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Judgment day

Great power can be yours, but as a judicial officer, your heart, too, should be in the right place, says Vimal Chander Joshi

education Updated: Apr 21, 2010 11:27 IST
Vimal Chander Joshi

While hearing the case details related to an owner-tenant feud over property, Rekha Suri (name changed on request), senior civil judge, learnt that the son of the landlord had been driven to take his own life due to extreme poverty. The tenants who had occupied his father’s property (which could have fetched his family a handsome income) were paying a rent of just Rs 50. Moved by his family’s plight Suri immediately issued eviction orders to the tenants.

“I didn’t even put the case on trial (as per my power under section 25B of the Delhi Rent Control Act) and helped the owner get back his property. When he thanked me, the satisfaction I got meant much more to me than the money I used to make as a lawyer,” says Suri.

Suri quit her flourishing practice of six years to become a judge ten years ago. A judicial career, she says, is not as physically demanding as that of a lawyer. She is now also empowered to ensure that justice is delivered to the wronged. “As a lawyer, I often felt helpless (when I lost a case) even after putting in my best efforts. That is the time when you want to be on the other side of the courtroom — an imparter of justice, and not just a proponent,” she adds.

Similar feelings prompted Gautam Manan to join the judiciary. What, however, awaited him on his first day in court on August 25, 2003, was a mountain of paperwork related to the cases he had to handle. “I was assigned 35 matters (or cases) that day and was very nervous.”

Sometimes, Manan says, he is amazed at the triviality of the issues that lead people to take recourse to litigation. “They go to court for something as small as a dispute over parking in a housing society to leaking drainpipes to even seepage in apartments. It makes me wonder why people can’t sort these issues among themselves,” says Manan.

Young people can take heart from the fact that one can become a judge even at the very young age of 24-25 years after qualifying the exam conducted by the Delhi Judicial Services, High Court of Delhi. Any fresh lawyer can sit for the exam, which is in two phases — preliminary and mains. After getting shortlisted in the written exam, you have to appear for an interview. If you qualify this, you have to undertake training for a year.

Since the government is keen to bring in legal reforms, it has also created a Vision Document that recommends the appointment of 700 additional judges in the high courts and 15,000 new judges in the lower judiciary.

After that, you are given complete charge of a courtroom. Besides having to handle the pressures created by the perpetual flow of cases, judges have to be very well-read and have to always stay abreast of small and major changes in laws. They have to be one step ahead of “lawyers, many of whom possess incredibly rich experience. Sometimes, they try to dominate you with their vast knowledge,” adds Manan.

Being a judge means you have to deliberate over cases — ponder over the evidence produced in the court and finally deliver a verdict. There could be an element of risk involved in doing your job as you have to bring criminals to book. Manan once faced an accused who whipped out a blade and threatened to slit his neck. “There are times when you have to handle them psychologically rather than by force. A judge must be a patient listener and a humble being at the same time,” he advises.

What's it about?
A judge presides over a court of law. S/he is like an umpire in a game and is supposed to conduct the trial impartially before an open court. It’s his/her job to hear all witnesses and examine the evidence presented by the litigating parties in a case, assess the credibility of the charges made and then issue a ruling on the matter based on his or her judgment

Clock Work
9 am: Attend cases and listen to disputing parties
11 am: Work continues with a string of cases following one after the other
1 pm: Lunch
2 pm: Resume hearing
4 pm: Go to chamber and read the files for next day’s cases
5 pm: Go home

The Payoff
The salary of an entry-level civil judge is around Rs 35,000 a month. After reaching the level of a district judge, s/he is entitled to Rs 60,000 a month.
High court judges draw about Rs 90,000 a month and Supreme Court judges about Rs one lakh a month

Skills
.
Have ability to make good judgments - keen insight
. Phenomenal ability to accumulate information related to just about anything which is subject to litigation
. Should be an expert in procedural laws - code of civil procedure and code of criminal procedure and the law of evidence
. Great oratory and debating skills
. Must be a patient listener

How do i get there?
After doing a BA LLB course one can appear for the judiciary exam conducted by the high courts of a state. A successful candidate works in the lower judiciary as a civil judge or metropolitan magistrate in the district courts. The announcement of the judiciary exam is made through advertisements in all major national newspapers. It takes place in three stages - preliminary, mains and interview. One becomes eligible for appointment as a judge in one of the high courts in India after practising for 10 years as a lawyer in the high court

Institutes & urls
Go for either a five-year or a three-year law programme before sitting for the judicial services exam.
. LLB from the Faculty of Law, University of Delhi
www.du.ac.in/showdeptunderfaculties.html
. BA, LLB from National Law School of India University, Bangalore
www.nls.ac.in
. BA, LLB from National Law University, Jodhpur
www.nlujodhpur.ac.in
. BA, LLB from National Law Institute University, Bhopal
www.nliu.com/
. BA, LLB from National Law University, Orissa
www.nluo.ac.in
. You can check the entire list of national law universities at
www.barcouncilofindia.org/legal-education/national-law-univers.php

Pros & cons


.

It’s a highly respected profession. Everyone from the litigant to a policeman holds you in high esteem


.

Growth is very limited. Normally, you get only one promotion to the rank of additional district judge. The chances of making it to higher judiciary are very slim


.

The pile of cases can sometimes bog you down.


.

One judge hears around 30 matters in a single day

Judges now earn handsome salaries

A former judge of the Delhi High Court talks about various challenges in the profession

What qualities do you think a judge must have to be able to deliver an unbiased verdict?
You should be very objective and prepared to listen to both the parties patiently. You will be called upon to exercise your discretionary authority, but a judge should ensure that his power is guided by the basic principle of law. The power is not to be used to give largesse but to avoid denial of rights to either of the parties. Some judges have preconceived notions of being omnipotent. This perception is adverse to their growth and success in the long run.

When a lawyer becomes a judge, how does his professional life transform?
As a lawyer you can socialise, but judges are supposed to stay in a cocoon. When I became a judge, I lost all the lawyer friends I had made in the 25 years of my practice. Many judges wine and dine with the lawyers, but ideally they should not. It makes you easily accessible to litigants who might influence you for their personal interests.

Are successful lawyers sceptical about accepting judicial ranks?
Initially, when the salaries were low, the lawyers used to resist it. And they were requested to make a sacrifice of sorts for the country and its judicial system. Now, things have changed. Judges draw handsome salaries. When I joined as a High Court judge, my salary was just Rs 26,000 but it rose to Rs 80,000 by the time I quit. There are other perks too.

You have given judgments in many landmark cases like those of Jessica Lall, Priyadarshini Mattoo and the Hinduja brothers. Did you ever feel apprehensive of the fallout of your verdicts?
In every major case, a hue and cry ensues, irrespective of whether it’s in favour of or against the accused. I had known it earlier and never gave it a thought. Such cases must be disposed of as quickly as possible.

There is a huge backlog of cases in Indian courts. Can a judge ensure speedy trial of the cases he hears?
Definitely! A judge should see why particular evidence is not brought on that hearing and must curb unnecessary adjournments.

Justice RS Sodhi, former judge of Delhi High Court Interviewed by Vimal Chander Joshi