Interviews

In conversation with Justice (Retd.) Ram Mohan Reddy of the Karnataka High Court

Aditya AK

Justice Ram Mohan Reddy
Justice Ram Mohan Reddy

Justice Ram Mohan Reddy is a former judge of the Karnataka High Court. After a tenure of more than twelve years, Justice Reddy retired in June last year.

He was previously Chairman of the High Court’s Computerization Committee as well as the Judicial Process Re-engineering Committee.

In this interview with Bar & Bench’s Aditya AK, Justice Reddy talks about his experience as a judge, how computerization is resulting in better case management, and more.

(Edited Excerpts)

Aditya AK – How would you describe your experience as a judge?

Justice Reddy – During my tenure as a judge for 12 years and 9 months, I had exhilarating experiences, at times very serious, sometimes jovial and other times hilarious. Chief Justices of the court assigned me work in all subjects of law, hence I was privileged to deliver judgments in all kinds of litigation.

At times of verbal altercation between learned counsel, while hearing a case, if there was a need to defuse the situation, depending upon the gravity, humour was introduced.

Judges are rational and reasonable in their thinking, but seldom make mistakes, albeit not intentionally. Scripting a judgement based upon strict rule of law is not everything, since a robot can do that job. Penning judgments requires concerns about vagaries of human behaviour and largely depended upon my life experiences. In many a case, though a litigant was found to have committed a mistake, nevertheless he did not deserve severe punishment.

Judges must be above all kinds of bias. Coming from the Bangalore Bar, I would invariably skip the names of litigants or that of their learned counsel while focusing on the merit of the case.

AK – Before you retired, some members of the Bar had complained that you had made some derogatory remarks against them.

JR – Judges who are forthright often face such situations which is very common at the Bar.

AK – A few months ago, Chief Justice Mukherjee mentioned in open court that he was approached with a bribe. What would you have done in that scenario?

JR – To my knowledge, never has such an incident occurred in the High Court. Never has anybody approached me either in my chamber or at home. If it has happened to the Hon’ble Chief Justice, it is unfortunate.

Since you have asked, in my personal opinion, there are two ways of looking at it. In the first place, I would inform my personal security staff to take that person away and ensure appropriate punishment, as such conduct is contemptuous.

In the alternative, if it is looked at dispassionately, I would have said, ‘Don’t do this again to anybody, run away from here before further action is initiated’. I may not have said it in open court, but would have certainly recused from hearing that case.

Judges are judges. Each one has his own approach. If the Hon’ble CJ has said it, then it would be presumptuous to term it a mistake. Maybe in his Lordship’s wisdom it was the correct approach.

AK – As per the latest statistics, there are more than 2.5 lakh cases pending in the Karnataka High Court. How can this be reduced?

JR – The number of sanctioned posts is decided based upon the number of cases pending, without an enquiry as to why they are pending. At the time of my elevation during 2003, the judge strength of the High Court was 41, while the pendency was about 75,000 cases. Thereafter some changes were made to the nomenclature and assigning of numbers for cases, as well as Interlocutory Applications, resulting in the increase in the number of cases.

Hence, the then Chief Justice recommended increase in the number of posts of judges. Although the judge strength is increased, nevertheless, all the vacancies are not filled up. It is not as if the High Court cannot be managed by 41 judges.

As a member of the National Court Management Committee, I found that the number of judges in the lower judiciary was more than adequate. As a matter of fact, on taking stock of the total number of cases pending for ten years and above and noticing the reasons for their pendency, they were attended to on a day-to-day basis and disposed of within a span of six months.

Awareness of rights of citizens with financial means for litigation has led to every order of the lower judiciary being challenged before the high court. Judges should be well-equipped, vigilant and have a grip of the subject to determine whether the cases merit consideration. In my opinion, the need to increase the number of judges is unnecessary as it is not numbers, but quality that matters.

AK – How can computerisation of court records help towards this goal?

JR – When I was a member of the computerization committee, we started the process of assigning case types. For example, if it’s a company matter, we have winding up, applications, etc. We would assign case types based on the particular section of the Companies Act. So what happened was it made it easy for us to club all those cases. This is known as ‘belting’ or ‘clubbing’, resulting in disposal of a large number of cases at one go.

With this as a background, the Computer Committee of the court recommended the development of a software named Integrated Court Managing System. As Chairman of the Computer Committee, I spent most of the evenings after court hours in contemplation of the methods of reducing consumption of paper and human interference in the day-to-day handling of cases. With advancements in computer technology, it is possible to reduce the time cycle of a case. It is also possible to make the court function with less paper.

Since 2004, there was constant upgrading of the systems. It was during the year 2012 that a colossal change took place in the computerisation of the High Court. Obsolete technology was replaced with state-of-the-art infrastructure, which benefited not only the litigant and lawyers but also the administration of courts.

In hindsight, I am satisfied with the efforts of the personnel manning the computer wing of all the courts in the state. The Judicial Process Re-engineering Committee or JPR of which I was the Chairman, was instrumental in bringing about changes to the civil and criminal rules of practice, as well as recommendation for changes in court procedures which were outdated and not in sync with technology.

The repetitive work in the various departments were undone as all metadata was punched into the systems. In fact the JPR report of the High Court is directed by the E-committee of the Supreme Court to be followed by all the courts in the country. As the Administrative Judge of Dharwad District, the planning for the new court complex building incorporated all the new changes necessary for a modern court complex permitting digital courts to operate, a first of its kind in the State of Karnataka.

AK – There is a perception today that judicial appointments suffer from a lack of transparency. Would you agree?

JR – I had an occasion to read the judgement of the Supreme Court in the matter of NJAC, and also paper reports stating that there is nothing given in writing in case of rejection. We day in and day out decry arbitrariness in administrative decisions, therefore there is nothing wrong with the opinions of a large number of judges on the said point.

It depends on the perception of the judges constituting the collegium. The 1993 judges’ case said that the collegium is all powerful and removed the interference of the Executive in the appointment of judges. But then, one of the judges who delivered the judgement later on also said that there was a need for a re-look.  Democratic principles cannot be given a go by. There is a need for introspection by the Hon’ble Judges.

AK – But that is not all that is wrong with the judiciary.

JR – Just as much as all is not well in the other wings in our democracy, many a Chief Justice in the past has acknowledged that there are some black sheep in the judiciary.

Judiciary is all powerful because it can set right the wrong perpetuated against the wronged. Justice delivery system must have judges of strong character and learning who must discharge their duties with humility. The core of the judiciary in our country is one of the strongest and that is why the citizens repose confidence and trust in courts.

(Views expressed in this interview are of Justice (Retd.) Ram Mohan Reddy. Bar & Bench neither endorses nor is responsible for the same)

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