Don’t wait for a national judicial service
While the demand to improve quality of the judiciary ---- one of the pillars of a functioning and healthy democracy ---- is a fair one, state governments and high courts have not been open to it : no one wants any erosion of power especially in a federal structure.Updated: Dec 28, 2018, 09:43 IST
Union law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad on Wednesday batted for establishing an all-India judicial service, with an entrance test conducted by the Union Public Service Commission, to create a pool of trained judicial officers, attract “talented law students” and help SC/ST students (through a reservation process) so as to make the judicial services far more representative than what it is today. This is not a new idea; it came up first in the 1960s and has also been mentioned recently in Niti Aayog’s ‘Strategy For New India @ 75’ report. The report suggested: “The selection process may be entrusted to the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) for a cadre of lower judiciary judges (first induction level), Indian Legal Service (both centre and states), prosecutors, legal advisors, and legal draftsmen. This will attract young and bright law graduates and help build a new cadre that can enhance accountability in the governance system”.
There is no doubt that the Indian legal service has quality challenges. There are also a large number of vacancies in lower courts (5,000 at least). And as the minister said, the judiciary is not representative. A February 2018 study done by the Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy said since its inception in 1950, the Supreme Court has only seen six women judges (now eight with the elevation of Justices Indu Malhotra and Indira Banerjee in April and August) and women judges constitute barely 9% of the current working strength in high courts of the country . In 2014, the National Commission for Scheduled Castes demanded that reservations should be provided in the judiciary because of almost no representation for such groups across the judicial services. However, it is not entirely true that there is no reservation in judiciary; some states such as Bihar have reservations in state judiciary.
While the demand to improve quality of the judiciary ---- one of the pillars of a functioning and healthy democracy ---- is a fair one, state governments and high courts have not been open to it : no one wants any erosion of power especially in a federal structure. The other problem is that have used powers under the CrPC and Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) to declare that a local language can be used in lower courts. Lack of knowledge of local language could hamper judicial efficiency, they claim.
If efficiency is one of the main reasons for rolling out a national judicial service (a sound idea) ---- and states are not keen on it ---- all stakeholders --- the Centre, state governments and the judiciary need to put their heads together to find out other ways of improving the quality of intake and conduct transparent performance evaluations based on disposal of cases by a judge, the quality of judgments and legal reasoning, knowledge of the law, behaviour towards lawyers in court proceedings, independence and transparency. This process of improving the present system must not wait for all stakeholders to agree on a national judicial service.