Continued self-education is indispensable to honing the skills of lawyers in emerging areas of practice and to their social relevance in a changing world
The Indian legal profession has grown over a short period of less than 50 years to become the world’s largest and most influential in the governance of the country. At the same time, it reflects the diversity of Indian society, its caste structure, inequalities and urbanised delivery of services depending upon the market forces. Being a private monopoly, the profession is organised like a pyramid in which the top 20 per cent command 80 per cent of paying work, the middle 30 per cent managing to survive by catering to the needs of the middle class and government litigation, while the bottom 50 per cent barely survive with legal aid cases and cases managed through undesirable and exploitative methods! Given the poor quality of legal education in the majority of the so-called law colleges (over a thousand of them working in small towns and panchayats without infrastructure and competent faculty), what happened with uncontrolled expansion was the overcrowding of ill-equipped lawyers in the bottom 50 per cent of the profession fighting for a piece of the cake. In the process, being too numerous, the middle and the bottom segments got elected to professional bodies which controlled the management of the entire profession. The so-called leaders of the profession who have abundant work, unlimited money, respect and influence did not bother to look into what was happening to the profession and allowed it to go its way — of inefficiency, strikes, boycotts and public ridicule. This is the tragedy of the Indian Bar today which had otherwise a noble tradition of being in the forefront of the freedom struggle and maintaining the rule of law and civil liberties even in difficult times.
In the midst of such drift and mediocrity, the world around including the legal environment changed and opportunities for legally trained persons grew phenomenally, thanks to globalisation, technological revolution and economic liberalisation. The emergence of the National Law School movement and the Five-Year Integrated LL.B. programme attracted talented students who stormed into the legal market making a dent, though small, in the monopoly of the top 20 per cent. It gave hope to the rest of the middle and bottom segments of the professional pyramid that by playing the game with some professional skills, they too could penetrate the higher ranks which were largely reserved for the kith and kin of successful lawyers and judges so far. This is the context in which continuing legal education (CLE) is to be appreciated for professional development and better delivery of legal services.
There is as yet no organised system of CLE in the country. In the 1970s and 1980s, when the Bar Council of India Trust organised few CLE programmes, there were enthusiastic responses from all segments of the profession. Advocates paid the cost, suspended their practice and joined the residential courses around areas like criminal advocacy, constitutional litigation, matrimonial adjudication, commercial law practice, etc. The idea of specialisation in legal practice was well received and professionalism in management of client services appreciated. The issue of professional ethics on which advocates had no training whatsoever came to be acknowledged. More importantly, the CLE programmes inculcated a sense of public service as the hallmark of the profession and advocates sought to expand the public-interest litigation jurisdiction of courts to enlarge access to justice for the common man. In short, even a casual attempt to offer CLE has ignited the imagination of a large number of advocates on the relevance and usefulness of continuing education to hone their skills in emerging areas of legal practice and maintain their role as social engineers in the process of development. Over the years, this awareness has spread among the younger members of the profession though, unfortunately, there was no one to offer the CLE programmes relevant to the changing demands of the legal market.
CLE is also a measure of the accountability of the profession. The days of the general practitioner have gone and specialists have entered the scene. The competence of the legal practitioner is critical for clients and any dilution in the quality of services rendered is bound to be counter productive. CLE is the major instrument of all professions to ensure minimum competence in the delivery of services. It enhances professionalism, accountability and public respect for the profession. In short, CLE is indispensable for maintaining professional competence and its social relevance.
Competence or quality is the product of knowledge, attitudes, values, skills and ability to apply them for professional tasks. Legal education in colleges hardly teaches anything more than knowledge and that too inadequately. Some skills are acquired in early days of practice through observation and participation. CLE alone can possibly give the rest to provide competence to a young lawyer for whom professional bodies at present have no alternatives to offer. In the past, a year-long apprenticeship and a bar examination hopefully provided some insight into abilities, values and attitudes. They have been abolished and the new entrants are left to their fate!
What makes a professional
What are the elements of professional attitude? It has to do with sensitivity to professional responsibility, due diligence in handling clients’ affairs, loyalty to the profession, orderliness in management of tasks and commitment to quality in all circumstances. These are not inherited but learnt and cultivated. Continued self-education is the attribute of a professional.
Values too are learnt and cultivated by professionals by deliberate application of mind. Competent legal practitioners who have won public esteem have a keen sense of personal and professional ethics. Competence and its continued maintenance is itself a professional value. Integrity and honesty always pay in a profession. Respect for the rule of law is another value which no professional can ignore at any time. Obligation to serve the cause of justice or fight injustice is an abiding value of a legal practitioner. CLE can make value education a central focus of its programmes and help new entrants to the profession be aware of the role of values for professional competence. It is in the sphere of upgradation of knowledge particularly in emerging areas of legal practice where CLE can help the most. Knowledge is not just an awareness of rules; it includes comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation. Good law colleges attempt to teach through clinical methods, application of knowledge to solve problems through analysis, synthesis and evaluation. In India such colleges are few. There are very few teachers trained in clinical teaching methods. Therefore, there is a tremendous vacuum in professional training which is waiting to be addressed through CLE.
Finally, professional competence in the field of law is the outcome of skilled application of knowledge in which proper skills are decisive to the outcome. These include interviewing and counselling skills, negotiation and mediation skills, research and writing skills, communication and advocacy skills, drafting skills, fact gathering and articulation skills, time and stress management skills, etc. all of which can be acquired through supervised practice supported by guided theoretical learning. CLE is the best mechanism to learn skills particularly in the context of the explosion in knowledge and technology.
For the first time in the history of legal education, the National Law School of India University, Bangalore, has established a Chair on Continuing Legal Education with support from the International Bar Association, the Ford Foundation and the Menon Institute of Legal Advocacy Training. A series of CLE programmes for lawyers and law teachers have been announced to help professional development and to enable law schools to set up CLE centres for institutionalising CLE at all levels of the system. While judges have their training academies in every State, the legal profession ended up with no provision for continuing education without which it is in danger of losing its competence to serve the complex demands of a developing society. This is what the Bangalore initiative on CLE is addressing though in a small way for the legal profession in India. Hopefully, in the next two or three years, a network of CLE institutions will come up around the country which will pave the way for enhancing the professional competence of advocates and thereby the quality of legal services in the country.
(Professor Menon was the Founder Director of the National Law Schools at Bangalore and Kolkata, and of the National Judicial Academy at Bhopal.)
NATIONAL LEGAL RESEARCH DESK
The Union Cabinet today approved the introduction of a Bill in the Budget Session of Parliament to amend the Registration of Births and Deaths Act, 1969 to include registration of marriages as well, so that the existing administrative mechanisms will be able to carry out such registration of marriages in accordance with the specified procedures and be able to maintain necessary records and statistics for registration of marriages also.
The Cabinet also approved introducing a Bill in Parliament to further amend the Anand Marriage Act, 1909 to provide for registration of marriages under the Act.
The proposed Bills will be beneficial for the women from unnecessary harassment in matrimonial and maintenance cases. It will also provide evidentiary value in the matters of custody of children, right of children born from the wedlock of the two persons whose marriage is registered and the age of the parties to the marriage.
The Hon`ble Supreme Court vide its judgment dated 14.02.2006 in Seema Vs. Ashwani Kumar (AIR 2006 S.C 1158) has directed the State Governments and the Central Government that marriages of all persons who are citizens of India belonging to various religious denominations should be made compulsorily registerable in their respective States where such marriages are solemnized and inter alia directing that as and when the Central Government enacts a comprehensive statute, the same shall be placed before that Court for scrutiny.
The Committee on Empowerment of Women (2006-2007) in its Twelfth Report (Fourteenth Lok Sabha) on “Plight of Indian Women deserted by Indian husbands” has viewed that all marriages, irrespective of religion should be compulsorily registered and desired that the Government to make registration of all marriages mandatory, making the procedure simpler, affordable and accessible.
The 18th Law Commission of India in its 205th Report titled” Proposal to Amend the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 and Other Allied Laws” vide paragraph (iv) recommending that “registration of marriages within a stipulated period, of all the communities, viz. Hindu, Muslim, Christians, etc. should be made mandatory by the Government”.
The 18th Law Commission of India further in its 211th Report titled “Laws on Registration of Marriage and Divorce- A proposal for consolidation and Reform”, recommending for a Parliamentary Legislation on Compulsory Registration of Marriages by enacting of a “Marriage and Divorce Registration Act” which may be made applicable to the whole of India and to all citizens irrespective of their religion and personal law and without any exceptions or exemptions”.
The Registration of Births and Deaths Act, 1969 (18 of 1969) is an Act to provide for the regulation of registration of births and deaths and for the matters connected therewith. Accordingly, provisions have already been provided in the said Act for Registration establishment consisting of Registrar-General, Chief Registrar and Registration Division, District Registrars and Registrars. Further, procedures for registration of births and death and for maintenance of records and statistics are provided for in the said Act. Also, by virtue of the powers conferred under section 30 thereof, rules for compulsory registration of births and deaths have been framed by all the State Governments and Union territory Administrations. Therefore, if the said Act is suitably amended to include registration of marriages as well, then the existing administrative mechanisms will be able to carry out such registration of marriages in accordance with the specified procedures and be able to maintain necessary records and statistics for registration of marriages also.
The registration of marriages of the parties under the proposed amendment would not affect any right recognized or acquired by any party to marriage under any law, custom or usage.
Human beings across civilizations have always strove to strike a balance between working and resting, reporting and judging, befriending and avoiding, warmth and coldness, speech and expression, joy and frustration … and many intermingled aspects of daily and social life.
What is the right balance? It cannot be constant as it depends as much on the time and age as on a person’s temperament, attitude and disposition. No one has found it and nobody can claim that he or she did everything right in life without displeasing anyone.
In the era of 24×7 television and internet sweeping information across the world in a matter of milliseconds, the Supreme Court of India is attempting to strike a balance between the rights of the accused to a fair trial, protection of witnesses, public’s right to know and media’s right to freedom of speech and expression by exploring the possibility of laying down guidelines for reporting trials of criminal cases.
A five-judge constitution bench has already put the debate cauldron on the hearth. It intends to fill the legal vacuum with a studied and debated guideline to prevent media’s foray into the right to life domain of an accused, prejudicing him during the trial.
Will it be law-making or just finding the law to fill the vacuum? The Supreme Court in the epic ‘Keshavananda Bharati’ judgment [1973 (4) SCC 225] had said, “It is somewhat strange that judicial process which involves law-making should be called ‘finding of law’.”
In India, the Supreme Court alone can interpret the law. English clergyman Bishop Benjamin Hoadley’s 1717 sermon said, “Whoever has absolute power to interpret the law, it is he who is the law giver, not the one who originally wrote it.”
American jurist Benjamin N Cardozo had in his book ‘The Nature of Judicial Process’ said, “The law which is the resulting product is not made, but found. The process being legislative, (it) demands legislator’s wisdom.”
It reminds M R Cohen’s golden lines in the book ‘Law and the Social Order’ – “Some simple hearted people believe that the names we give to things do not matter. But though rose by any other name might smell as sweet, the history of civilization bears ample testimony to the momentous influence of names. At any rate, whether the process of judicial legislation should be called finding or making law is undoubtedly of great practical moment.”
Given the complexities of the judicial law-making process intended to fill the legal vacuum, the Supreme Court would surely lay emphasis on the crucial balancing aspect.
Mahabharat’s Yudhisthir, who set supreme standards in balancing his speech and action, had passed his surrogate father Dharmaraj’s two tough tests. On a hot day while in exile, the Pandavas were very thirsty. Sahadev, Nakul, Arjun and Bhim went in search of water one after the other. They found a lake but failed to answer lake-guard Yaksha‘s philosophical puzzles.
Defiantly, they drank water and fell dead. Yudhisthir answered the questions. The Yaksha promised life only to one of his brothers. Yudhisthir chose Nakula and justified that since one of Kunti’s son was alive, a son of Madri must live.
Yudhisthir faced the other test during the Pandavas bodily journey to heaven. After his brothers fell on the wayside, a dog joined Yudhisthir and kept pace with him till the gates of heaven. Indra came with a chariot to take Yudhisthir but told him to leave the dog behind. Yudhisthir said he would rather spurn heaven to stay with his companion.
In between these two incidents, Yudhisthir donned the role of a journalist when Kaurava general Drona was on a rampage on the 15th day of the Great War. The Pandavas killed an elephant named Ashwathama, which was also Drona’s son’s name. A rumour was floated that the enemy army chief’s son was dead. Drona confronted Yudhisthir, who reported aloud that Ashwathama was killed while muttering under his breath that he was not sure whether it was a man or an elephant.
It is difficult to explain why Yudhisthir, who perfected the art of balancing his speech and action, failed when it came to reporting correctly!
Coming to the Supreme Court’s guidelines exercise, a question arises – is it born out of over-sensitiveness? We hope it is not. For the court had in Rajesh Kumar Singh case [2007 (7) SCR 869] warned, “Of late, a perception that is slowly gaining ground among public is that sometimes, some judges are showing over-sensitiveness with a tendency to treat even technical violations or unintended acts as contempt.
“It is possible that it is done to uphold the majesty of the courts, and to command respect. But judges, like everyone else, will have to earn respect. They cannot demand respect by demonstration of ‘power’. Nearly two centuries ago, Justice John Marshall, the Chief Justice of American Supreme Court, warned that the power of judiciary lies, not in deciding cases, nor in imposing sentences, nor in punishing for contempt, but in trust, confidence and faith of the common man.”
NEW DELHI: As Supreme Court Wednesday explored the option of postponing the publication of court proceedings in sensitive matters, including criminal cases, it was told that news was a perishable commodity which lost its value, if banned.
“We are not banning but are invoking the doctrine of postponement. It is a question of the timing” of the reporting of court proceedings, Chief Justice S.H. Kapadia told counsel Anup Bhambhani who appeared for News Broadcasters Association ( NBA).
While evaluating the option of postponing the publication of the court proceedings, the court indicated that it may frame guidelines as had been done in some specific cases. The postponement of the publication of the ongoing court proceedings in a case would amount to ban for a certain period thereby rendering it useless, Bhambhani told the apex court‘s constitutional bench of Chief Justice Kapadia, Justice D.K. Jain, Justice S.S. Nijjar, Justice R.P. Desai and Justice J.S. Khehar.
“News is a perishable commodity. If its publication is banned then it would lose its news value,” Bhambhani told the court adding that the “practical effect of what the court is contemplating would be something it had not even thought of”.
The court asked “can media analyse the evidence even before the court had done and prejudice the case of the accused facing trial”. The judges said this on an application by the Sahara India Real Estate Corp agitating its grievance over a news channel reporting its proposal made to the Securities and Exchange Board of India on securing the money it had mopped up from the market.
On an application by Sahara, the court said it would frame guidelines for reporting of sub-judice matters. Bhambhani said an accused facing trial in the 2G case could in future approach the court saying the media should be restrained from reporting the court proceedings in his case as it was affecting his business interest. “It (postponement) will open a Pandora’s box.”
He favoured putting in place guidelines as the broadcasters had already done for themselves under the stewardship of former chief justice J.S. Verma. Senior counsel Fali Nariman, appearing for Sahara, told the court that under Article 19 of the constitution people had a right to know and the right to be informed.
He said that live telecast of parliament proceedings were the satisfaction of the right to know and the right to be informed. Every citizen has a right to know what their elected representatives were doing in parliament even if they were staging a walkout, Nariman told the court, suggesting that the court proceedings could not be shielded from the people.
Addressing the court’s option of postponement of publication of court proceedings, Nariman said that there could not be any preventive relief.
He said that courts were not empowered to make such guidelines nor was there any statutory empowerment for then to do so. The court asked Nariman if he could suggest how to balance the freedom of press with the right of an accused facing trial. The court said that in Canada they do have some law and Ireland has guidelines that restrain one-sided reporting that causes prejudice to the accused.
- SC will begin contemplating ‘framing of guidelines’ for court reporters (indialawyers.wordpress.com)
In a constitutional democracy based on rule of law, citizens operate under a golden rule: “The right to swing my fist ends where the other man’s nose begins”. This articulation by American jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes has conveyed to every one, including newspaper reporters, that their right to freedom of expression is not higher than the fundamental rights of others.
If a baseless swing of a reporter’s pen scratches another’s nose, then he faces law like ordinary citizens. But, some grave and incessant misreporting in media in the last few months has forced the Supreme Court to constitute a five-Judge constitution bench to deliberate on framing reporting guidelines on sub-judice matters.
The exercise is welcome. The guidelines will, probably, contain the golden principles telling reporters what to report and what not to, and importantly, how to write a news report. In the Indian Express judgement [1985 (1) SCC 641], the apex court had said the right to freedom of expression enjoyed by reporters could not be subjected to additional restriction other than those provided under Article 19(2) of the Constitution.
The SC had also said: “Freedom of press is the heart of social and political intercourse…. Newspapers being purveyors of news and views having a bearing on public administration very often carry material which could not be palatable to the government and other authorities. With a view to checking malpractices which interfere with free flow of information, democratic constitutions all over the world have made provisions guaranteeing the freedom of speech and expression laying down limits of interference with it.”
“It is the primary duty of all national courts to uphold the said freedom and invalidate all laws or administrative actions which interfere with it, contrary to the constitutional mandate,” it had said.
Even if one takes that framing of guidelines for media on reporting sub-judice matters is a pressing issue, would it be more important than about 30% of the country’s population going hungry every day even after 62 years of India becoming a republic? When a vast humanity is living below poverty line and yet the government jokes that those who spend Rs 29 a day are not poor, doesn’t it ring an alarm bell about something being seriously wrong with governance? How about a guideline to make the right to life of one-third of Indians a little more meaningful? Would the SC attempt it?
The poor have been waiting for justice for years with no signs of better times in the immediate future. Another six crores (it would be much more but we take a very conservative estimate by assuming that only two persons are involved in each of the nearly 3 crore cases pending) are waiting for years in a labyrinthine queue for justice. Should the excruciating delays result in denial of justice? Would a guideline to limit case life to 2-3 years not pressing enough?
Talking about maladies faced by the country, the Vohra committee report in the 1990s pinned the blame on the unholy nexus among police-criminal-bureaucrat-mafia-politician. The SC in the Vineet Narain judgement dealt with this issue but did not issue a guideline to break the nexus.
It had also dealt with hawala scam in the 1990s and black money only two years ago. According to a conservative estimate by the National Institute of Public Policy, black money in our economy is around Rs 37,000 crore, which is a little more than one-fifth of the gross domestic product (GDP). It is an admitted position that on a conservative estimate the black money in circulation in India would match the quantum of white money. Should the SC not put forth guidelines to unearth the black money? A two-judge bench of the SC did make an attempt. But, the order is in limbo as a fresh bench hearing the Centre’s review petition gave a split verdict.
To give a specific example, the Rs 14,000-crore Satyam scam happened because of alleged deliberate auditing manipulations by chartered accountants of a reputed firm. With the plummeting share prices, dreams of millions crashed. Should the Supreme Court not frame guidelines for chartered accountants on how to audit, at least when it involves big listed companies?
For framing of guidelines, we must not forget the riots and its virulent kind, the communal riots. The apex court has dealt with the two most notorious ones in the history of modern India – the 1984 anti-Sikh riots and the 2002 post-Godhra riots. It did a great job in the 2002 case. It brought the perpetrators to book by breaking the shield provided to them by those in power. Should the SC have not framed guidelines for both police and governments on how to deal with communal riots? A guideline for rehabilitation of victims and prosecution of culprits would also not be out of place.
- SC will begin contemplating ‘framing of guidelines’ for court reporters (indialawyers.wordpress.com)
Come Tuesday, the Supreme Court will begin contemplating ‘framing of guidelines’ for court reporters. How the hearings play out affects both reporters and you, the citizen
Picture this: After months of waiting, your property dispute or society imbroglio finally comes up for hearing. Enter the court reporter — seeing his presence in the court causes a palpable impact on the behaviour of lawyers and judges alike. However, if the Supreme Court of India has its way this Tuesday, court reporters across India will now have to follow guidelines on how to report matters of their beat. The court will be hearing interventions in the matter of ‘framing of guidelines for reporting of cases in media.’
The guidelines the Supreme Court frames potentially impact coverage of all courts in India. In 2007, the SC had also framed a similar set of norms for accreditation of legal correspondents covering the apex court, which, among other things, insisted that journalists have a law degree, and a certain amount of experience. On March 20, a Constitution bench of the Supreme Court led by Chief Justice of India SH Kapadia took up the issue of framing guidelines for the media to report cases in courts. The setting up of the Constitution Bench by the CJI comes in the wake of misreporting of court hearings and leaking of confidential information affecting litigants.
Veteran journalist and columnist MJ Antony considered the impact the move would have on the freedom of the press. “If a report is found to have been in violation of the guidelines, are we going to scrutinise individual paragraphs to prove it? Who will be held liable for the mistake? What is the punishment and what is the remedy?” Besides, he points out that all media organisations have their own code of conduct, besides which exist bodies like the National Broadcast Association and the Press Council of India. Advocate Madhavi Divan, author of Facets of Media Law, a commentary on aspects of media law and its regulation emphasised that the ‘open justice system’ must not be forgotten. “Traditionally, any member of the public could come in and watch court proceedings. The logic of this has been that the public should be allowed to understand the administration of justice. As they say, ‘justice must seem to be done’.”
But she adds that the media is in a slightly different position. “Unlike the American Constitution, ours confers no special status to the press beyond ‘freedom of speech and expression‘, but the media still remains a trustee. The public relies on the media for responsible dissemination of news, and this must be taken into account. As long as the guidelines do not unreasonably restrict the freedom of speech and expression, the media cannot protest.” Welcoming the move, court reporter-turned-advocate Rajiv Wagh said, “Reporting court proceedings is quite different from covering politics or crime. One does not need technical knowledge to cover those subjects. Some training imparted by news organisations would be helpful. The court itself could also consider running short training programs specifically for court reporters.”
To some extent, adds Antony, the media can correct its own mistakes. “If a doctor makes a mistake, the patient may die. If a structural engineer makes a mistake, a building might collapse. But if a newspaper makes a mistake, it can issue a clarification and rectify it.”
The biggest problem, say journalists, is the lack of a proper channel to dispense information from courts in real-time. Many orders and judgements are uploaded on the Internet, but that is often too late for reporters to make a good story of. Reporters must also be familiar with the laws of contempt, in order to safeguard their interests and yet manage to break stories.
Motive and Intent
Above all, added Wagh, your motives should be clear. “You can tell from a report when a story is motivated. When your motives are clear and your only intent is to get the truth out, you will rarely get into trouble.” There is also an urgent need to implement a system of cross-verifying what a reporter hears in court. Divan said, “There has been talk of implementing video recording, which would go a long way in preventing inaccuracies. Abroad, every word uttered in court is recorded in writing, so the question of misreporting doesn’t arise.”
Concluded Divan, “It is unfortunate that the courts have had to step in; it should not have come to this. The media ought to have regulated itself from the outset.”
Our judiciary creaking under the seemingly impossible load of cases awaiting disposal needs urgent attention if we have to avoid collapse of the system, which could put in jeopardy the whole state of orderly society.
Law courts no longer inspire public confidence, as litigants only get increasingly distant dates for their next hearings each time they approach them. The proverb “justice delayed is justice denied” too seems inadequate to describe the prevailing circumstances. Judgments come after endless wait, which ensures there is rarely any sense of satisfaction or justice. As pending cases pile up, the judicial system is not in a position to meet the challenge of arrears that have swamped courts from top to bottom.
According to the latest statistics available from the Supreme Court’s report on vacancies and pending cases, the apex court has now run up a backlog of 56,383 cases — the highest figure in a decade. The situation is similar in the country’s 21 high courts, where 42,17,903 cases are awaiting disposal. In lower judiciary, which constitutes the base of the entire judicial pyramid, the total number of such cases stood at 2,79,53,070 at the end of March 2011. And these figures do not include the cases pending in various tribunals and other quasi-judicial bodies. If those were also added to the grand total, the arrears in lower courts would well cross the figure of 3 crore, which is alarming, to say the least.
The right to fair and speedy trial holds little promise for the aggrieved who knock at the door of courts as a last resort for justice or relief. Invoking the law seems to mean only wasted years, heavy financial burden, besides emotional and physical trauma. Prolonged delays also mean high rate of acquittal in criminal cases — it is as high as 93.02 per cent in India. Unable to get justice from courts, victims often take the law into their own hands to settle scores with culprits. This only multiplies the problem of law and order, and in turn the load on courts. It has also encouraged kangaroo courts in the form of khap panchayats or lynch mobs in many parts of the country, which mete out rough-and-ready justice on the spot. The painfully slow justice delivery system also leads to corruption and lack of investment in vital economic spheres owing to uncertain contract enforcement, higher transaction costs and general inflationary bias, which the finance minister has also acknowledged.
TOO FEW JUDGES
Among other issues, inadequate judge strength at all levels is the main factor behind the delay and the resultant backlog. In proportion to its population, India has the lowest number of judges among the major democracies of the world. There are 13.05 judges per 1 million people, as against Australia’s 58 per million, Canada’s 75, the UK 100, and the USA 130 per million. In 2002, the Supreme Court had directed the Centre to raise the judge-population ratio to 50 per million in a phased manner, as recommended by the Law Commission in its 120th report. The suggestion has had little effect.
Even the existing judge strength is reduced further when judicial vacancies are not filled promptly. For instance, the Supreme Court had only 26 judges in October last year, including the Chief Justice of India, against the sanctioned strength of 31. The vacancy level in the 21 high courts of the country, if put together, is 32 per cent, with 291 posts of judge — against the sanctioned strength of 895 — lying vacant for a long time.
In subordinate courts, where we have the maximum backlog of cases, there are 3,170 posts vacant. The sanctioned strength of district judges has gone up to 17,151, according to the Supreme Court’s report on vacancies and pending cases. Filling these vacancies will have a direct impact on India’s governance indicators, improving investor sentiment and advancing economic growth.
If we look into the World Bank Institute‘s Governance Matters set of indicators specifically for rule of law, India had a percentile rank of 54.5 in 2010 (coming down from 60.3 in 2000), which compares ill to 97.2 for the Netherlands, 91.5 for the US, and 81 for South Korea. Other World Bank documents, quoting market analysts, say that it is not unusual for the first hearing in Indian courts to take six years, and the final decision up to 20 years.
SPEED UP SELECTION
The power of appointment to top judicial posts is vested in a collegium of senior judges, with the executive virtually playing second fiddle. Apart from being opaque, the system has simply failed to deliver. It is not uncommon for higher courts to remain without their full strength for months, or even more. The selection process, therefore, ought to be speeded up. Whenever a vacancy is expected to arise, steps should be initiated well in advance and the process of appointment completed beforehand. In the case of resignation or death, the selection process should come into play without delay to ensure that the Benches work with full strength. And, if the wholesome principle of merit, enunciated by the Law Commission, is accepted in principle, there is no reason why there should be any delay in determining appointments or filling vacancies.
Also, unless the judiciary is given full financial autonomy, the problem of pendency of cases or non-appointment of judges will persist. Funds are required for creating new posts of judge, increasing the number of courts and providing infrastructure. The judiciary has to petition the Law Ministry each time it needs finances, which are forever hard to come by. Less than 0.3 per cent of the Gross National Product (GNP) — or 0.78 per cent of the total revenue — is spent on the judiciary in India. This, when more than half of the amount is being generated by the judiciary itself through court fees and fines. In the UK, USA and Japan, the expenses on judiciary are between 12 and 15 per cent of the total expenditure.
Together with adequate manpower, it is imperative to simplify and reform the current procedural laws which provide ample scope to obstruct and stultify the legal process. Though of colonial antiquity and Kafkaesque obscurity and cumbersomeness, these laws have somehow survived despite their comicality in today’s eco-friendly and “paperwork unfriendly” times, a sure way to delay disposal of cases. In addition, there are myriad laws and other specious requirements, which have no relevance today, yet are frequently invoked. These must be repealed to expedite the judicial process. “Court procedure is not to be a tyrant but a servant, not an obstruction but an aid to justice, a lubricant and not a resistant in the administration of justice,” the Supreme Court has observed. After all, procedures are meant to help the law, not defeat it.
Impelled by the motivation of pecuniary gains, lawyers often indulge in unethical practices of stalling court proceedings deliberately. At every stage, a number of interlocutory applications are filed and adjournments on flimsy grounds sought to defeat the purpose of speedy dispensation of justice. Such is the situation that even expansion of the judicial machinery will not achieve much until rules about stay orders and adjournments are also changed to prevent lawyers from prolonging litigation. In addition, punitive fines should be imposed on unscrupulous litigants found to be abusing the process of law to discourage unnecessary or frivolous litigation and to make the judiciary self-supporting.
Instead of arguing their cases endlessly, it would be better for lawyers to present their submissions in writing to the judge so that cases could be decided on merit on the basis of documents and written submissions filed by both the parties before the judge, without the fanfare of formal court sessions and personal attendance of petitioners, respondents and lawyers. Direct written representation by the parties, rather than oral arguments spoken in the din and bustle of crowded courtrooms, would also lower the risk of miscarriage of justice. This practice, followed in the US Supreme Court (where oral arguments serve as additions to the obligatory written brief), can be easily adopted in Indian courts. Constitutional and corporate matters have little scope for courtroom histrionics.
Judges also ought to exercise restraint against the temptation of writing lengthy judgments running into several hundred pages, incorporating their social, political, economic and philosophical beliefs. The judge’s time is most precious and is paid for from the taxpayers’ money, and should not be wasted in expounding one’s personal ideologies. Justice, equity and fair play demand that judges are more crisp and precise while writing their judgments rather than rely on lengthy quotes and superfluous observations. They should deliver judgments as early as possible, instead of keeping them reserved for long durations.
AIM FOR CONCILIATION
The legal strategy for modern India should aim at conciliation and not confrontation, in keeping with our tradition of tolerance and mutual accommodation. The focus should be on “conciliatory legal realism”. A judge should not merely sit like an umpire, but participate in the efforts to iron out differences and encourage the parties to arrive at a settlement. This would help reduce the backlog of cases, avoid the multi-tier process and also lead to reconciliation of legal disputes without causing much enmity and bitterness.
However, any attempt at judicial reform, including raising the number and strength of courts, improving the selection process of judges or setting up evening and fast-track courts throughout the country to dispose of cases quickly will fail unless high courts succeed in establishing that they are reliable and just, and instil such confidence in litigants that they forgo the last resort of the apex court, except in rare cases. At the same time, if the trial courts at the grassroots level are also properly strengthened and made effective instruments of justice in the real sense, the cycle of appeal and counter-appeal could be broken and delay reduced. The litigation backlog would then melt like an iceberg in a tropical sea.
The writer is a legal consultant, and advocate at the Delhi High Court and the Supreme Court
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Issue in cognisable offence referred to Constitution Bench
The Supreme Court has referred to a five-judge Constitution Bench the question whether the police are duty-bound to register a First Information Report on receipt of a complaint or information of commission of a cognisable offence or there is discretion on their part to order a preliminary probe before that exercise.
A Bench of Justices Dalveeer Bhandari, T.S. Thakur and Dipak Misra referred to Chief Justice of India S.H. Kapadia a writ petition which raised the important issue: whether it is imperative on the part of the officer in-charge of a police station to register a case under Section 154 of the Code of Criminal Procedure 1973 or whether he or she has the option or latitude of conducting some sort of preliminary enquiry before registering it. Writing the order, Justice Bhandari said: “We have carefully analysed various judgments delivered by this court in the last several decades. We clearly discern divergent judicial opinions on the main issue.”
The Bench said: “This court also carved out a special category… in the cases of Santosh Kumar and Dr. Suresh Gupta where a preliminary enquiry had been postulated before registering an FIR.”
Counsel for some States also submitted that the CBI Manual “envisages some kind of preliminary enquiry before registering the FIR,” the Bench said. “In view of the divergent opinions in a large number of cases decided by this court, it has become extremely important to have a clear enunciation of law and adjudication by a larger Bench for the benefit of all concerned — the courts, the investigating agencies and the citizens.”
Expeditious trial of cases has to be ensured by making necessary changes in procedure. States must create a separate investigation cadre. Separate prosecution cadre is also required. This was stated by the Union Home Minister Sh. P. Chidambaram at the Consultative Committee meeting of the Ministry of Home Affairs which discussed the topic: Investigation, Prosecution & Trial – the need for revamping. He informed members that Law Commission of India has been requested to give a report on the amendments required immediately. He said the Department- related Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs while examining the Code of Criminal Procedure (Amendment) Bill, 2010 in its 146th Report has recommended that there should be comprehensive review of the Criminal Justice System and introduction of composite draft legislation for revamping of the Criminal Justice System in the country. Accordingly, Ministry of Law & Justice have been requested to request the Law Commission of India to examine and give a comprehensive report covering all aspects of criminal law, so that comprehensive amendments could be made in the various laws viz. IPC, Cr.P.C., Evidence Act, etc. It was also suggested that the Law Commission of India may also, inter-alia, take into account the recommendations made by Malimath Committee & other Committee/Commission in this regard. The recommendations of the Law Commission of India in this regard are awaited.
While initiating the discussion, the Union Home Minister said, the investigation has moved to technology based evidence, new forensic tools are used by other countries. We also need to move towards it. He said the Committee on Reforms of the Criminal Justice System, constituted on 24.11.2000 under the Chairmanship of Justice V. Malimath, former Chief Justice of Karnataka and Kerala High Courts, considered measures for revamping the criminal justice system and gave recommendations on various aspects of the criminal justice system including investigation, prosecution and the trial procedure in its Report submitted in March, 2003. Since the Criminal Law and Criminal Procedure are on the Concurrent List of Seventh Schedule to the Constitution of India and the same are administered by the State Governments, any amendment to them requires consultation with the State Governments. In view of this, the report was forwarded to the State Governments and Union Territories Administrations to obtain their views/comments.
The Law Commission of India also reviewed the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 in its 154th Report. The 197th Report of the Law Commission of India examined the issues relating to appointment of Public Prosecutor. The view of the State Governments/Union Territory administration on recommendation of Law Commission have been sought. Some of the issues relating to investigation, prosecution and trial procedure highlighted in these reports are:
The Investigation Wing should be separated from the Law and Order Wing. A separate wing of the investigation with clear mandate and it is accountable only to Rule of Law is the needed. The Law Commission of India specifically discussed this issue threadbare in its 154th Report and categorically recommended for separating the investigating agency from the law and order police. Placement policy of investigating staff, inadequate training, Comprehensive use of Forensic Science from the inception and problems related to Medico Legal Services were highlighted.
Several measures have been suggested to improve the quality of investigation. Interrogation centres should be set up at district headquarters in each district where they do not exist and strengthened where they exist. A mechanism for coordination amongst investigators, forensic experts and prosecutors at the State at district level for effective investigations and prosecutions should be devised. A suitable provision be made to exclude the period during which the accused is not available for investigation on grounds of health etc. for computing the permissible period of police custody. Refusal to entertain complaints regarding commission of any offence should be made punishable. Stringent punishment for false registration of cases & false complaints.
Members highlighted that the common man suffers as the manner in which police investigation is conducted is of critical importance to the functioning of the criminal justice system. A prompt and quality investigation is the foundation of an effective criminal justice system. They also raised the issue of non-registration of cases by police in some cases. On this, Sh. P. Chidambaram informed Members that in Delhi all but sensitive FIRs are on website. The members also called for separate cadres for investigation work and prosecution.
A Hindu woman cannot be evicted out of the matrimonial home after divorce except through procedure established by law, as there is no provision for her automatic eviction, the Supreme Court has ruled. A bench of justices G S Singhvi and S D Mukhopadhyay, in a judgement, said that though a woman may not have a legal right to continue in the house of the ex-husband, yet the latter cannot forcibly evict her. The apex court gave the ruling while upholding an appeal filed by Ranjit Kaur challenging the decisions of the Punjab and Haryana high court which had upheld her eviction from the house of a disputed property upon a decree of divorce granted to the husband Major Harmohinder Singh, an Army officer. “Learned counsel is right in his submission that even though in the decree of divorce, the appellant has not been given a right of residence and her occupation of the suit property can be treated as unauthorised, respondent No 1 (Singh) cannot evict her except after following the procedure established by law. “The material placed on record shows that the appellant had entered into the property as the wife of respondent No. 1. Therefore, even though, after passing of the decree of the divorce she may not have a legal right to continue to remain in possession of the suit property, respondent No. 1 cannot be given liberty to forcibly evict her,” the bench said.
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