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Tata Trusts Group and DAKSH recently organised a discussion featuring former Supreme Court judges on the India Justice Report that was released last year.
The 2019 report measured the capacity of four aspects of the justice system – the police, the prison system, the judiciary and legal aid – in each state, against certain benchmarks, based on government data alone.
The Chief Guest of the event was former Chief Justice of India, Justice MN Venkatachaliah. He stated that there was a “colossal loss of manpower and productivity” when people are required to come to courts for case hearing.
Justice Venkatachaliah also drew parallels with the US Supreme Court and the House of Lords in England.
The US Supreme Court decides 130 cases a year. The House of Lords decides 60 cases a year. But the Indian Supreme Court decided 1000 cases per week…This shows that something is seriously wrong with the judicial system.
Former CJI Venkatachaliah
The former CJI further stated that the procedure and practice at courts needs to be modified in order to achieve the goal of “zero arrear” courts.
Prof Sarasu Esther Thomas, Acting Registrar of the National Law School of India, Bangalore (NLSIU), stated that pushing for gender-based reservation would bring out better outcomes, as far as the role of women in the Judiciary is concerned. She also stated that diversity is the beginning and not the end.
Prof Thomas further noted that currently, the practice of Legal Aid was barely happening in India. There is no link between students and prisoners and the only way to improve this is by having law clinics with volunteer lawyers and NGOs, she noted. She further propagated the shift from legal education to justice education, which must be the focal point.
Former judge of the Supreme Court Justice RV Raveendran, in his address, pointed out the role of women in the courts of Karnataka. In this regard, he stated,
In 2017, 42% of judges in Karnataka lower courts were women. In 2018, 48% of Karnataka lower court judges were women. You see, High Court Judges are not commodities; you require 25-30 years of practise to be a High Court Judge. In that regard, there is proportional representation of women in High Courts. But in another 3-4 years, more than 50% of the Karnataka lower court judges will be women.
On whether judges should participate in Legal Aid, Justice Raveendran stated that the duty of judges is to decide cases and nothing else.
“No, I think that judges should not be given any role in Legal Aid. Their duty is deliverance of justice. Let them concentrate on that. In referring cases to Lok Adalats, yes, judges should do that. But in other matters relating to Legal Aid, it is not required. Decisions regarding legal services should be taken by the executive."
Another important issue raised by Justice Raveendran was the poor quality of Legal Aid lawyers that come forward.
"Only young and inexperienced lawyers come forward. Unless you pay, the good people will not come", he asserted.
The only way to tackle this problem is to have a system in place, where you pay for defence advocates, he noted. If this is not done, the rights of the accused will be compromised, Justice Raveendran concluded his point.
On the point of technological advancements in courts, Justice Raveendran observed,
“Delhi High Court has shown us the way in being a paperless Court. But this is something that all the stakeholders of Courts have to put their minds into.”
Another member of the discussion panel, Advocate BT Venkatesh of the Karnataka High Court, noted there were sufficient number of advocates active with Legal Aid, but that their competency still remained a problem.
“Comparing with the situation three decades earlier, we have traveled a long way. Establishment of the Legal Aid infrastructure has been done well. However, quality representation is still lacking.”
Apart from the above dignitaries, former DG of Prisons, ST Ramesh and Former DG of Police, Ajai Kumar Singh were also part of the panel.
The discussion ended with an interactive question and answer session with the audience.
The India Justice Report, 2019 made various important observations with respect to legal aid in terms of the functioning of district legal services authorities, paralegal volunteers in the system, diversity in the legal aid space, workload, budget, and infrastructure, amongst others.
The Report also made pertinent observations on aspects of judicial case disposal, vacancies, infrastructure and diversity, among other issues in its chapter on the Indian Judiciary.