Court Managers in the Indian judiciary

Several states have neither fully absorbed the position nor provided any real authority to court managers.
Court Managers, files
Court Managers, files

While speaking on judicial administration, the late Prof (Dr) Madhava Menon once said, “the two important revolutions that have changed the management of both the public and private sector during the 20th century, are the management revolution and the information communication revolution.”

A closer look at various developments would indicate that these revolutions took place even within the Indian judiciary. With the advent of e-courts project beginning in 2007 and the introduction of the post of court managers in 2010, the Indian judiciary witnessed its fair share of the two revolutions.

However, while the e-courts project has been completely absorbed into the system, becoming an important facet of the Indian judiciary today, the post of court managers has unfortunately not received the same kind of attention.

The post was created to reduce the administrative burden of judges and improve the management sphere within the judiciary. Sadly, even after a decade, the post has not been regularized in several states. To understand the position of court managers in much detail it, would be necessary to take a closer look at how the post came about and continued over the last ten years.

The story of Court Managers so far

To ease the administrative workload of judges, the post of court managers was introduced in 2010 by the 13th Finance Commission. Rs. 300 crore was set aside for this post and distributed amongst different states. Positions were introduced in high courts and district courts, and court managers with highly qualified MBA degrees were expected to work with judges, helping them in their day-to-day administrative tasks.

However, in 2015, the Center discontinued the funding for the post and states were required to fund the post on their own. This led to several issues. Till date, court managers work on an ad hoc basis in several states.

While on the paper their roles and responsibilities remained broad, there was little that reflected in practice. They continued to function in the background with little or no real authority in the system. Additionally, the duties laid down by the Centre and the states overlapped with other staff members in the courts, causing more confusion surrounding their role in the system.

With the post remaining ad hoc in several states, court managers were often seen as outsiders to the system. Although the Supreme Court stated in its 2018 judgment that the assistance of court managers is needed for proper administrative set up in courts, several states have neither fully absorbed the position nor provided any real authority to court managers. One can only ponder how many more years it would take to make court managers insiders and not outsiders.

Nature and role of Court Managers

One question that is often asked is what should be the role of court managers in the judicial system? What help can they provide? It is important to state that the administration of justice and administration of the judicial system as a whole are two completely different spheres. Court managers have the technical skills in the management sphere, which is much-needed expertise required in the judicial system and which no one from within the system can offer.

However, our judicial structure has been built in such a manner that judges end up doing a lot of the. administrative work. For instance, the Principal District Judges (the administrative head of a district), in addition to their daily court work, are responsible for managing various administrative duties that include recruiting staff members and looking after infrastructure of the entire district.

Furthermore, district judges are also sent on deputation to high courts as Registrars to manage administrative tasks. While there are certain judicial tasks that judges on deputation in high courts perform, there are several administrative tasks such as organizing functions, events and overseeing infrastructure and physical resources that district judges are expected to handle.

In addition to this, even sitting high court judges are made part of several committees that supervise different administrative aspects of the court. In some of the high courts, there are more than 50 committees comprising various sitting judges who oversee various administrative work. Ideally, all these tasks should be bifurcated into ones that need judicial expertise and ones that do not. Accordingly, those administrative duties that do not need any judicial expertise should be given to court managers. This would also help in reducing the number of district judges on deputation in the high court who can be instead utilized for regular court work.

A glance at judicial systems around the world would show that court managers are employed across different countries. US, Australia, South Africa, UK etc. employ court managers or administrators to carry out administrative functions. They form a link between the people and the judiciary, managing all the administrative workload.

While court managers did face resistance from members of the judiciary in some of these countries, they have, over a period of time, become an integral part of the system. They work hand in hand with judges, helping in allotment of cases, managing human/physical resources, carrying out strategic planning etc. Court Managers are given control of the administrative unit of the judiciary. While the working of these judiciaries may be different from ours, the administrative sphere in India needs proper management and court managers are best suited for this task.

Forging reforms for the next decade

A change in the judicial system cannot be brought externally. Reforms are possible only if the forces working within the system come together and welcome the change. Similarly, the judiciary needs to accept court managers into the system and use their skill sets to the optimal level. This would mean strengthening the post by making it permanent, providing continuous training on basic legal aspects, paying adequate remuneration, and giving court managers more authority in the system.

While court managers have been functioning in different capacities in various district courts and high courts, their role needs to be expanded and streamlined. Perhaps the Supreme Court can introduce the post of court managers and set an example for the rest of the country. As we move to the next decade, it is imperative that court managers be given their due share in the Indian judicial system. Their skill sets and experience can bring an everlasting impact on the judiciary.

The author is a Research Associate at DAKSH. Views are personal.

A detailed report on the functioning of Court Managers published by DAKSH can be accessed here.

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