New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Wednesday set up a social justice bench to deliver speedy access to constitutional rights, particularly those relating to women and children. The bench will deal exclusively with social matters, including the right to food and medical assistance. The move is designed to ensure that these cases can move quickly through the apex court and, notably, to encourage deeper deliberation on the rights and responsibilities of the state. The Supreme Court said “several cases relating to the domain of ‘social justice’ have been pending for several years” in the apex court, prompting Chief Justice H.L. Dattu to order “that these cases shall be given a specialized approach for their early disposal so that the masses will realise the fruits of the rights provided to them by the constitutional text”.
The two-judge bench comprising Madan B. Lokur and U.U. Lalit will begin sitting from 12 December. The range of issues identified includes access to food for drought-hit people and prevention of premature deaths caused by lack of nutrition. The right to health figures on the agenda with the mandate to make access to medical care a reality irrespective of people’s financial capacity. The bench will also determine availability of night shelters for the homeless and the destitute. “This is an idea that should have been long implemented. The job of judiciary is not just to deliver justice but also to make people respect and fear the law. Right now, people think they can do anything and get away with it,” said Ranjana Kumari of the Centre for Social Research, a non-governmental organization. “I know of two dowry cases which are pending in the Supreme Court for 22 years.
If this body is formed, hopefully justice wouldn’t be delayed any more,” she added.
While the apex court has routinely set up dedicated benches, these have primarily dealt with economic issues. The “forest bench”, later renamed the “green bench”, has been dealing with environmental cases for nearly two decades. Similarly, the lower judiciary has courts dedicated to crimes against children and offences like sexual assault. Having a dedicated bench for matters of constitutional rights and societal concerns will reduce the pendency of cases arising from such matters. The new bench will take up not only pending matters but also new ones in order to “secure social justice, one of the ideals of the Indian Constitution”, the court said. The release also indicated that secure living conditions for women—in the absence of which many find themselves in sex work—are a part of constitutional goals which must be achieved.
Welcoming the move, Supreme Court lawyer and anti-trafficking activist Ravi Kant said, “I think this move will bring more focus on these issues. Different PILs related to the same matter are pending before different benches. This body will bring in more clarity. It will also expedite the delivery of justice.”
However, some experts said that with only a brief announcement made so far, details about implementation, the number of cases to be transferred to the bench and other such matters were unclear. “Definitional questions as to what qualifies as social justice will arise. It might also encourage forum shopping, as each litigant wants to be heard by a sympathetic bench. The other problem is that the concept of rule of law promises equal treatment of all cases,” Rahul Singh, assistant professor at the National Law School of India University, Bengaluru. “Constituting a special bench for a class of cases is antithetical to this concept.” “It’s important that the apex court is talking about these issues. But this shouldn’t reduce to mere tokenism. We have so many mahila (women’s) courts in the country. Crime against women has become a disease in this country,” lawyer Rebecca John said. “If the bench is a response to recognizing that cases related to women and children are serious, then I welcome the move.”
Justice Krishna Iyer, who enters his hundredth year today, took the Supreme Court in a new direction while evolving radical principles
Justice Vaidyanathapuram Rama Iyer Krishna Iyer was born on November 15, 1915, was sworn in as a judge of the Supreme Court on July 17, 1973 and retired at the age of 65 on November 14, 1980. He now starts his journey to complete a century.
Justice Krishna Iyer’s elevation to the Supreme Court raised eyebrows and scepticism in many legal circles. I must confess that my scepticism soon turned into admiration.
Several judicial activists reached the Supreme Court of India in the mid-seventies. Justice Krishna Iyer wielded considerable influence on the thought processes of his colleagues such as Justice P.N. Bhagwati (later Chief Justice of India) and Justice Chinnappa Reddy. They were articulate, sensitive and had a strong desire to translate the vision of the constitution makers into reality.
A new direction
By 1980, Justice Bhagwati and Justice Krishna Iyer became senior justices and took the Supreme Court in a new direction while evolving radical principles. Justice Krishna Iyer, a revolutionary at heart, principally triggered this internal revolution in the thought processes of his colleagues — a movement vigorously carried forward by Justice Bhagwati and Justice Chinnappa Reddy.
A new public interest jurisprudence was fashioned, the old ‘locus standi’ rules were jettisoned, epistolary litigation was encouraged and a strategy was evolved for giving relief to the disadvantaged and underprivileged. Procedural ‘due process’ was restored to centre stage, overruling earlier decisions. Consequently this radical transformation gave high international stature and visibility to the Supreme Court. It was an explosive enlargement of the court’s jurisdiction. It carved out a niche in the common citizens’ heart whose respect and adoration for the higher judiciary reached glorious heights.
Justice Krishna Iyer’s prolific judgments, his gentle and disarming demeanour as a judge, his unrivalled grasp of facts and law, his empathy for the disadvantaged, and his courtesy and consideration for the young lawyer appearing before him was a unique blend of judicial virtues.
Justice Krishna Iyer’s interim order of June 24, 1975 — a day before the Proclamation of Emergency on June 25, 1975 — in the Indira Gandhi case has a historical significance. Mrs Gandhi lost her election case and was disqualified. He did not give Mrs Gandhi, the serving Prime Minister, an unconditional stay despite huge media hype. She was allowed to function as Prime Minister, attend the House, but without a right to vote following well-settled precedents.
H.M. Seervai, the great constitutional lawyer but no uncritical admirer of Justice Krishna Iyer, wrote: “As the historian turns from the High Courts to the Supreme Court his task will be harder, for the history of the Supreme Court during the Emergency is a history of two different periods: the first began a day before the Emergency and ended with Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s Appeal in the Election Case; the second began with the Habeas Corpus Case and ended with the revocation of the Emergency by a defeated Mrs Gandhi, unwilling to put into the hands of her opponents a weapon she had forged and used against them. Of the first period, the historian will say that the Supreme Court moved towards its finest hour, a day before the Proclamation of Emergency, when, on 24 June 1975, Krishna Iyer J., following judicial precedents, rejected an application made by Mrs. Gandhi that the Allahabad High Court’s order, finding her guilty of corrupt election practices and disqualifying her for 6 years, should be totally suspended. In the best traditions of the judiciary, Krishna Iyer J. granted a conditional stay of the Order under appeal, although he had been reminded by her eminent counsel, Mr. N.A. Palkhivala, “that the nation was solidly behind (her) as Prime Minister” and that “there were momentous consequences, disastrous to the country, if anything less than the total suspension of the Order under appeal were made”.”
“He spurned the lure of pelf and power and governmental patronage and became an unrivalled champion of social justice, constitutional values and the rule of law.”
Justice Krishna Iyer earned the unintended, unforeseen and doubtful distinction of having judicially fathered the Emergency leading to preventive detention of many opposition leaders including Jayaprakash Narayan, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, L.K. Advani and Morarji Desai.
He recalls in his book Off the Bench how the then Law Minister H.R. Gokhale, a good friend, expressed a desire to meet him at his residence after Mrs Gandhi’s disqualification by the Allahabad High Court judgment in connection with her appeal. He politely refused to see him and indicated that the correct way was to file the appeal in the Registry which would be taken up promptly.
Justice Krishna Iyer’s crowning glory and finest hour were after retirement. He spurned the lure of pelf and power and governmental patronage and became an unrivalled champion of social justice, constitutional values and the rule of law. He blossomed into an iconic and inspirational figure both nationally and internationally.
The renowned Australian Judge Michael Kirby, a former President of the International Commission of Jurists, described him as “incontestably one of the great spirits of the common law of this century.”
Justice Krishna Iyer’s services to the nation, the rule of law, the judiciary and the disadvantaged and underprivileged give him a stature comparable to many who have been honoured with a Bharat Ratna. Many believe that his unique, lustrous and incomparable contributions earn him the sobriquet of Nyaya Ratna.
(Anil Divan is a senior advocate of the Supreme Court.)
Law Resoursce India New Delhi 04/11/2014
In view of the order dated 26 July 2012 in Criminal Appeal 135/2010 – Budhadev Karmaskar vs State of West Bengal & Ors the present debate and controversy stirred up by the NCW Chairperson Lalita Kumarmanglam on Legalization of sex trade is a contempt of Supreme Court Orders. The National Commission of Women has been a party to the case and are aware of the Bench clarification dated 26 July 2012.
Speaking to the Times Of India she said that “I will only speak about the issue after the national consultation on November 8,” . “It is my personal and professional view that sex work should be legalized but the commission must make an informed decision and I am open to listening to all views. I will be using a lot of time next week to hold informal consultations on the issue, talking to all advocacy groups and others to understand what their apprehensions are.”
On October 28, Kumaramangalam told a daily that legalization will bring down trafficking of women and lower the incidence of HIV and other sexually-transmitted diseases. She also said she intends to put forth the proposal at the November 8 meet of the SC appointed Panel.
Bharti Dey of Durbar Mahila which supports the Legalisation Debate has stated “Police very often get paid to let off traffickers. Regulation will decriminalize the trade,” says Dey, whose organization currently runs self-regulation units and has sent at least eight traffickers to jail. She also points out that many of those entering the profession are extremely poor, have few options and know what they are getting into. “But they make it to our communities through traffickers and middlemen. Legalizing will remove these middlemen,” she says.
Supreme Court Lawyer and President of Shakti Vahini Ravi Kant while opposing the statement of the NCW Chairperson statement stated “Prostitution is Organised Crime and Violation of Fundamental Rights. Trafficking and sexual slavery is worst form of Human Rights Violation. No women joins this inhuman trade out of choice. More then 95% of the women have been trafficked and forced into the sex trade”.
He further elaborated that ” Immoral Traffic Prevention Act 1956 criminalises the organised crime of Prostitution. Organised Prostitution creates a demand for young girls for the brothels which is met by trafficking of minor girls from across the Country.Giving Prostituion a legal status will be giving boost to demand of young minor girls who will be trafficked. In countries where such legalization has happened it has led to exploitation of women and girls and also commodification of women bodies.
He added that there here is no doubt that women who have been caught in the sex trade need access to all Government facilities and schemes and efforts must be made to see that they join the mainstream and are properly rehabilitated. Also those who indulge in this organised crime of human trafficking which leads to kidnapping of young girls from across the country need to be properly punished.
On the role of the Governmental agencies he lamented “The sad part is that inspite of various recommendations from the Supreme Court in various cases no geniune efforts have been made by any Government to see that this social malice which results from Organised Crime be eradicated”.
Kant further stated “The statement of the National Commission for Women Chairperson for legalising prostitution is deplorable. It is time that the Government of India ammends the Immoral Traffic Prevention Act and brings in harsher punishments to the people who are involved in this organised crime”.
The Supreme Court in its order dated 26 July 2012 has clarified that its endeavor to provide right to life and access to governmental schemes should not be construed as an encouragement to prostitution. The clarification had come from a bench of Justices Altamas Kabir and Gyan Sudha Mishra after additional solicitor general P P Malhotra had drawn the court’s attention to its July 19 order in which it had sought suggestions from the SC-constituted panel on creating “conditions conducive for sex workers who wish to continue working as sex workers with dignity”.
Malhotra had said there was a danger of the order being construed as an incentive to indulge in an activity that had been termed as an offence under the Immoral Traffic Prevention Act, 1956.
The Judges on the bench passed had passed separate orders, but both meant to clarify that the panel would recommend steps to create “conditions conducive for sex workers to live with dignity as per provisions of the Constitution Article 21”.
Justice Kabir added a precautionary clarification — “The above modification should not be construed to mean any attempt made to encourage prostitution.”
Hearing the Petition Justice Mishra had clarified, “I prefer to add…sex workers have a right to live with dignity but the collective endeavour must be on part of the sex workers to give up the trade in case they are given alternate platform.”
The Detailed Order of the Bench Dated 26 /07/2012 is as follows :
1. CRLMP.NO.12415 of 2012, has been filed on behalf of the Union of India, for modification of the order passed by this Court on 19th July, 2011, referring certain issues to the Committee which had been constituted by the said order itself.
2. The first modification sought by the Union of India is for deletion of the Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Samiti, from the panel. The second modification sought is with regard to the third term of reference, which reads as follows:-
(3) Conditions conducive for sex workers who wish to continue working as sex workers with dignity.
3. Appearing in support of the application, the learned ASG, Mr. P.P. Malhotra, submitted that the Samiti in question had been actively advocating the revocation of the Immoral Traffic(Prevention) Act, 1956, and had also been advocating the recognition of sex trade being continued by sex workers. The learned ASG submitted that the continuance of such Samiti in the panel is giving a wrong impression to the public that the Union of India was also inclined to think on similar lines. The learned ASG submitted that this wrong impression should be removed by excluding the Samiti from the panel.
4. As far as the second issue is concerned, the learned ASG submitted that wording of such reference could be suitably modified so as not to give an impression that the Union of India was in favour of encouraging the sex workers, in contravention of the provisions of the aforesaid Act.
5. We have heard Mr. Pradip Ghosh, learned senior advocate and Chairman of the Committee, as also learned senior advocate, Mr. Jayant Bhushan, who is also a member of the Committee and its co- Chairman and Mr. Grover, learned senior advocate, on the issue.
6. It has been submitted by Mr. Ghosh that at the meetings of the Committee, the members of the Samiti had contributed a great deal towards the understanding of the problems of the sex workers and it was not as if the said Samiti was encouraging sex trade, but were providing valuable inputs into the problems being faced by people engaged in the trade. Mr. Ghosh, Mr. Grover, and Mr. Bhushan, in one voice urged that the presence of the Samiti in the Committee was necessary even to function as a sounding board in respect of the problems that are faced by this marginalised and unfortunate section of society.
7. We agree with the submissions made by Mr. Ghosh, Mr. Grover and Mr. Bhushan, learned senior counsel, and are not, therefore, inclined to delete the Samiti from the Committee, as prayed for by the Union of India, and such prayer is rejected.
8. As to the second issue, it will not in any way make any difference to the terms of reference, if the wording of the third term of reference, is modified to the following effect:-
“Conditions conducive for sex workers to live with dignity in accordance with the provisions of Article 21 of the Constitution.”
9. The above modification, should not, however, be construed to mean that by this order, any attempt is being made to encourage prostitution in any way.
10. CRLMP.NO.12415 of 2012, is, therefore, disposed of in term of the aforesaid order.
11. Let this matter now be listed for consideration of the Sixth and Seventh Interim Reports, filed by the Committee, on 22nd August, 2012, at 3.00 p.m.
12. Let this Bench be reconstituted on the said date and time for the aforesaid purpose.
.………………J. (ALTAMAS KABIR) NEW DELHI; JULY 26, 2012.
1. While concurring with the views of my learned brother Justice Altamas Kabir, I prefer to add in regard to the second issue that this Court should not be misunderstood to encourage the practice of flesh trade or advocate the recognition of sex trade merely because it has raised the issue to emphasize the rehabilitation aspect of the sex workers, for which this Court had taken the initiative right at the threshold. I consider this essential in order to allay any apprehension which prompted the Union of India to move this application for modification, by highlighting that the sex workers although have a right to live with dignity as the society is aware that they are forced to continue with this trade under compulsions since they have no alternative source of livelihood, collective endeavour should be there on the part of the Court and all concerned who have joined this cause as also the sex workers themselves to give up this heinous profession of flesh trade by providing the destitute and physically abused women an alternative forum for employment and resettlement in order to be able to rehabilitate themselves. I, therefore, wish to reiterate by way of abundant caution that this Court should not be perceived to advocate the recognition of sex trade or promote the cause of prostitution in any form and manner even when it had stated earlier in its terms of reference regarding conditions conducive for sex workers who wish to continue working as sex workers with dignity.
2. Thus, when we modify the earlier term of reference and state regarding conditions conducive for sex workers to live with dignity in accordance with the provisions of Article 21 of the Constitution, the same may not be interpreted or construed so as to create an impression or draw inference that this Court in any way is encouraging the sex workers to continue with their profession of flesh trade by providing facilities to them when it is merely making an effort to advocate the cause of offering an alternative source of employment to those sex workers who are keen for rehabilitation. When we say conditions conducive for sex workers to live with dignity, we unambiguously wish to convey that while the sex workers may be provided alternative source of employment for their rehabilitation to live life with dignity, it will have to be understood in the right perspective as we cannot direct the Union of India or the State Authorities to provide facilities to those sex workers who wish to promote their profession of sex trade for earning their livelihood, except of course the basic amenities for a dignified life, as this was certainly not the intention of this Court even when the term of reference was framed earlier.
3. We, therefore, wish to be understood that we confine ourselves to the efforts for rehabilitation of sex workers which should not be construed as facilitating, providing them assistance or creating conducive conditions to carry on flesh trade for expanding their business in any manner as it cannot be denied that the profession of sex trade is a slur on the dignity of women. Conditions conducive for sex workers to live with dignity in accordance with the provisions of Article 21 of the Constitution be therefore understood in its correct perspective as indicated above.
J (GYAN SUDHA MISRA) New Delhi, July 26, 2012
Debates on the collegium system generally start at the wrong place, namely, whether a national judicial commission will be a better alternative. The point at which they ought to start is whether the creation of such a system is constitutionally permissible. Article 124 of the Constitution states that every judge of the Supreme Court shall be appointed by the president in consultation with such of the judges of the Supreme Court, and of the high courts in the states, as the president may deem necessary. It also says that in the case of appointment of a judge other than the chief justice, the chief justice of India (CJI) shall always be consulted.
In the name of the independence of the judiciary, the Supreme Court said in 1993 that primacy in the matter of judicial appointments must lie in the final opinion of the CJI, “unless for very good reasons known to the executive and disclosed to the chief justice of India, that appointment is not considered to be suitable”. To mitigate the violence done to the
plain language of the Constitution and to reassure every one that power did not rest in one individual alone, that is, the CJI, the court created a new constitutional institution, a collegium of the senior-most judges.
This was not a creative interpretation of the Constitution, as the apologists for the collegium system would have us believe, but a plain rewrite. This was judicial overreach and it was only last year, 20 years later, that serious attempts began to repair the damage to the Constitution.
Having stated my fundamental objection, I will recapitulate my three other objections. First, there must be an element of democratic accountability in the matter of appointments to the higher judiciary, which has the power to strike down laws of Parliament and state legislatures, and even amendments to the Constitution. Second, when judges appoint judges, they look mainly at “technical competence” and seniority. They do not necessarily look at the social philosophies or gender sensitivities of prospective candidates. Third, judges do not pay particular attention to the idea of manpower planning, as is clear from the many short-term appointments of chief justices and short-term appointments to the Supreme Court. In a judge-dominated system, everyone needs to be given a “chance”.
And so, it is about time that we put a better system in place. There is no going back now to the original system of the executive appointing judges in consultation with the judiciary, by invoking the doctrine of “original intent”. Much has changed in the world since we enacted the Constitution. Processes of judicial appointments are far more participatory all over the world. Stakeholders in the justice delivery system are now accorded an important role. Let us look at just two examples.
In Canada, the advisory committee for judicial appointments includes a member of parliament from each recognised party, a retired judge, a nominee of the attorney general, a nominee of the law societies and two prominent Canadians who are neither lawyers nor judges. In South Africa, the Judicial Service Commission includes judges, the minister for justice or his nominee, advocates and solicitors nominated by their respective professional bodies, a professor of law, senators and four nominees of the president of whom two shall be advocates or solicitors.
The judicial appointments commission (JAC) needs to be written into the Constitution itself, not only in terms of its creation but also its composition. It is necessary to make this point because the previous government had originally sought to bring the commission into the Constitution, but left it to Parliament to make an ordinary law to prescribe its membership. This was undesirable. Successive governments would have been free to change its composition according to their will.
Should the JAC be a part-time body? The Union Public Service Commission is not part-time. Surely, appointments to the superior judiciary are not less serious a matter than civil service appointments. But the present collegium, by its very nature, can only meet in the evenings after the judges have finished their arduous courtroom work, and before they start writing their judgments and reading for their cases the next day. To make appointments to the Supreme Court and all the high courts in the country, we need a full-time institution with a permanent secretariat and its own information- gathering wing. And so, the judicial members would have to be former and not sitting judges. Similarly, jurists and eminent citizens will need to be full-time members. The only possible part-time ex officio member could be the law minister.
The national judicial commission will need to devise new methods for attracting talent to the judiciary. The old practice of “asking” and “inviting” must be supplemented by calling for applications from interested candidates (currently, you can apply to become a district judge, but it is bad form to apply to be a high court judge!). Search committees will have to look for the best legal talent, not only from within the court system but also outside. In the current system, non-litigating lawyers don’t ever get considered.
And the question of the “tilting balance” remains. Former judges (most recently, Justice A.P. Shah) take the view that the independence of the judiciary can only be secu red by judges outnumbering the others. I, however, believe that democratic accountability in the process of appointment is equally important and, in principle, judges should be marginally outnumbered.
Finally, since it looks as if we are getting down to business, we need to attend to the removal process as well; it is part of the same Article 124 that is going to be amended. Impeachment involves getting signatures from MPs. On the one hand, it makes it difficult for even genuine complaints to proceed further. On the other hand, it politicises the process. One impeachment failed because the then ruling party abstained from voting, and two others were aborted by midstream resignations (civil servants are not allowed to resign in the middle of disciplinary inquiries; can judges be allowed to do so?). The proposed national judicial commission must therefore be in charge of the removal of judges as well.
The writer is a senior lawyer in the Supreme Court
The appointment of judges at the level of the high courts and Supreme Court continues to be problematic, in spite of cosmetic changes brought in through judicial activism in two stages. What remains is known as the collegium system. It was formulated by a nine-judge bench of the Supreme Court after hearing long arguments addressed by top-ranking counsel. Initially, the collegium system was generally welcomed, despite opposition from politicians on the ground that the judges had arrogated to themselves the power of choosing judges. But in due course, it received criticism from different quarters, including members of the Bar. It is true that the collegium system has remained in force for more than 15 years. As the years have passed, burgeoning criticism that the present system did not remedy the drawbacks of the erstwhile mechanism have eventually become more strident.
At least in a few instances, unsuitable persons have found their way to seats of judges in the high courts. It is, of course, a matter of relief that the number of such persons has not swelled to alarming proportions. At the same time, it would not be true to say that no unsuitable person has reached the Supreme Court bench through the collegium system. The lesson to learn is that however much improvement is sought to be achieved through changes to the appointments process, the efficacy of its working depends on the vision and dedication of the persons empowered to manage the system.
The chairman of the Law Commission of India has suggested that a seven-member judicial appointments commission (JAC), with a preponderance of members from the judiciary, be instituted. But of what use are the proposed changes if some members of the JAC function in the same manner as before? What is the guarantee that only persons of impeccable and proven integrity, coupled with the moral strength to assert their dissent (if any) on record, would fill up the JAC? Having been a member of the collegium of the Supreme Court, I know how outsiders seek (and get) access so as to canvass for the decision-making process. I doubt that the situation would change if the proposed composition of the JAC were to be implemented. I am also not prepared to say that the selection of “eminent persons” would not become diluted in due course, particularly because of the vagueness in standardising who these “eminent persons” can be. I am sceptical of the outcome of the JAC in the long run, given that the scope for manipulation and favouritism cannot be fully eliminated even within it.
A former chief justice of the Kerala High Court had evolved an experiment while adhering to the collegium mechanism. When there were three vacancies of Bar candidates, he invited recommendations from all his companion judges in the high court, requesting them to send at least five names each. He got 40 names altogether, and shortlisted them to 10. He studied their performance and presented his views before the other members of the collegium of the high court. When there was dissent, he expanded the three-member collegium and obtained their views also. He made the final recommendation to the Supreme Court. In that process, the Kerala High Court gained three very fine judges. I thought that the same could be followed by the chief justices of other high courts and, in fact, I wrote an article in support of it. But on deeper thought, I sensed that if the practice continued and remained in place for much longer, the scope for canvassing with other judges for interested persons would have increased greatly and the experiment would have been rendered ineffective.
The criticism that the executive has now no role in the appointment of judges is, to a great extent, misplaced. In my view, there should not be any dispute on the proposition that judges should have the first-stage opportunity to point out who the best candidates for judgeship are. But their judgements on that score cannot be treated as infallible. When names of candidates are sent by the collegium to the executive, it is definitely possible for the executive to conduct a thorough inquiry through such departmental agencies as they could trust. Then the executive can send back the names to the collegium for further consideration and a final decision. One change I wish to propose is to permit the executive to propose names to the collegium at the initial stage.
Whenever recommendations are to be made for more than two vacancies (it may go up to 15 and sometimes even to 20), there could be a temptation for members of the collegium to compromise in order to accommodate candidates on barter considerations. Whenever bulk recommendations have occurred in the past, some not-so-suitable (if not totally unsuitable) candidates have succeeded in getting access to the list. This defect can be effectively eliminated by restricting recommendations strictly to one or two vacancies at a time, and definitely no more. In my view, the existing system can continue with the modifications indicated above.
The writer is a former judge of the Supreme Court
The judiciary has been praised by some for its role in exposing corruption in politics, while others point to the defective method of selection of judges through the collegium system to criticise it. To prevent further easy public slapping of the judiciary, we must now finalise the method of appointment.
The suggested pattern of a judicial appointments commission broadly fills the void. It is headed by the chief justice of India (CJI) and includes the next two senior judges, the Union law minister, two eminent persons (emphasis added) to be selected by the prime minister, the CJI and the leader of opposition in the Lok Sabha. Some rightly feel that “eminent persons” should be substituted with “eminent jurists”, because “eminence” by itself is too vague. Instead, “eminent jurist” would provide a larger field of academics, authors, outstanding lawyers (no longer practising, of course). The fear that the presence of a lay person would interfere with the independence of the judiciary is misplaced. As the Judicial Commission of New South Wales Annual Report said: “Judicial independence is not some kind of industrial benefit generously extended to judges and magistrates, it is [the] fundamental principle of our society’s constitutional arrangements.”
The provision with regard to the appointment of high court judges, however, states, unacceptably, that the JAC is only required to elicit (emphasis added) the views of the governor, chief minister and the chief justice of the high court. I can hardly see any relevance of eliciting the view of the chief minister separately from the governor. I, however, take strong objection to reducing the position of the chief justice of a high court to merely eliciting his view. The advice of the chief justice of a high court as to the suitability or otherwise of a person to be appointed a judge of a high court should normally be accepted.
Reportedly, though technically the collegium is being sought to be abolished, the CJI has asked chief justices of the high courts to consult their colleagues, even junior ones, as far as possible. But this suggestion may only be observed in the breach. I remember that in 1977, the Janata government’s informal suggestion that the chief justices of the high courts consult two senior colleagues was observed more in the breach. It was only when the collegium system was established that the chief justices of the high courts had no option but to consult their colleagues.
However, this did not mean that the government has accepted the collegium’s recommendation in all cases. In 1985, the chief justice of a high court and his two senior-most colleagues recommended four names, with the clarification that they must be appointed in the order in which the names were sent. This was done to prevent the government from picking and choosing on the specious argument that some names had not yet been cleared by the CBI and the appointments might be delayed, while those lower down the list could be appointed immediately. This was opposed by the chief justice, and the law ministry was so affronted that the government did not appoint any judge during his tenure. Afterwards, too, the law ministry first appointed new names and only later appointed those recommended by the earlier collegium. So the government’s intervention can only be checked by a strong judiciary. It is for this reason that I have reservations on doing away with collegiums entirely. The collegium system is welcome inasmuch as it constitutes a wider circle of three judges, rather than leaving it solely to the chief justice of the high court. The CJI’s advice to consult two more judges is welcome. I see no reason to abolish the collegium system at the high court level (which, after all, is only recommendatory). The appointments are now to be made under the provisions of the proposed JAC.
I am amazed that, so far, a serious self-inflected injury is being overlooked — that is, appointing the chief justices of high courts outside their parent court. I have never understood the logic of transferring the senior-most judge, whose turn to head the court in which he has worked for almost 10 to 15 years, and with the functioning and lower judiciary of which he is most familiar, has come. To transfer him to a new court for a period of one or two years or even less, to which he is a total stranger and most likely unaware of the names of his colleagues, is strange. At present, one has the embarrassing spectacle of a chief justice being transferred to a state where he cannot even understand the language. The chief justice of a high court should be the senior-most judge of the same court. This alone will lend strength and dignity to the high courts.
Section 8 of the new bill contemplates asking the state and Central governments to send recommendations for the selection of judges. I find this to be a frontal attack on the judiciary. After a JAC is constituted, the state or Central governments have no locus standi and should be outsiders in the process of selection. I agree though that the JAC should make public the names it is contemplating for appointments to high courts and the Supreme Court. This will make the process more open and participatory, and also negate the charge of secret manoeuvring in the appointment of judges.
The writer is a former chief justice of the Delhi High Court
The clamour against the courts has been continuous. Initially, there was talk of a “committed” judiciary. Then, of judicial accountability and transparency. And so on. The latest is — why should judges choose judges? Hence, the effort to replace the collegium by a Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC). The bill has already been passed in both Houses of Parliament. Is it the right way to do so? I think, No.
Let us see what is happening in the country. Who selects ministers? The prime minister and chief ministers. Who selects the generals? The generals. Who selects army commanders? The army. Who selects government servants? The government.
Why then do we want a different method of selection for the judiciary? Why should the judiciary not be allowed to select judges? Is it an effort to destroy the one institution that has performed and exposed scams and scandals like Coalgate and 2G?
The founding fathers created a judicial pyramid. The subordinate courts were the base. Then came district courts. The high courts followed at the state level. The Supreme Court was placed at the apex. They also laid down the procedure for the selection and appointment of judges. The selection and appointments of the officers in the subordinate and district courts are made in accordance with the rules framed and promulgated by the government in accordance with the Constitution. The “control” vests in the high court. In so far as appointments to the higher judiciary are concerned,
the matter was considered by the Supreme Court in the second and third judges’ cases.
The court’s dictum has been followed. Judges to the high courts and Supreme Court have been selected by collegiums for some time now. The scope for interference by the political executive has been reduced to a minimum. Consequently, criticism from different quarters is understandable. But can the JAC improve the quality of judges?
No system of selection can be absolutely perfect. Institutions run by human beings will reflect human frailties. A fact that deserves mention is that the Constitution itself provides for Union and state public service commissions to make selections to the various services. The commissions have been in place for a long time. Has their performance been beyond reproach or even satisfactory? Have these commissions not been described as “personal” service commissions? The kind of eminent persons proposed to be included in the JAC are usually members of the state and Union public service commissions too. Yet, what do we have? Petitions in courts alleging all kinds of malpractices. Still more, states have moved petitions, prosecuted members or chairpersons of the commissions for different irregularities and even offences. Would a similar commission for judicial appointments change everything for the better? Looks unlikely.
Second, the state is the single-largest litigant in the country. Should a litigant have any say whatsoever in the choice of judges?
Third, in a democracy, independence of the judiciary is of paramount importance. A fearless and independent judiciary is a basic feature of the Constitution of India. It is a part of the “basic structure” and should not be sacrificed at the altar of the executive’s anxiety or ego. Legally speaking, the validity of the proposed bill is extremely doubtful.
The members of the collegium also monitor the performance of judges and lawyers who have to be considered for appointment to the high courts or the Supreme Court. They examine judgments of the persons who are considered for elevation. So far as the JAC is concerned, the majority shall not have that opportunity. They will necessarily have to depend upon hearsay evidence. This will be totally improper.
It is alleged that the collegium does not have a mechanism to “verify the character and antecedents of judges.” I think, it is not so. The court and/ or the chief justice can always ask the concerned agencies to do the needful. In certain cases, it has been actually done. I think the fear is wholly unfounded.
It has been suggested that judges sometimes indulge in mutual give-and-take. As a result, some people who should not have become judges at all have been elevated to still higher positions and courts, it is argued. Assuming this to be correct, can anybody claim we are totally impervious to all kinds of political and social influences or pressures? Has it never happened that, at the highest level, files are held up till the name of a particular person is cleared by the collegium?
But is the JAC the solution? No!
A rare exception under the collegium system has the potential of becoming the rule when the final word is left to the executive. Are the series of scams and scandals that have taken place recently in India not enough to caution us about the state of political morality? The judiciary is one institution in India that has performed and delivered. We can tinker with it only at our own peril.
The writer is former chief justice,
Kerala High Court
In this Idea Exchange moderated by Senior Editor (Legal Affairs) Maneesh Chhibber, Law Commission of India Chairman Justice A P Shah says most judges don’t believe the collegium system works and argues for a fixed tenure for CJI. This Idea Exchange took place before Parliament approved the new Bill for selection of judges
Maneesh Chhibber: Law Commission Chairperson Justice A P Shah submitted a report to the government on the collegium system. Incidentally, he is also one of the prominent victims of the collegium system.
Justice A P Shah: I read Fali Nariman’s article in The Indian Express. It seems he has suggested that the collegium system should be revamped. In my opinion, the collegium system is not a democratic institution; there are no checks and balances in it. If you let the same system continue without any meaningful voice to the executing civil society, even if you make it a little more transparent and a criterion is laid out, it may not improve the system itself.
I have been working on it for the past several days along with some of my colleagues and some people from outside. The government has not asked us to make a report, it is our initiative. At the Law Commission, we thought it’s a very important policy decision — whether you are going to have a judicial appointments commission to replace the present collegium system. It’s the Law Commission’s responsibility to make recommendations in that direction, but it’s not very clear whether it should go as a report or a consultation paper…
You will recall that there was a UPA Bill to bring the retirement age of high court judges on a par with that of the Supreme Court judges. The BJP opposed the Bill, and it is still pending. The only reason given in the Constituent Assembly debates was that high court judges may not opt for the Supreme Court if the retirement age is the same, because that is a kind of temptation to go to the Supreme Court, there is an additional three-year tenure, which I don’t think works today. There are two distinct advantages if it is brought on a par. First, the practice of lobbying and sycophancy, developed in recent times, will stop. Also, there will not be much heartburn because a person continues as an HC judge till 65. The second advantage is that you will be able to select judges at a young age. There is no rule but an unwritten convention that a person below the age of 45 will not be appointed in the HC, and a person below 55 will not be appointed in the SC. Look at the consequences: We are not getting good talent in the HC because once they cross 45, they would be more entrenched in practice. This seniority should really go.
Today, the Supreme Court is packed with (former high court) chief justices who are also the senior-most; there is no search for good talent. Once it is on a par, perhaps you would be able to select judges at a young age and they will continue on the bench for a longer period of time. In almost all countries, judges at the apex court have a long tenure — 10 years is the minimum, it should be 10-15 years. According to me, this (age bar) is rather arbitrary and in the committee meeting, everybody was almost unanimous that seniority should not be the criterion, you need to bring in young people.
And the last point is the fixed tenure of the chief justice. We are working on that. Till 2022, no chief justice will get a tenure of more than a year; the present Chief Justice gets only four-five months. My logic is that it should be five years, because the prime minister gets a five-year tenure, Parliament gets five years, so the chief justice should also get five years. But it may be less — three or two years.
The way the Supreme Court works is very different from what was contemplated by the law framers. One of the reasons there is no embargo against judges taking up post-retirement assignments in the government was because in the Constituent Assembly Dr B R Ambedkar had said that the government has only 5 per cent litigation, and since the government is not a major litigant, why prevent retired judges from accepting post-retirement assignments? That logic is no longer relevant because 60 per cent of the litigations are by the government. So, there may not be a complete bar, but a cooling-off period is very necessary. It could be one or two years, but there should be a cooling-off period.
Maneesh Chhibber: Don’t you think that the government or politicians are trying to use this clamour against the judiciary as an excuse to undo the collegium system brought in by the Supreme Court?
The UPA Bill (which was not passed) said that the Judicial Appointments Commission should have three judges and three non-judges, but there was an attempt to have an amendment, to have a seventh member. And the seventh member, as per the amendment, was to be a non-judge. So virtually, judges will be in a minority. One suggestion was that there should be two non-judges and an eminent person should be given a veto. If both of them decide to oppose the appointment, then it should not be made. There is a fear (that this is a move to undo the collegium system), and I can’t say no to that.
Arun sukumar: Would the situation be any different if the collegium decisions were to be made public under RTI?
Under RTI, the questions that come up relate to justification for making an appointment or if somebody is being overlooked, or why a particular candidate was chosen for the high court. But the reasons are not given. So how is RTI going to help? RTI’s objective is to bring transparency, but RTI itself is not sufficient. Transparency would come only if you make it known that there are vacancies, you get nominations from the stakeholders concerned, have mandatory consultations with the high courts, state governments and maybe the Bar, and then declare the names before they are finalised, so that people know. I’m not in favour of interviews in public or any such American system, but we must bring in some sort of transparency, and that can’t be achieved by an RTI application.
Maneesh Chhibber: At the meeting which the government called to discuss the Judicial Appointments Commission, one of the biggest concerns was that whatever was brought in, the JAC should meet the standard set by the judiciary. What do you think is that standard?
Upendra Baxi suggested that you prepare a Bill and make a presidential reference to the Supreme Court. Let the Supreme Court examine it, the way it has done in the past. This was a good idea according to me, but it was felt, and may be justifiably, that it takes time. The other was what Nariman suggested. I really liked the idea — have a dialogue, let the judiciary participate in that dialogue. That’s a great idea — let them at least listen to voices of people or other stakeholders. My fear is that if the judiciary is either equal or in a minority, this Bill will become (legally) vulnerable.
Dilip Bobb: You have been consulting colleagues in the judiciary. What is their reaction to your suggestions, including the cooling-off period?
The problem is that most judges — till they are in the collegium — defend the collegium system because it is very difficult for a serving judge (to criticise it). Nobody honestly believes that this system works well. Many retired judges, barring the exception of former chief justice (Altamas) Kabir and a few others, believe that this system has not worked.
About cooling-off period, what is bad about post-retirement assignments is that for one post, there are 10 aspirants. This leads to unfortunate developments.
Seema Chishti: You were talking of an eminent person being selected. Isn’t that problematic?
The problem is manifold. First, the Constitution uses the words ‘distinguished jurist’. Not a single person was appointed in the past 60 years in that category. During the debates in the Constituent Assembly, they gave the example of Felix Frankfurter. He was a great professor and was taken from a university to the American Supreme Court; he was not a practising lawyer. What they really had in mind was an academic. If I look at the Indian scenario, Prof N R Madhava Menon or Prof Upendra Baxi would have been brought to the Supreme Court in that category. But that jurist can be anyone. Nariman has contributed greatly in the legal frame, he has written several books, perhaps in that sense he would know.
The absence of a non-legal person would give a sense of incompleteness; it should not be a closed-door affair for the legal community, there should be an eminent person, for instance, our past president A P J Abdul Kalam. There are many such eminent persons, who can be picked by the PM, Leader of Opposition and the Chief Justice of India.
Vandita Mishra: The debate is also about the executive versus the judiciary, which is an age-old tussle. Do you see the present as a special moment where there is a confrontation developing between the executive and the judiciary? Is the judiciary more on the backfoot and the executive more aggressive than in the past?
The real issue is, who will have the last word, who will be the custodian of the Constitution. The Supreme Court has said that the court will have the last word in any amendment. But then coming to narrower issues of appointments, who will have the last word? Judges say that judiciary will have the last word.
Vandita Mishra: The executive is more aggressive because of its majority. What about the judiciary, what is the special moment that the judiciary finds itself in today?
Very broadly, the judiciary is entering into several areas where it should not be. There is a tremendous expanse of the judiciary’s powers and then with the PILs, it is armed with so many weapons. It is becoming very powerful. With that, the scrutiny is becoming extremely focused by the media and several other bodies. One significant development was the decision of the collegium on Karnataka judges.
Rakesh Sinha: As the law minister in A B Vajpayee’s government, Arun Jaitley had moved an amendment for scrapping the collegium.
You are right. There were seven-eight proposals after 1993. And they gave different combinations. In some proposals, even the legislature was included, apart from the executive. In some proposals, it was completely judge-dominant. We are looking into all the proposals.
Maneesh Chhibber: At the meeting called by the government, one got the feeling that the general consensus was that the government should come up with a proposal, have at least one more round of talks with the stakeholders. But it appears the Cabinet is going to clear the Bill.
I distinctly remember Anil Diwan saying that, ‘Instead of holding such meetings, why don’t you draft a Bill and then come to us?’. That is a good idea.
Seema Chishti: Regarding the recent instance of the Delhi Assembly case being heard by the Constitution bench, should the court get into this at all? In an earlier instance, the court had said that the Jharkhand Assembly should have a session at 11.30 am.
I don’t want to make any comment on that. The argument being made is that it is clear the Delhi government is not going to be constituted (any time soon). But the Constitution gives power to the executive that the suspension can continue up to one year. To what extent is judicial review permissible is a debatable issue.
P Vaidyanathan Iyer: We had Iqbal Chagla as our guest in Mumbai and he said that in the ’60s and ’70s, the Bar used to be very strong. At times it took up issues of corruption and stalled appointments. Do you think that today, there is nothing that the Bar stands up for?
A recent example is P D Dinakaran’s case — the Bar took up that case. I have seen lawyers acting as some sort of vigilance on wrong appointments. But their number is on the decline. The Bar should be more alert.
Vandita Mishra: What is your view on the mechanism of fast-track courts (for legislators)?
Let me tell you about the Law Commission’s report. The Commission felt that several previous committees disqualified a person if he was facing a serious criminal charge, punishable with five or more years in jail. The debate is, how can you expel a person when he is merely facing a charge; there is no determination. And there is misuse of this provision. Criminalisation of politics is a very serious issue. So if you believe that lawbreakers should not be lawmakers, then we need to have a system where we keep such people out. We went by the reasoning of the Supreme Court judgment in the CVC case that it is protecting institutional integrity.
There is a difference between filing a chargesheet and framing of a charge. We suggested three safeguards.
First, the charge should be framed at least one year prior to the elections. Second, such disqualification should not continue beyond six years. If within six years a person’s case is not decided, he or she should be allowed (to continue). Then we realised what happens if the charge is framed within one year and the person gets elected. Or what happens if the charge is framed after he is elected. In that context, we decided that the case should be decided within one year.
Vandita Mishra: So legislators should be singled out for fast-track, time-bound trial.
It should be done. That’s a deterrent.
Vandita Mishra: But some people would say that rapists should be singled out, not legislators.
In the case of rapists, it is already happening.
Aneesha Mathur: In your recent report you have mentioned fast-tracking, but you have also said that there may be a trade-off between the quality and quantity of judgments.
Most judges write bad judgments. It should be properly administered justice and in the name of fast-tracking you should not be affecting the quality.
Rakesh Sinha: A lower court judge in Madhya Pradesh recently wrote to the Chief Justice of India saying a high court judge was exploiting her and that she was forced to resign.
It is a very serious complaint and if it is found true prima facie on inquiry, then the logical step would be to withdraw the judicial person, and initiate impeachment proceedings.
Transcribed by Vandana Kalra & Debesh Banerjee
The Supreme Court has taken the position that it cannot be expected to abandon its role of being the guardian of the fundamental rights of all persons within the territory of India
In a span of about 45 days, the Supreme Court of India has delivered two judgments that have received diametrically opposite reactions — one will count among the Court’s most poorly reasoned judgments while the other is likely to be heralded as one of its finest for its clarity and fidelity to earlier decisions. The contrast between Justice Singhvi’s judgment upholding the criminalisation of homosexuality and that of Chief Justice Sathasivam affirming the rights of mercy-rejected death row prisoners could not be starker. After Justices Singhvi and Mukhopadhaya upheld the constitutionality of Section 377 of the IPC in Suresh Kumar Koushal, the credibility of the Court as a counter-majoritarian institution had suffered a serious setback. However, the Chief Justice, along with Justices Ranjan Gogoi and Shiva Kirti Singh, has done a remarkable job in partly restoring the credibility of the Court through a thoroughly reasoned judgment in Shatrughan Chauhan v Union of India. In Chauhan, the Court has concluded that inordinate delay in the rejection of mercy petitions of death row convicts amounted to torture and that it is a sufficient basis, in and of itself, to commute a sentence of death to life imprisonment. It is not just about the contrast in outcomes in these two cases but the processes adopted by these two judgments will go a long way in determining the position they will occupy in the judicial history of this country.
Any comparison between the two judgments must begin by acknowledging complexities involved in both cases. The legal response to homosexuality in India through Section 377 has been on the statute books for over 150 years. Though attitudes towards homosexuality have undergone significant changes, it would only be fair to acknowledge that it is nonetheless a deeply divisive issue in India. It would also be a fair assessment that the death penalty and treatment that must be accorded to those sentenced to death are extremely polarising issues. The case before the Supreme Court in Chauhan was particularly delicate because the President had rejected mercy to all 15 prisoners before the Court. However, all 15 prisoners had returned to the Supreme Court seeking enforcement of their right to life on the ground that their suffering on death row due to the inordinate delay by the executive (ranging between 11 to 1.5 years) entitled them to commutation of their death sentence. It must also be noted that the Supreme Court in both cases was being asked to intervene in situations where other organs of the state had already made certain determinations. In Koushal, the legislature had made the political determination that homosexuality would be criminalised by not repealing Section 377. Similarly, in Chauhan, the executive, through the President of India, had rejected all the mercy petitions.
Though the challenges were similar in many ways, there is an unbelievable contrast in the manner in which the Supreme Court responded. In Koushal, the judgment authored by Justice Singhvi does not address the legal issues that were at the heart of the constitutional challenges to Section 377. There are the poorly argued sections on equality under Article 14 and the right to life under Article 21 while completely ignoring the arguments on the protection against discrimination under Article 15. The shortcomings of Koushal are evident when it is compared to the judgment of the Delhi High Court on Section 377 in Naz Foundation. There are established constitutional doctrines to test whether a provision of law is discriminatory and violates the right to equality under Articles 14 and 15 of the Constitution, none of which finds any serious engagement in Koushal. None of this is about whether one supports Section 377 or not. It is about adopting a sound judicial technique — it is about identifying precise and relevant questions; it is about applying constitutional doctrines to those questions in a rigorous manner; it is about reasoned conclusions. Rights adjudication is not about judges merely taking a decision and that is what distinguishes them from politicians. Unfortunately, the judgment in Koushal fails on all these grounds. More than the unacceptable outcome, what must worry us more is that the judgment in Koushal reads like a thinly veiled political decision.
However, the judgment in Chauhan articulates a very difficult legal issue precisely and clarifies the decision of a five-judge bench in Triveniben (1989) on it. While clarifying and relying on Triveniben, there is thorough constitutional reasoning in Chauhan that led the Court to come to the conclusion that inordinate delay in disposing of mercy petitions amounts to torture and that the nature of the crime must have no relevance in that determination. The issue about the nature of the crime was particularly important in the context of the Supreme Court’s decision in Bhullar. In Bhullar, the Supreme Court had concluded that those sentenced to death for terrorist offences could not invoke the argument about inordinate delay in disposing of mercy petitions due to the nature of crimes. While relying on Triveniben to come to the conclusion that the classification of terrorist and non-terrorist offences in the context of inordinate delay in disposing of mercy petitions is constitutionally invalid, the judges, in Chauhan,have not created new jurisprudence and have only clarified the content and application of earlier judgments. There is tremendous judicial skill in the manner in which they have analysed earlier judgments and applied constitutional doctrines.
Challenges and responses
The most obvious difference in the two judgments is the approach to the target groups concerned. In Koushal, the perception that only very few homosexuals have been prosecuted under Section 377 was of tremendous significance to the judges. A numerical approach to rights enforcement is rather baffling and quite alien to the jurisprudence developed by the Indian Supreme Court. In Chauhan, despite dealing with a very small group of individuals (those death row prisoners whose mercy petitions have been rejected) and in particular a group which is often hated and reviled, the judges emphatically held that the protections in the Constitution are available to every individual, without exception. Perhaps the greatest merit of the decision in Chauhan is the rejection of the argument that retribution or strong moral disapproval of actions by death row prisoners can be used to deny them constitutionally protected rights.
As far as institutional relations between different organs of the State are concerned, the Supreme Court, in Koushal, ruled that Parliament was free to amend Section 377 and decriminalise homosexuality. However, if the law were to stand, the judges felt there was no constitutional infirmity. There is a palpable reluctance to meaningfully scrutinise a law on a divisive issue where the political class has made a choice. However, in Chauhan, the Supreme Court squarely addresses the warning that the Court might be overstepping its jurisdiction because the President had already rejected the mercy petitions of all 15 prisoners. The Court is clear that it is not questioning the power of the President to reject mercy petitions but is rather interested and competent to go into the issue of whether the executive violated the rights of the death row convicts due to the inordinate delay. The Supreme Court has taken the position that it cannot be expected to abandon its role of being the guardian of the fundamental rights of all persons within the territory of India, whoever they might be.
The Supreme Court, in Chauhan, had the courage to undertake significant course correction by clarifying the ruling in Triveniben. As efforts to decriminalise homosexuality gather pace again with the scheduled review of Koushal this week, the Supreme Court must see the fact that critical questions about the constitutionality of Section 377 have not been addressed in Koushal. If the review petition does not result in correction of the errors in Koushal, the Chief Justice of India (due to retire in April 2014) will find himself in an interesting position. After having delivered a judgment that has gone a long way to restore the credibility of the Court after Koushal, the Chief Justice will have to decide if he wants to refer the constitutionality of Section 377 to a larger bench. Given the intensity of his commitment to the rule of law as displayed in Chauhan, it would be surprising if Chief Justice Sathasivam lets the poorly reasoned judgment in Koushal be a blot on his tenure as Chief Justice of India. He only needs to look as far as the Delhi High Court’s judgment on Section 377 in Naz Foundation to realise what an alternative legacy could look like.
(Anup Surendranath is an assistant professor of law and director of the Death Penalty Research Project at the National Law University, Delhi.)
To be able to deliver appropriate legal services to the rural and tribal communities, we need an alternative delivery system with a different model of legal service providers
Delivery of legal services to the rich and the corporate class is organised not through individual lawyers but through a series of networked law firms. These firms employ hundreds of lawyers and domain experts all over the country to provide highly specialised single-window services to their clients, of course at prices determined by the market. The middle class, which cannot afford their services, go to individual lawyers or publicly-funded legal aid services organised under the Legal Services Authorities Act. In this scheme of things, it is the poor and marginalised rural and tribal communities who are left out. They suffer injustice or seek justice through informal systems, including the so-called “khap panchayats.” It is this sort of situation prevailing in the countryside that provides a fertile ground for the exploitation of the poor and for the growth of extremist forces, undermining the rule of law and constitutional governance.
Myth of legal aid
The 1973 Expert Committee on Legal Aid, titled “Processual Justice to the People,” which eventually led to the enactment of the Legal Services Authorities Act, discussed the futility of the court-centric litigative aid to the poor and marginalised sections, and recommended a series of alternative strategies. Obviously, the emphasis was on legal empowerment and mobilisation, preventive and strategic legal services intended to avoid victimisation, and the development of a public sector in the legal profession capable of responding to the problems of the rural and tribal communities. Unfortunately, when the legal aid law was enacted, the focus again was on assigning a lawyer to the needy client who took the task in a traditional style of protracted litigation with its attendant costs, uncertainty and delay — much to the dismay of the poor. Moreover, the system was premised on three assumptions which were contrary to ground realities — that the victim was aware of her rights and knew how to approach courts; that legal aid offices were available in far-flung villages and tribal settlements; and that the lawyer assigned had the right values, attitudes and competence to do a professional job appropriate to the justice needs of the rural/tribal population. These assumptions did not hold good in a majority of villages and, as such, conventional legal aid became irrelevant to the rural population. Language and communication compounded the situation, alienating the marginalised from a court-centric justice system. One alternative the Legal Services Authorities Act provided was the “Lok Adalat”, which lawyers disliked. The judges, honourable exceptions apart, turned it into an exercise to reduce arrears in courts through what some people call “forced settlements or hurried justice.”
Nonetheless, the Lok Adalat did serve the cause of justice for those who could reach the court despite all the odds. For others, legal aid had very little to offer. The Supreme Court did help them in a big way in the 1980s and the 1990s through the instrument of public interest litigation (PIL), which later lost its importance because of wide abuse by the urban elite and vested interests. Although it is difficult to generalise the legal needs of the rural poor because of the diversity of population, the need for food, shelter, education, health and work are admittedly the priority. The Constitution has left it to the legislature and the executive to progressively realise these needs through laws, schemes and special measures.
At the same time, the Constitution promises to all its citizens equality of status and opportunity, as well as equal protection of the law. Finding that large sections of the poor are unable to fulfil their basic needs even after decades of democratic governance, the Supreme Court sought to interpret socio-economic rights (Directive Principles) as civil and political rights (Fundamental Rights), compelling the state to come forward with laws empowering the poor with rights enforceable under the law. The Right to Education Act, the Food Security Act, and the Employment Guarantee Act were promising initiatives in this direction. However, the poor continue to be at the receiving end of an indifferent administration because of the difficulties in accessing justice through conventional legal aid.
We, therefore, need an alternative delivery system with a different model of legal service providers in rural and tribal areas. How can one fix the land rights of the poor when they have neither ‘pattas’ nor other valid documents? How do water rights and forest rights get protected from exploitation? What happens to government-sponsored schemes for food, sanitation, health and employment, aimed at alleviating the misery of the poorest of the poor? How to ensure that children are in school and are not abused and exploited? What can be done to prevent atrocities against the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes in villages, and their forcible displacement? Where do they get credit for their livelihood activities and how are we to prevent victimisation in the process? Do they have fair market access for their produce? What happens to the bio-diversity of rural and tribal areas? How best to preserve and protect traditional knowledge and other intellectual property rights of the rural poor?
What about the labour rights of the unorganised rural poor? How are the rights of farmers to be protected against profit-hungry multinationals’ monopoly on seed, fertilizer and pesticide business? Are the villagers being exploited by state agencies like police, forest officials, banks, revenue officials and mining lobbies with impunity because of the inaccessibility of the justice system? Why is it that the Gram Nyayalaya Act, supposed to extend quick and cheap justice to the rural poor, is neglected by lawyers and judges?
Need for an alternative
When these questions were raised in a professional development workshop recently at Bilaspur in Chhattisgarh, the consensus was that we need an alternative model of legal service delivery to rural and tribal communities, for which a new pattern of legal education needs to be developed. The mainstream law schools are not clear in their mission. Legal educators blindly follow the Bar Council-prescribed court-centric curriculum, producing law graduates unfit to serve the justice needs of the tribal and rural communities. With such advocates, even a well-intentioned legal aid scheme cannot deliver justice to the marginalised sections.
The Bilaspur Workshop evolved a framework of an alternative LLB curriculum for the education and training of legal service providers, appropriate to rural and tribal needs. While the mandatory part of the BCI curriculum is accommodated, the alternative model identified over 40 subjects relevant to rural needs to be included in the optional component of the curriculum. However, the workshop felt that the new type of legal service providers proposed under the alternative model is not distinguished on the basis of knowledge of law only, but in terms of a different set of skills, attitudes and values relevant to the rural/tribal communities. It was proposed that the final year of the five-year LLB programme be devoted to experiential learning through social justice and legal aid activities in rural areas under the supervision of NGOs, self-government authorities, collectorates, and legal aid committees besides law school professors. The experiential learning is through clinical courses developed by law schools for appropriate credits.
Students seeking to set up practice in rural areas will form themselves into what may be called lawyers’ cooperatives or rural law firms, and train in advocacy before public bodies, administrative authorities, Gram Nyayalayas and regulatory agencies, besides courts and tribunals. They will be assisted by trained para-legals from among school dropouts and social activists of the area. The fee for each legal service will be fixed and notified by firms and they will be affordable. These rural law firms will be organised professionally on the lines of urban law firms in terms of technology and quality of services. Cheap, prompt and reliable services will be the hallmark of rural law firms. The law school will give the successful candidates not only an LLB degree but also a diploma in rural legal practice, which will distinguish them from the rest.
It will be the endeavour of law schools adopting this curriculum to assist the graduates to set up their practice in rural and tribal areas, organisationally and financially. Towards this end, the law school will approach the large urban law firms to extend their help as part of their corporate social responsibility. Besides, State governments and the National Legal Services Authority will be asked to give them subsidy in locating their offices in villages and recognising them as public defenders for identified services. Some law schools in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh and northeastern India have shown interest in adopting this model of legal education. The immediate problem, of course, is to find the right kind of teachers who can deliver under this alternative curriculum. To meet this challenge, there is a proposal to offer a one-year diploma in Law Teaching and Research to teachers of law schools in these States, with a view to augmenting the available resources.
To conclude, the Bilaspur Declaration offers the hope that Indian legal education will turn round and look at the constitutional mandate on responding to the unmet justice needs of the large body of rural and tribal communities in the near future. Professions are, after all, for the people and no profession can survive without their trust and support. The earlier this is recognised by the organised Bar and the government, the better it will be for the country and the professions themselves.
(Professor Madhava Menon is IBA Chair on Continuing Legal Education at National Law School of India, and a Member of the Advisory Council to the National Mission on Justice Delivery and Legal Reform, Government of India.)