From installing the first computer and air conditioner in his Tis Hazari Court chamber as a lawyer to holding court through WhatsApp to providing digital copies of a chargesheet for the first time, Justice Talwant Singh has seen and done a lot. .Justice Singh, who recently retired as judge of the Delhi High Court, hails from a village in Hoshiarpur, Punjab. He started law practice in 1986 and became an additional district judge in the year 2000. He was appointed as a judge of the Delhi High Court in 2019.In his career as a judge spanning nearly four decades, Justice Singh has been credited with the computerisation of Delhi’s district courts. He was also known as one of the calmest judges of the High Court.In this interview with Bar & Bench's Prashant Jha, Justice Singh speaks about his experience as a district court judge, the challenges that he and other judges faced while trying to digitise India’s judiciary and why he is eager to return to law practice. .Edited excerpts follow..Prashant Jha (PJ): You have been a district court and High Court judge for nearly 23 years. How has the journey been?.Justice Talwant Singh: It was quite enjoyable. I was a lawyer for 14 years and then at the age of 39 years, I became an additional district judge. I was essentially a civil lawyer and then the first assignment was also on the civil side at Central District, Tis Hazari for three years.After that, I was transferred to a criminal court in Patiala House, so it took me some time to understand its functioning. But then I picked up quickly and started enjoying the criminal bench more than the civil bench..PJ: Can you tell us about your experience at the district court?.Justice Singh: In the middle of 2010, I was given charge of the Commonwealth Games (CWG) scam trial. I handled that case almost from the beginning up to the stage of framing of charges. There were 13 accused and many stalwart lawyers used to appear in that matter. This included Justice of India UU Lalit (then a Senior Advocate), who later became the Chief Justice of India. I passed the order for framing of charges in this case in December 2012 after hearing lengthy arguments spread over months.The interesting fact about the CWG case is that the chargesheet and documents ran into about 1.25 lakh pages. The chargesheet from the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) came in trunks instead of files. So, perhaps for the first time in the history of the Indian judiciary, instead of physical copies, we handed over e-copies of the chargesheet to the advocates appearing for the accused. 12 of the 13 accused in this case were lodged in Tihar Jail. They also had a right to go through the chargesheet. So, we uploaded the copies of the chargesheet in the computers installed in the legal aid room at Tihar Jail and gave the accused login IDs and passwords. They were allowed to go through the chargesheet on all working days between 10 AM to 3 PM as legal aid lawyers used to visit the jail in the afternoon to tend to cases of the inmates.At that time, it was reported in a leading English daily that with a stroke of pen, a judge had saved around four acres of forests..PJ: What were some of the most difficult or interesting cases that you heard? .Justice Singh: There is nothing difficult as far as cases are concerned. It all depends on how you handle them. But the most challenging jurisdiction was that of family courts, because those issues are not legal but either social or emotional.I was posted in the family courts for about 10 months in 2014. Every case in family court has its history and is quite unique. In most of the cases, children are the worst sufferers. So, I tried my best to encourage people to settle the matters and to live together at least for the sake of children. But if they were unable to live together because of their irreconcilable differences, then I persuaded them to part ways amicably and to devote time to bring up children in a conducive atmosphere. That was the most challenging jurisdiction, but I did my best..PJ: Before becoming a judge in 2000, you had been a lawyer for close to 14 years. How did you adapt from arguing cases to hearing lawyers argue before you?.Justice Singh: It was difficult at the beginning. The problem was that in those days, there was no concept of training (judges). So, I sat with an additional district judge, an old hand, for about a week to understand the functioning of the courts from the side of the judge.When we were finally given charge of the courts, initially I used to argue with the lawyers and when they said something wrong, I would point it out to them. But then my seniors (judges) told me that we were not supposed to argue. We should take our notes and understand what the counsel wants to say and then decide the case based upon facts and prevailing law.So, that transition was difficult. It took me some time because initially I thought the arguing lawyer is to be apprised of the correct law there and then, but later I realised that it was not my job..PJ: Did your experience as a trial court judge come in handy when you moved to the Delhi High Court? How are the two posts different?.Justice Singh: The functioning of the district courts is very different from that of the High Court. In district courts, the work pressure is too much and once you are an old hand, they give you administrative responsibilities as well. The infrastructure and resources in district courts are not as good as they are in High Court. At times, the cause list may have 70-80 cases listed. You need to learn to manage that.Once, when I was a family court judge in the East District, lawyers went on strike because they did not want the family court to be shifted just 750 meters away from the existing court complex. Since this was a new establishment, I used to have only one stenographer, but everyday about 150 matters were received by way of transfer from different courts. It was quite a challenge, but I was able to handle that with the support of my staff..PJ: You did your Bachelor's and Master's degrees in Commerce and have a Diploma in management. Why did you then choose law after this?.Justice Singh: This is an interesting story. I was a commerce student throughout. All I wanted was to be an officer in a bank or an insurance company. I never wanted to be a lawyer. I had completed my Master's and Diploma and was teaching part-time at a private college in Delhi. There, a senior faculty member, who himself had an LL.B. degree, advised me to go for law. I told him I was not interested and I really was not inclined to study law. But he insisted and told me that it would help me in my future endeavours.So, I took admission in a college in Ghaziabad and for three years, I was shuttling daily between Delhi and Ghaziabad. I got my LL.B. degree in 1986 from Meerut University and immediately got enrolled with the Bar Council of Delhi. A few visits to the courts in Delhi changed my mind towards law practice. This happened may be because in those three years, I could not qualify any probationary officer exam.So, I started my law practice in 1986 in the High Court. The senior with whom I was working used to have some district court matters and asked me if I could take care of those cases. I agreed and worked with the same senior till 1993.In 1994, three of my friends and I started our own law firm. In the first month, we earned only ₹3,200. But soon it took off and we never looked back..PJ: You are credited with the computerisation of Delhi’s courts. You were also part of the Supreme Court’s committee tasked with digitisation of courts across the country. Can you share that experience with us?.Justice Singh: In 1994, when we started our own law firm, one of the clients came to us and said he did not have money, but he could give us a computer. We took the computer and installed it in our chamber. I think it was an IBM PC XT. This was the first computer in any lawyer’s chamber at Tis Hazari courts. Of course, we also installed the first air conditioner (AC) in our chamber.Back then, people believed that a computer cannot function without an AC. The computer helped us do our job more efficiently and the stenographer was able to give us quick output. We were quite happy with its performance.When I joined the judiciary in 2000, the district judiciary was not computerised at all and staff members were still using old, rickety typewriters. So, I wrote to the then Chief Justice of Delhi High Court, bringing this to his notice. I requested that the district courts should be computerised and should have their own website. I was directed by the secretariat of the Chief Justice to submit my suggestions to Justice Madan B Lokur, who was then a judge of the Delhi High Court and was in charge of computerisation. I met him and I shared my suggestions. From that day onwards, under Justice Lokur’s guidance, we were able to computerise all courts in Delhi.In 2013, I got an opportunity to work with the eCommittee of the Supreme Court. This eCommittee was looking after computerisation of all the courts in India. Our target was to computerise about 14,000 courts in the country and we were able to achieve that in a time-bound manner..PJ: What were the challenges you faced while setting out to achieve this?.Justice Singh: We wanted to have one common software for the entire district judiciary, but most of the High Courts had developed their own software. To integrate them was a big challenge. Another difficulty was that most of the states, at the district level, were using the local language and the data in their systems was also in the local language.But we went ahead with the work, made a preliminary study, chose the system already prevalent in Maharashtra and few other southern states as the base, sat with the technical team of the National Informatics Centre (NIC), Pune and developed a software called CIS-I. If someone typed anything in the regional language, it would automatically get translated in English and fed into the system.We also created unique fields for almost every region. Just as an example, when we gave the software to Rajasthan, the box where one must enter the name of the village was written in local dialect, as ‘Dhani’ which means a village in Rajasthan. Similarly, in Punjab it is reflected as ‘Pind’ and in Uttar Pradesh or Bihar as ‘Gaon’. In the end, I am proud to say that if you go to the e-Courts website today, you can get details of each and every case pending in district courts. It gives you the updated status of more than 43 million cases. It is unheard of. No other country in the world has done this. From Kashmir to Kanyakumari, any state anywhere, you can zero it down to the level of the court and case concerned..PJ: Digitising courts in a country like ours comes with its own set of challenges. How did you bring computers to some of the remotest parts of the country?.Justice Singh: Computerisation was certainly not an easy task. One of the major challenges was availability of electricity. So, we requested the government to make provisions for generator sets.I remember in one court in a northern state, there were three wings in a court complex but only one generator. This generator would supply electricity for two hours to each wing and we were surprised how these courts would function. Forget data, we were wondering how these courts were even functioning in 46 degrees celsius with only two hours of electricity.Another challenge was internet connectivity. A few of our outlying courts did not have any reliable digital connectivity. We tried alternative methods to fetch data from these courts on a regular basis for updation..PJ: Moving on to some pressing issues in the legal arena. In recent times, there have been allegations that agencies like CBI and ED have been weaponized and are being used unfairly against the opposition. What are your thoughts?.Justice Singh: I will refrain from commenting on this at this stage (laughs)..PJ: The Supreme Court recently delivered its verdict on the provisions of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA). How do you assess this verdict?.Justice Singh: I am not commenting on this either. I just demitted office and this is not the right time to comment on it. Maybe someday down the line, we will discuss it..PJ: There is also a sense that High Courts’ administrative control affects the independence of district courts. How do you see that?.Justice Singh: I can tell you from my experience and I can only vouch for Delhi, that there is nothing like that. I never felt that the High Court had any excessive control. The district judiciary is functioning independently.I think it depends on the person in power in the district judiciary. If you are looking towards the High Court for guidance on every issue, then naturally, you are inviting interference in your day-to-day work. Otherwise, district courts are independent in every aspect and they work independently. Of course, if you pass any order at the district level, it can be challenged before the High Court. Transfers and postings of judicial officers are done by the High Court. The staff members, budget, and everything else is controlled by the district judges..PJ: You said you will move back to practice. What are your plans? .Justice Singh: There were offers for joining some commissions and tribunals. It is normal for retired high court judges to opt for these post-retirement postings, but I had made up my mind two years ago that I will not accept any of that. I was very clear that I will not go for any of these postings or post-retirement sops. My plan was to practice only as a lawyer and I am looking forward to that day.My plan is to start my own law practice from the day the Supreme Court reopens after the summer vacations. I am in the process of establishing a law firm and we are recruiting qualified lawyers in every field of law.Our motto is to work for the poor and the downtrodden who cannot afford lawyers. I am especially perturbed by the people languishing in jails for years facing endless trials Many of them are over 75 years old. Some of them are suffering from serious ailments. It pinches your conscience that these people are still behind bars awaiting the outcome of cases against them..PJ: You were referred to as one of the calmest judges in the Delhi High Court. What is the secret to that?.Justice Singh: It has a lot to do with human psychology. The first thing I started more than a decade ago was to address a male lawyer as ‘Sir’ and a woman lawyer as ‘Madam’ even if they have just joined the practice a few months ago. If you address someone with so much respect, then they cannot fight with you. If somebody is angry, the first thing to do is to offer him a glass of water and request him to take a seat and calm down. If a judge loses temper, then ultimately the litigants would have to suffer. So, the mantra is “You maintain your cool”. It helps in life as well..PJ: Finally, do you have a message for the younger members of the Bar?.Justice Singh: I feel a lot has changed in the last few decades. First, some of the young lawyers are not showing due respect to their seniors, which was not the case when I was practising. This behavioural change is not confined to the legal profession. I have observed that younger members sometimes do not offer seats to the elder members of the Bar in courts. This is one cultural change which I believe is not on the positive side. Secondly, in our times, we used to do a lot of research. The younger generation has handed over this task to the internet. Search engines cannot replace deep legal research. Thorough study of law books and judgments is a thing of past. I would suggest to young lawyers to read the judgments of the higher courts and commentaries on law subjects written by celebrated lawyers and academicians. It will give them full grasp over the subject and they can become experts and much respected lawyers. I wish good luck to all the young lawyers.