With Justice N.V. Ramana taking over as the 48th Chief Justice of India on April 24, distinguished experts from the fields of law, jurisprudence legal education, technology are certain that Justice Ramana will find the best possible way to resolve challenges in his tenure.
The new CJI’s term will also fall under the spectre of the coronavirus pandemic, posing a challenge for the country, its people and the judiciary, for the second year running. While it was expected that surviving year one would be tough, the trumpeter return of newer strains with a more infectious punch has cast another cloud on the country.
Coronavirus impact on justice delivery
Which is why former Chief Justice M.N. Venkatachaliah told APN News Editor-in-Chief Rajshri Rai that Justice Ramana’s greatest priority would be to save the people of the country from the pandemic. Agreeing with the veteran judge, legal scholar Professor Upendra Baxi said justice delivery will have to continue with digital courts and hearings, as well as hybrid hearings which include both virtual and oral hearings. With virtual hearings becoming the norm, Professor Baxi said the cooperation of the bar is very important.
Praising the Apex Court for its adoption of virtual hearings, technology expert Avinash Ambale said the vision from the Supreme Court as regards to virtual hearings is phenomenal and added that last mile connectivity is preventing it from becoming a solution to even district and lower courts. “Artificial Intelligence models of the developed economies are being cut pasted in India,” he said, adding delivery of justice in India should be arrived at in an inter-disciplinary body comprising judges, technology and policy experts.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said the incoming CJI will face a huge challenge of continuing to dispense justice during the trying times of the pandemic. “The new CJI will have to balance the health concerns of the bar and bench and simultaneously consider the plight of less privileged and young lawyers with empathy,” Mehta said.
Highlighting another aspect of virtual hearings, former Allahabad High Court judge Justice Bhanwar Singh said some advocates have complained to him that court masters in virtual hearings mute them after giving them little to no time to expound after hearing the argument in brief. Singh said such a call should be left to the judges and not to court masters. He did add that if not for virtual courts, the number of cases would be multiplying during the time when the pandemic had laid the country low.
Relations with the Central government
Professor Baxi said,
“I think Justice Ramana as a senior judge in the collegium is very familiar with the roadblocks. So as chief justice of India, he can rectify the situation more ably. As a citizen, I don’t know what is holding up timely appointments in High Court and Supreme Court. As a citizen, I don’t know how the elevations and transfers are processed. As a citizen, I have no means of knowing why when the date of retirement of a judge is known beforehand, a timely succession plan is not put in place. I hope Justice Ramana sets things in order.”
Justice Bhanwar Singh said Justice Ramana is known for his wisdom and equanimity and would improve upon the relations between the judiciary and the government which have been at loggerheads. Such a mature relationship will enable him to fill up the vacancies in High Courts and reduce the pendency in the courts, he said. Similarly, he suggested that Justice Ramana utilize the powers under Article 127 of the Constitution and appoint ad-hoc judges to high courts from a pool of competent retired judges.
Former Supreme Court judge Justice Mukandam Sharma, who has known Justice Ramana since his days in the Delhi High Court, added that Justice Ramana should expedite filling up vacant posts, especially in district courts and high courts. “The Chief Justice is the leader, he has to take everyone along with him…he should be bold and independent and take decisions,” he said.
Focus on law education
Professor S. Surya Prakash, the Vice-Chancellor, Damodaram Sanjivayya National Law University, Vishakhapatnam, underlined Justice Ramana’s speech at the university’s convocation where he spoke about ensuring law education didn’t fall below its high standards.
“There are law courses with fees from Rs 5,000 per annum to Rs 5 lakh per annum. Justice Ramanna has expressed his concern in this regard. BCI has also put in efforts to make it better. Let’s see how this is fixed and all legal education has a standard, otherwise it is going to be a disaster.”
Professor Surya Prakash said to understand the law, it is necessary to be socially conscious and Justice Ramana is has the best interests of society in his mind. “Justice Bhagwati said the poor in the country have not seen the majesty of the law. Access to justice is a very big challenge for the common man in this country, law colleges and law universities should go for legal aid camps, Lok Adalats etc and render legal services to the poorest of the poor,” Surya Prakash said.
Access to justice for the common man
Prof Baxi added, “Justice Ramana is also known for his interest in access to justice. He is also known for some very interesting decisions, among them was one in February this year on the Najeeb case and in which the Court said that there should not be endless investigation by the investigating agency and the prosecutor. Prosecution has become a synonym now for justice; the process is fast becoming the punishment. “
The professor added,
“The CBI, NIA, NCB, ED tend to file voluminous charge sheets with a large number of witnesses and with a large number of forensic examination tests. The person is indefinitely incarcerated even if he is cooperating with the agency. Justice Ramana has taken the view that endless interrogations and long delays are not permitted even in cases where the statute imposes self-imposed restriction as a matter of policy, on bail matters. He has his task cut out for undertrial rights, and for fair criminal trial.”
Welcoming Justice Ramana to the highest judicial post in the country, Supreme Court Bar Association Vice President Pradeep Rai said,
“Justice Ramana is a simple and hardworking man. The bar is really happy that such a person is taking over the charge as new CJI on April 24. His appointment is a ray of hope for each and every citizen of India and the bar. Justice Ramana is aware of the expectations of the bar. He must be having plans to fulfil those expectations.”
Justice Ramana also gives weightage to the matters of the common man and assures that everyone gets fair treatment from the court. “We have seen him as Chairman, National Legal Service Authority where he has done a commendable job including mediation training and expanded the ambit of NALSA which delivers real access to justice for the citizens of India,” the SCBA Vice President said.
Big cases ahead for the new CJI
Prof Baxi said,
“Many decisions are pending. You have only mentioned two! (Article 370 and Sabarimala) Sabarimala has been taken over by a nine-judge bench and is headed by the present chief justice who is to retire shortly. The bench has six issues for consideration, including the issue of constitutional secularism. The judgment might come shortly before the present CJI retires. Normally, a review bench considers such matters, and on the six issues of the Sabarimala case, we will have a judgment shortly with long-lasting impact on constitutional secularism.”