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Judge not, lest ye be judged

Our sometimes archaic judicial system badly needs an overhaul

india Updated: Apr 30, 2013 23:18 IST

The Britishers have long left this country. However, our colonial mindset refuses to let them go. This is most evident in Indian courts which are still guided by practices and laws framed by the British. It is time the judiciary sets benchmarks for itself too.

The first benchmark could be set by doing away with the colonial practice of being addressed as ‘My Lord’ and ‘Your Lordship’. These terms convey the fact that a person is not seeking justice, but begging for it.

The resolution passed by the Bar Council, which prohibits the usage of these terms, remains on paper, but not in practice. What guides this highest form of address?

Even the country’s President is not addressed in this manner. The judges themselves should put an end to this culture and pass a resolution stating that henceforth they may be addressed as ‘Your Honour’ or ‘Honourable Sirs’.

The tenor of petitions filed also smacks of slavery. The petitioner most respectfully showeth / It is prayed / Honourable Court may most graciously be pleased to grant relief / For this act of kindness the petitioner shall as in duty bound ever pray — are we seeking justice or mercy?

The language used should be such which maintains the dignity of both the petitioner and the court.

The judicial system has become synonymous with complex procedures and rules. Both need simplification so that legal minds are not an imperative for interpretation.

Justice should penetrate even the most marginalised. Unfortunately, it comes with a ‘price tag’ attached to it. The appointment of judges in the same court has now given birth to terms like ‘uncle judges’ and ‘favourable bench’.

The system of appointment needs to be reviewed and a rule should be made that will bar lawyers from becoming judges of courts where they had once practised.

The other and most important benchmark for the bench is to adhere to its motto — ‘justice delayed is justice denied.’ The endless wait for justice tortures the aggrieved party mentally, physically and economically. A person does not come to court by choice.

The petitioner is usually a victim of circumstance and the courts should not prolong his agony and add to his injustice by either granting later dates or through adjournments that have been made on frivolous grounds. There is also a growing norm of challenging the decision of the lower court in the higher court, which not only causes delay but has also made lower courts virtually redundant.

To cure this menace judges need to fix targets for themselves, limit adjournments and dispose of minor cases on pleadings alone. To avoid frivolous litigation, a penalty even if minor, may be imposed on the losing party.

The government, which fights on taxpayers’ money, often victimises opponents through protracted litigation. To check this, the cost of filing repeated appeals should be borne by the officials concerned. This will not only reduce pendency, but also victimisation.

Besides filling up vacancies in courts, working hours must also be increased and the long summer and winter vacations reduced. Our judges can take a leaf from Emperor Jahangir, who was known for his golden chain of justice.

An aggrieved person could ring the bell and directly petition the Emperor at any time of the day and the Emperor ensured that not only was justice delivered, but was delivered in time.

The judiciary should be respected, not feared. Contempt of court should not be used as an instrument to instill fear amongst the public. Threat and justice do not go together. Post-retirement assignments should also not tempt judges and influence their judgments.

A clean, transparent and responsive judiciary is needed today. By addressing these issues the judiciary can show that even though justice is dubbed as blind, it is certainly not deaf and dumb.

Ranjana Khare is with the Indian Council for Research in International Economic Relations
The views expressed by the author are personal