JUDICIARY NEEDS IMAGE BUILDING
Yes, the image building by Indian judiciary is a desideratum. This observation is related to a statement by the Chief Justice of India, Y K Sabharwal, on December 15, 2005.
The Chief Justice was speaking at the inauguration of an extension block of the Delhi High Court, when he blamed the media for not highlighting the speedy disposal of cases in the last five-six years and simply harping on pendency of cases and judicial delays.
Substantiating his statement the Chief Justice said in the year 2000, out of the total 5,25,874 cases pending in Subordinate Courts, 4,42,931 cases were disposed of and the disposal figure was likely to cross 17 lakh in 2005; for the Delhi High Court, against the disposal figure of 27,000 in the year 2000, in 2005 the projected disposal was likely to cross 50,000.
The Chief Justice may be right that contrary to the popular misconception that judges work only from 10 am to 4 pm most of them are engaged in judicial work right from 9 am to 7 pm. But what is important to the people is how the judiciary’s work helps the litigants.
The Chief Justice emphasised the importance for the judiciary to have a good image as it helped preserve and enhance people's faith in the institution and the rule of law. But people’s faith in judiciary and the rule of law can be enhanced only if the judiciary does its work well. Good work will naturally result in good image.
Even if the media has been failing to highlight the speedy disposal of cases, which in any case the judiciary is expected to do, there is much to be said against the Indian judiciary; and even if the judiciary engages the best spin doctors of the world, no image building other than doing its work will help it.
While talking about the judiciary the Chief Justice seems to have overlooked the other half – certainly not the better half – of the judiciary, namely the Bar. Lawyers as a class are not true to their profession, and the nation can do with a lesser number of them who are committed to the legal profession. More often than not, cases get delayed because of the cat-and-mouse-games
by the lawyers of the two sides.
To cite one instance, in a civil court, where while the Plaintiff’s lawyer was present for most of the hearings, the Respondent’s lawyer was not. A couple of weeks ago when a case was called out a lawyer appeared from somewhere and said the Respondent is sick and the case may be adjourned. The judge refused. After about an hour, the “sick” lawyer appeared in the court-room. By that time the forenoon session of the court was almost over. The case had reached the evidence stage, and the Respondent’s lawyer who had started the process wanted to drag it.
Since the Plaintiff was not well and could not wait till the afternoon session, on his request after a long wait from 10 30 am to 1 30 pm, the judge adjourned the case. When the case came up again, the Respondent’s lawyer was not present, and someone else sought adjournment of the case. When the judge refused he disappeared from the court-room. After a while he reappeared, wrote down a petition, used his overflowing saliva to affix court fee stamps on it, and then passed it on to the clerk. The judge again refused to adjourn the case. Unable to cope with the pressure, in the end the judge asked the Plaintiff if he is agreeable to adjourning the case, stating that no further adjournments will be given. The Plaintiff agreed.
When the case came up again, the Respondent’s lawyer was absent. After waiting for nearly three hours the Plaintiff’s lawyer pleaded for closing evidence from the Respondent’s side. The judge was reasonable and wanted the Plaintiff to wait. Unable to continue to stand in the court-room (the room is crammed and there are not enough seats to accommodate all the litigants present), the Plaintiff again pleaded for closure of evidence. The response of the Judge was hewas helpless, if you go out this way, the other person will come in the other way; since the court works up to 5 45 pm the Plaintiff can wait, or seek an adjournment
. Unable to wait, the Plaintiff sought an adjournment. When the case comes up again the Respondent’s lawyer will play truant again.
This long narration is important to drive home that even if the Bench is good, if the Bar is rotten no justice system will work, no image-building will work, and people will have no faith in the judiciary.
The Chief Justice has to take into consideration all the intricacies and nuances of the justice delivery system, including those covering tribunals, and consumer redress forum, and have a holistic view of the legal system, its present pitfalls and fault lines and try the image building exercise for the entire justice system. Probably the media is not aware of the extent of the sloth in, and sloppiness of, the justice system and their myriad manifestations. If brought to light the Chief Justice can probably expect unending media-serials on Indian judiciary.