The Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi, addressed the Joint Conference of Chief Ministers and Chief Justices, in New Delhi. The Prime Minister mentioned the high level of trust that the common man has in the judiciary.
Referring to the speech of the Chief Justice of India, where he spoke of the large number of cases pending in various courts in India, the Prime Minister said that he understood the Chief Justice’s concern. He said that going forward, he hoped that the Government and the Judiciary could work together to find solutions to these issues.
The Prime Minister also stressed on the efforts being made by the Government to remove archaic laws from the statute books.
Addressing the Joint Conference of Chief Justices of States and Chief Justices of High Courts here in Vigyan Bhawan, New Delhi the Prime Minister said that while the executive is under constant assessment and scrutiny in public life, through various institutions, the Judiciary normally does not face any such scrutiny. He said the Judiciary has built up an enormous faith and reputation among the people of India, and should evolve its own in-built systems for self-assessment, so that it can live up to the high expectations placed on it by the people.
In his presidential address Shri Justice, T.S.Thakur, Chief Justice of India expressed his deep concern on the rising vacancies of Judges in High Courts as well as subordinate courts. He referred to the enormous work load on the judiciary due to this reason. He was of the opinion that the piling of cases at various levels in courts which are at present around three crores can be effectively reduced if all the vacancies in several High Courts and district as well as lower courts are filled up.
Shri Thakur also suggested that services of retired Judges who are willing to work can be utilized as per the provisions of Constitution. He said the National Court management committee has also suggested to work in a mission mode for the disposal of pending cases in such a way that no case remain pending for more than five years. On the issue of Commercial courts, the Chief Justice said you need to work in a totally different environment. He said it should be where the corporate clientele should feel comfortable.
Welcoming the Prime Minister and Chief Justice of India at the inaugural session Shri D.V.Sadananda Gowda said, the High Courts and the State Governments have a major role to play in the development of judicial administration in the States. He recalled the adoption of a landmark resolution in the last Conference wherein it was decided that the Chief Justices of the High Courts and the Chief Ministers of the States would institute a mechanism for regular interaction amongst themselves to resolve the issues relating to infrastructure and manpower needs and facilities for the judiciary. The minister hoped that in most of the States, such a mechanism has already been instituted and this Conference would provide us the perfect opportunity to deliberate upon ways and means to take this initiative forward.
The Law Minister said as per information available, the Central Government and the State Governments have together spent on an average a sum of about Rs. 2,000 crores per annum during the last three years on development of judicial infrastructure. Accordingly, the overall availability of the court halls now matches the working strength of around 16000 judges / judicial officers in the subordinate judiciary. With a number of projects in hand, we are aiming at 20,000 court halls in the near future to match the availability with sanctioned strength in every state, he noted.
Expressing concern on the persistence of a large number of vacancies of judges and judicial officers despite notable progress made on judicial infrastructure front the minister urge the High Courts to adopt a pro-active approach in selection of the suitable candidates for various judicial positions.
The minister drew attention on the adverse impact on the investors sentiments due to delay in settlement of disputes. As you are aware the protracted nature of litigation in the country. He said, in order to assuage these concerns and as part of the Government’s continuous efforts to forge investor-friendly environment in the country, the Government has initiated a number of steps, including setting up of Commercial Courts and amendments to Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996 and the Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881. These initiatives are intrinsically linked to speeding up the dispute resolution processes both within the formal court system as well as under alternative dispute resolution mechanisms.
Shri Gowda said concerns regarding the inordinate delays in the conclusion of the criminal trials have been expressed by various Parliamentary Committees. The Government has over the years established expert committees to review the criminal justice system in order to make it more responsive to the needs of the society. Some of the recommendations of these Committees have been implemented and legislative provisions incorporated in the procedural laws. However, legislative reforms alone are not sufficient. Reforms in policing and investigative mechanisms are as important as reforms in court processes. Law Commission of India is now reviewing both substantive and procedural aspects of our criminal justice system. He said the Chairman, Law Commission has been requested to expedite their recommendations in this regard.
Referring to the data compiled by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) at the end of 2014 the minister said there were about 2.82 lakh under-trial prisoners in the jails, which constituted two-third of the total inmates. During the early years after our independence the under-trial prisoners constituted only one third of the total prisoners in jails. However, this situation prevails despite amendments in Criminal Procedure Code prescribing for release of under-trial prisoners on personal bond who have spent half of their maximum sentence. He urged the State Governments and Chief Justices of the High Courts to take appropriate steps to ensure that this provision is implemented expeditiously.
Shri Gowda said the e-Court Integrated Mission Mode Project was launched with the objective of improving access to justice with the help of technology. Phase I of the eCourt project witnessed significant results which, inter alia, include ICT infrastructure upgradation of subordinate courts, launch of national e-court portal and constitution of process re-engineering committees by the High Courts. Phase II, currently in progress, aims at setting up of centralized filing centres, digitization of documents, adoption of document management systems, creation of e-filing and e-payment gateways. However, there is lack of awareness about the potential of eCourt Project among the judges as well as public at large. In this connection he again urged upon Chief Justices of the High Courts to not only sensitize the members of the judiciary to utilize full potential of technological advancements being made but at the same time disseminate necessary information about litigant friendly services being provided under the project to public at large.
At present the National Judicial Data Grid (NJDG) provides summary of pending and disposed cases at the District and Subordinate court level. However, in addition periodic reports on the courts in a format that allows for the assessment of judicial productivity and congestion rates must also be published. Categorization and assignment of cases through case management system will help to ensure that the old matters are disposed of on priority basis. Grouping of cases needs to be undertaken as ongoing continuous exercise so that cases arising out of the same subject matter and involving the same question of law can be assigned to one Judge. Improved categorization will enable courts to adhere to pre-decided timelines. In this regard, rules of High Courts could be suitably amended to incorporate these mechanisms.
Although several important and innovative initiatives are in place to improve upon the existing court processes, yet there is significant room for further work in this regard. The High Courts must take a strong leadership role in actively promoting a shift towards higher efficiency in the implementation of the project. Further research in the area of process simplification should also be encouraged to assess if the litigants are benefitting from various initiatives and to assess what else could be done. ICT initiatives if successfully completed will ease the day to day management of court processes and provide necessary tools to the higher judiciary for performance appraisal of subordinate courts, Shri Sadananda Gowda added.
On the important role played by the Bar Council in India in our judicial process, including alternative dispute resolution mechanism the minister highlighted the need to continuously engage with the bar for improving their standards and practices as also for upgrading their professional skills through continued legal education. He also appreciated the efforts of Bar Council of India in establishing first lawyers’ academy at Kochi in Kerala and hoped other States would also facilitate their respective State Bar Councils in such an endeavour. It is also necessary that adequate facilities are provided for the members of the Bar while designing the infrastructure for the courts. The Bar Council has also expressed keen interest in taking higher responsibilities under legal aid programmes. Keeping in mind the critical importance of co-operation from the Bar. The minister also requested the State Governments and the High Courts to actively engage the members of the State Bar Councils and Bar Associations in enlisting their support for the various programmes and initiatives towards reduction of pendency in courts.
Shri Sadananda Gowda said the exercise of policy formulation on judicial reforms by the Government as well as judiciary needs proper analysis and research based on reliable judicial statistics. With the computerization of the High Courts and District and Subordinate Courts, it has now become possible for the High Courts to disseminate necessary information on the functioning of justice delivery system. The Government on its part has formulated a scheme on action research on judicial reforms encouraging Law Schools, Judicial Academies and management / technical institutions to take up research projects to assess the effectiveness of judicial reform measures and assess the feasibility of introducing new reforms. 18 research projects have been sanctioned under the scheme so far. He requested the Chief Justices to facilitate these research projects in their respective High Courts.
Referring to a comprehensive agenda of judicial reforms placed before today’s conference which encompasses a broad range of topics, he said all of which have a crucial bearing on timely delivery of justice – a goal that the Government and judiciary are jointly working to accomplish. He said, I look forward to constructive discussions in this regard.
Smt. Kusumjit Siddhu, Secretary,Department of Justice gave vote of thanks.
The Joint Conference is an occasion for the executive and the judiciary to reaffirm their resolve to support a speedy, efficient and quality justice delivery in the country, and to discuss steps required to surmount the various challenges facing the justice system, such as inordinate delays in disposal of cases in courts, facilitating access to speedy resolution of commercial disputes by economic operators, making the justice system user friendly and affordable to all, and improving the quality of legal aid services in the country.