Law Day 1996
- On November 26th, 1996 at the Premises of the Supreme Court of India
by Justice A.M. Ahmadi
Cite as : (1997) 2 SCC (Jour)1
Mr President of the Supreme Court Bar Association, Mr Attorney General, Members of the Bar, Registry Officials, Ladies and Gentlemen,
As I stand before you, I experience a mixed feeling, a feeling of being overwhelmed by the importance of the occasion and the fact that in my present capacity as the Chief Justice of India, I am speaking to you for the last time on this historic occasion.
As you are aware, we have gathered here today to commemorate the day on which, 47 years ago, the Framers of our Constitution completed the stupendous task of drafting this great document, the Constitution of India. This year the celebration of this momentous event has greater significance, for it also marks 50 years of the actual date on which the Framers began work on their awesome assignment. Beginning on 9-12-1946, the Framers laboured continuously for nearly three years and the text of our Constitution is a living testimony to the meticulous perfection of their painstaking effort.
A cursory study of the text of our Constitution and of the debates of the Constituent Assembly would reveal the great interest that the Framers took in matters relating to the Judiciary in general, and the special efforts expended by them in envisaging the powers of the Supreme Court. It has been observed by commentators that the provisions which occupied the attention of the Framers to the greatest degree were those relating to the Fundamental Rights and the Judiciary. If this is indeed so, the emphasis is understandable, for if the former were to find force, it would only be through the effectiveness of the latter. Some critics have expressed the opinion that the Framers were unduly and disproportionately concerned with what they perceived as unnecessary details of the Judicial System - with its administrative aspects, with the tenure, allowances, salaries and retirement, age of Judges, with the mechanism of choosing Judges, and so on. However, the concern of the Framers for these finer details must be viewed against their larger concern for providing a system of courts that would be insulated from all attempts at coercion by forces within and outside the Government.
In the opinion of the Framers, a single, integrated Judiciary, along with a uniform system of laws, was "essential to maintain the unity of the country". The Framers took great efforts to vest the Indian Judiciary with the twin concepts of Judicial Review and Judicial Independence. The result of such efforts has led to the Indian Judiciary being vested with vast powers, and to the Supreme Court, in particular, being described as the conscience-keeper of the Constitution and the protector of the Fundamental Rights of the people.
The Framers wished to equip the Judiciary with powers which would enable it to "keep the charter of Government current with the times and not allow it to become archaic or out of tune with the needs of the day". While the provisions relating to the Judiciary were being drafted, there was general agreement on the issue that if Independent India were to achieve a social revolution, the Judiciary would have a vital role to perform and would therefore have to be well equipped for the purpose. However, some of the members of the Assembly felt that in some areas of the social revolution, the legislature should have the final say. They expressed the view that in those areas, Judges should have a limited role, restricted to interpreting the written law. Shri Alladi Krishnaswamy Ayyar, who along with S/Shri K.M. Munshi, B.N. Rao and B.R. Ambedkar played a prominent role in drafting the provisions relating to the Judiciary, had this to say on the matter:
"While there can be no two opinions on the need for the maintenance of judicial independence, both for the safeguarding of individual liberty and the proper working of the Constitution, it is also necessary to keep in view one important principle. The doctrine of independence is not to be raised to the level of a dogma so as to enable the Judiciary to function as a kind of super-legislature or super-executive. The Judiciary is there to interpret the Constitution or adjudicate upon the rights between the parties concerned.... The Judiciary, as much as the Congress and the Executive, is depending for its proper functioning upon the cooperation of the other two."
Though the Supreme Court of India has always had a significant role to play in events occurring on the national stage, the last two decades have witnessed a gradual expansion of the significance and content of that role. This has largely been due to the innovative measures that have been initiated by the Supreme Court towards attaining constitutionally-ordained objectives. One such innovation, inspired by events in comparative legal systems and especially those in the United States, is that of Public Interest Litigation. This judicially developed weapon has been instrumental in alleviating the suffering of millions and the decisions rendered as a result form a substantial part of the body of Indian Public Law. In recent years, some of the most significant and far-reaching rulings of this Court have been rendered in cases that reached it through the avenue of PIL. However, this innovation has invoked a mixed response. While no one can deny the considerable advancements made by the Supreme Court towards attaining constitutional objectives through the use of this weapon, it has also been the subject of great scepticism and found many critics in the general public, amongst scholars and even amongst sections of the Bar. Under the Constitution, wide powers are conferred on Courts and, therefore, a corresponding, heavy obligation is placed on the Judges to exercise jurisdiction with utmost care and caution, so as never to give the impression that they are viewing things upon preconceived notions. Care has to be taken at all times to ensure that the discretionary jurisdiction is exercised on the basis of well-defined and consecrated legal principles, and at no time during the course of the proceedings should an impression be given that the Judge has yielded to spasmodic sentiments, or is carried away by emotion or bias. He must so handle the proceedings that even the respondent at the receiving end goes with the feeling that he has had a fair trial. Fairness is the hallmark of judicial process which also guarantees impartiality.
Many issues with socio-political or eco-political tones are, of late, brought before the Courts. Some of them have far-reaching consequences, affecting the social fabric of the nation. These cannot be swept under the carpet, particularly if it is noticed that the authorities concerned are soft-peddaling them. In such situations, the Judiciary has to play the catalyst's role. It would relieve the Judiciary of this extra work, and would also be fair to the person against whom the charge is levelled, if the authority concerned investigates the charge promptly after the FIR is registered, so that, if the charge is well founded, further action can be taken and, if the charge is not prima facie established, the Sword of Democles should not hang over the head of the accused person. To this end, it must be ensured that the investigating agencies are insulated from pressures which hamper and delay investigations. Ordinarily, Courts should be slow to intervene where the petitioner is not willing to lodge a complaint and take the consequences if the complaint is ultimately found to be false and vexatious.
Ever since the Courts have assumed a role which is labelled as an "activist role" - I do not approve of that label - a large number of PIL petitions are filed under Article 32 of the Constitution. Not a day passes when we do not receive a few petitions, most of them by persons who cannot lay any claim to being knowledgeable on the subject. In the absence of any rule permitting the Court to filter them at the threshold, all of them have to be placed on the judicial side for disposal. Many of them are ultimately dismissed, but they consume the precious time of the Court. Most of such petitioners carry the ill-conceived notion that they have a right to the waiver of the "locus standi" rule and the Court is bound to entertain and examine their grievance, however frivolous it be. Some of them appear to be inspired to foreclose an important issue before it snowballs into a major controversy. At times petitions are filed by one rival group to defeat another. Courts should be extremely wary about such possibilities.
Many of the PIL briefs that are filed before this Court are drafted with scant attention being paid to the fundamental conventions of legal draftsmanship. Very often, they seem to have been inspired by brief articles and are bereft of any details that would assist the Court in seeking effectual remedies. There seems to be a tendency to simply bring a particular matter to the attention of the Court, leaving it to the Court to assess the import of the infirmity, investigate the alleged discrepancies and then issue the requisite directions. These individuals seem to ignore the fact that the Court has inherent limitations; it does not have an investigative machinery at its disposal and cannot, therefore, launch large-scale search expeditions to redress legal wrongs, when there is little information to suggest that the alleged infirmity actually exists. In many cases, they are not prepared to approach the authority concerned but rush to court. Many are, I may be excused, publicity-seekers only. To the credit of the initial critics, it must be conceded that some of the fears expressed by them have indeed come true. I have already expressed my views on this subject on other occasions, but I feel constrained to repeat them because of my concern, lest the indiscriminate use of this important weapon results in forever blunting its effectiveness.
It is my belief that in arresting this misuse, the members of the Bar can play a very useful role. It must be remembered that in the country of its origin, this form of litigation was typically handled through Brandeis briefs, which contained exhaustive studies and up-to-date statistics of the facts in question, and enabled Courts to issue directions which would be capable of being successfully implemented. Unless well-researched briefs, which provide the Court with viable alternatives to redress the particular grievance, are placed before the Courts, they would not be able to do real justice and may unwittingly cause harm to innocent victims. Using their superior understanding of the ground realities, lawyers must advise the Court on the best avenue for securing the ends of justice. They must also discourage those litigants who initiate cases on frivolous grounds, or on extraneous considerations, and must be conscious of the need for ensuring that only those causes which actually involve substantial questions of public interest are espoused through this avenue. While relaxation of the locus standi rule has led to some salutary developments, it has also generated a class of litigants who move courts every time their sense of righteous indignation is affronted. If such persons are allowed to espouse their pet grievances, Courts will become a haven for all those who nurse a grouse against all of society.
Turning now to certain recent developments, I would like to inform you that efforts at computerising the entire Judicial System of the country are progressing at a healthy pace. Following the exercises in the Supreme Court and the High Courts, the NIC has now been entrusted with the task of computerising all 430 District Courts in the country. The District Courts Computerisation Project, as it is called, is scheduled to be completed by February 1997. The States of Delhi, Punjab and Haryana and Tamil Nadu have already been covered under this project, which plans to provide a computer terminal and a printer to every Judge of the rank of District & Sessions Judge, and Additional District & Sessions Judge. This Computer System, while monitoring the movement of files within each Court, will also be capable of providing certified copies of judgments to litigants, at the same time enabling them to know the status of individual cases. The COURTNIC and JUDIS facilities have also been extended to the District Courts.
In the area of legal aid, the National Legal Services Authority has continued the work of coordinating efforts of various State Legal Aid and Advice Boards in holding Lok Adalats across the nation. Statistics updated till September 1996 reveal that in the 14,168 Lok Adalats which have been conducted in practically all the States and Union Territories, a total of 61.7 lakh cases have been settled; of which in 3,06,086 motor accident claims cases, compensation amounting to over Rs 975.67 crores has been awarded. We are now trying to develop a formula of feeding the computers with basic data with a view to generating a scheme for standardising the compensation payable; in the first place in fatal cases based on judicial precedents, so that, those of the claimants who are prepared to settle their cases on that footing, can be paid compensation in full and final settlement, without being required to wait. The grievance of the claimants that the Insurance Companies do not pay interest when claims are settled in Lok Adalats, is also being worked out and certain tentative decisions were taken at my meeting with the GIC Chairman and his officers at Bombay yesterday.
The National Judicial Academy has, from its office located in the Supreme Court, begun to undertake programmes towards attaining its objectives. A Study Team set up under the Chairmanship of its Director General, Mr Justice Saikia, has, in consultation with experts of the Institute for the Study and Development of Legal Systems, San Francisco, undertaken a study on the present administration of the justice system in the country. To this end, it has visited seven High Courts and the Subordinate Courts falling within those jurisdictions, and has held discussions with the members of the Bar and the Bench of several other High Courts also. This Study Team is seeking to develop a training module for Registry personnel in the areas of Court Management and Court Administration. It is also looking into the aspects of strengthening the ADR System in the country. The Study Team is expected to finalise its report within the next few days. A training programme on Court Administration, involving nearly 75 Registry personnel drawn from various High Courts in the country was conducted in October 1996 at the Andhra Pradesh Judicial Academy, in collaboration with experts from California Institute and the National Informatics Centre. Under the auspices of the National Judicial Academy, an orientation course on "Gender and the Law" was held at the Indian Law Institute for selected State Judicial Officers, who were later sent for interaction and study to the United Kingdom. In January 1997, the Academy proposes to arrange a dialogue on "The Regional Perspective on Gender Equality" at New Delhi.
The directions issued by this Court in the All India Judges' Assn. case1 in respect of the Subordinate Judiciary have been complied with. We are now awaiting the Report of the Fifth National Pay Commission which will contain directions that seek to rationalise the subordinate judicial structure in the country, prescribe uniform salaries and allowances, standardise nomenclatures of cases, etc. This may, at a later date, help the creation of the All India Judicial Service envisaged by Article 312 of the Constitution.
It is to be remembered that the Framers established the Supreme Court primarily for the purpose of being the interpreter and the guardian of the many salutary principles that they had enshrined within the Constitution. The initial deliberations of the Assembly in this regard were almost wholly devoted to formulating its role as a Constitutional Court and the extent of its original jurisdiction. It was only later that the Framers turned their attention to the appellate jurisdiction of the Supreme Court. These facts may come as a surprise to the lay citizen who can be forgiven for perceiving the Supreme Court to be primarily an appellate court. In recent years, the Court has been so heavily burdened with its appellate functions that its role as a Constitutional Court has suffered greatly. The pendency of appeals had increased to such an extent that the fixing of Constitution Benches had to be postponed as it was found that when Benches of larger strength were in session, the pendency of appeals rose alarmingly. I am pleased to inform you that the present circumstances of the Court are far better and we have reason to be optimistic about the future. The pendency of the present Court is within manageable limits and this has allowed the Court to turn its attention to matters awaiting adjudication by Constitution Benches. As you are aware, efforts at disposing of such matters have already been initiated and, in the near future, it will be possible for a Constitution Bench to sit for continuous and uninterrupted spells to dispose of more such matters. I must take this opportunity to thank my colleagues, the Registry Officials and Staff-members and in particular, the members of the Bar for their wholehearted cooperation and support without which it would have been difficult to achieve these results.
Those who are sincerely concerned about the state of Legal Education in India can also take heart from recent developments. The revamped Legal Education Committee of the Bar Council of India, headed by Mr Justice Saikia, a former Judge of this Court, has begun to function in right earnest and has formulated a series of measures designed to maintain continuous supervision over our Law Colleges. The Committee, being composed of representatives of the Bar, the Bench and the Academic world, is uniquely equipped to assess the present requirements and shortcomings of legal education in our country. The Chairman of the Bar Council of India, Mr O.P. Sharma too is taking keen interest towards improving the quality of legal education.
One more thing and I am done. When I first came to this Court, eight years ago, I was aware of the great reputation that this Bar enjoyed and had got a taste of it as a member of the Ravi and Beas Waters Tribunal. I was conscious of the fact that the best legal brains from all over the country converge here and that you have the advantage of seeing different forensic styles as well. Over the years, the Bar has produced many stalwarts, who have not only assisted the Court in handling some of the most significant cases in our nation's history but, in several cases, have provided the initiative and the legal content which enabled those decisions to withstand the tests of time and public scrutiny, allowing them to be counted amongst the great constitutional cases of our era. My own experiences over this limited period have allowed me to personally test this reputation and, I am happy to say that I am now in a position to endorse that reputation. I have been fortunate enough to have been able to interact with the members of the Bar from various nations and, based on these experiences, I can state that the members of our Bar compare favourably with the finest anywhere in the world. What is heartening is that the junior members of the Bar are striving hard to improve their performance with each passing day. There is also a large body of lady lawyers who are forging ahead to occupy slots at higher levels in the profession. Senior members of the Bar must encourage juniors and give them opportunities to conduct cases in courts under their guidance. To keep up the quality of the Bar, we must improve the quality of legal education. Short-term considerations will perhaps persuade some teachers and students to resist changes, but long-term considerations demand that we make every effort and extend our fullest cooperation to the crusade to improve the quality of legal education.
- (1992) 1 SCC 119
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