater to the need for judicial infrastructure in the country. Such a corporation would bring the uniformity and standardisation required to revolutionize judicial infrastructure,” he said.

In February this year, the CJI had called out the lack of adequate support from the government in improving the judicial infrastructure in the country.

The CJI had said that mere allocation of funds will not be enough for the same and an institutional mechanism needs to be put in place for coordinating and overseeing the improvement of judicial infrastructure.

“Mere allocation of funds is not enough. The challenge is to put the available resources to optimum use. I have been pursuing the government for setting up statutory authorities, both at the Centre and at the States. I am hoping for a positive response soon,” he said.

While judicial infrastructure needs to be improved, they have unfortunately not been meeting the basic minimum standards in the area, he said.

The petitioner-in-person is the secretary of the Supreme Court Bar Association and came up with this vision of Judicial Vista, which will help in shaping future advocates by giving this standard of work environment.

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