Prashant has recently given an excellent opinion in LI titled ‘To fix the most fundamental problems of the Indian judiciary, we must finish what Fali & others started’. As someone who advocates quality, outcome oriented reforms in judiciary; I strongly recommend this write-up to the legal fraternity. The present government, which came to power on a strong mandate, enjoys an unparalleled opportunity to address the serious lacunae in the justice delivery mechanism – especially when Mr. Arun Jaitley and Mr. Ravi Shankar Prasad, who understand the systemic defects within the system, are holding senior positions in the government. I earnestly hope that this write-up will draw their attention.
The write-up rightly laments at the negligible degree of discussion on judicial reforms post-declaration of election results. Note that the PM has expressed his eagerness to initiate various reforms in a time bound manner except (unfortunately) in judiciary. Prashant rightly opines that “there has been precious little commentary on possible judicial reforms despite a near national consensus that our judicial system is broken.” Prashant argues that the recent suggestions for evening courts or fewer court holidays fail to understand the fundamental problems within the Indian judicial system. As he rightly points out, “Pendency is only one issue facing the Indian judiciary. The more substantial issues concern the quality of justice and accountability. Both these issues are inextricably linked to the lack of transparency in almost all aspects of the judiciary’s functioning and there is precious little that is being done to remedy the situation. As the RTI Act has demonstrated, transparency can dramatically alter the status quo in powerful institutions because as Justice Brandies once commented “sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants” and the Indian judiciary needs a lot of sunlight.”
The write-up suggests two vital solutions for addressing the systemic defects in the Indian judiciary namely, the enactment of the lapsed Judicial Statistics Bill, 2004 and amendments to the RTI Act to force the judiciary to be more transparent.
Judicial Statistics Bill, 2004 was aimed at creating authorities at the national and state level to collect, in a scientific manner, statistics from each and every courtroom regarding the hours taken by the Court to hear the dispute, the time between the filing of the case and hearing by the court, the adjournments granted, time taken for delivery of judgment after it has been reserved, along with the names of the lawyers and judges responsible for the case. As Prashant rightly points out, “once statistics on the functioning of courts are placed in the public domain it is only a matter of time before policy wonks can track trends and publicly separate the inefficient courtrooms from the efficient court rooms.” It will also help litigants separate the litigating lawyers from the adjournment lawyers.
Prashant also rightly argues that the attitude of the judiciary towards RTI has been anything but hostile. He corroborates his argument by citing the recent actions of the SC registry viz., unwillingness to disclose the assets of the judges and the number of cases reserved by its judges for judgment and rejection of applicability of the RTI Act to legal pleadings and other public documents held by registries of various courts.
As Caeasar’s wife must be above all suspicion, it is quite imperative that the judiciary opens up at least for its own sake. As Mr. Fali S. Nariman, who introduced the Judicial Statistics Bill, 2004, opined, “Judicial independence means deciding cases without being influenced by anybody. But disseminating information about how many cases get decided in the courts will not compromise judicial independence at all. This is a wrong impression that the judiciary, among all organs of the government, must remain totally secretive, and nobody must know anything that is happening in the judiciary.”