CJI: Making justice accessible is judiciary’s paramount challenge
Speaking at the Constitution Day celebrations held at the Supreme Court where the Prime Minister was also present, CJI Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud pointed out that “an institution thrives with time only when it functions democratically” and therefore, it is crucial for the judiciary to strengthen itself with the knowledge and understanding of the diverse section of people who are part of the institution
The paramount challenge that the judiciary faces is to ensure that the justice delivery system is accessible to everyone, Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud highlighted on Saturday, imploring judges to be accommodative of multiple views of persons with varied lived experiences by shedding their “prejudices and preconceptions”.
Speaking at the Constitution Day celebrations held at the Supreme Court where the Prime Minister was also present, the CJI pointed out that “an institution thrives with time only when it functions democratically” and therefore, it is crucial for the judiciary to strengthen itself with the knowledge and understanding of the diverse section of people who are part of the institution. “This is why it is all the more important that the representation of maginalised communities in the legal profession and judiciary is enhanced,” he said.
Justice Chandrachud further emphasised that the Indian Constitution does not force its citizens to choose between their rights and their culture. “Rather, it includes the cultural, social and religious aspects in its journey to the goal of a democratic society...Like the Constitution, Indian society has displayed the remarkable ability to be accommodative of various concerns which seem to be in conflict with one another. We must uphold the idea of unity in diversity by continuing to be accommodative of one another,” he underlined.
The strength of the Constitution, the CJI said, emanates from its ability to account for the rich tapestry of human experience in India – be it cultural, social, religious, or otherwise – and still chart out a vision for a progressive future. “The continuing success of the Constitution is a testament to the people’s choice of the rule of law over brute force to achieve a social revolution,” he added.
In his address, the CJI also stressed on the trinity of values highlighted by Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar -- “liberty, equality, and fraternity”, as he urged all judges across the courts in India, ranging from the district courts to the apex court, to reflect upon the constitutional vision of securing the three values.
“There is a need to introspect our actions and decisions and to question our prejudices and preconceptions. For, until we open ourselves to multiple views of persons with varied lived experiences, we would be lacking in our role as judges,” he flagged.
“The people of India, in their interactions with one another, must breathe life into the Constitution by practicing the democratic ideals of liberty, equality, and fraternity. The courts of the country must sustain this practice by foregrounding these same values in their judicial decisions, and the legislature and executive must enable the practice of liberty, equality, and fraternity,” said the CJI.
Making justice delivery system accessible to everyone is the greatest challenge that the Indian judiciary faces today, said Justice Chandrachud, stressing that it is of supreme importance that the courts are remodeled to reach out to the people instead of the people reaching out to the courts in their quest for justice.
“To ensure that the courts reach out to the people, it is essential that the process of litigation is simplified and made citizen-centric,” said justice Chandrachud while citing several technology-based initiatives, including virtual courts, e-filing and various digital initiatives being adopted by the judiciary to make the courts and their management system easily accessible to litigants, lawyers and other stakeholders.
“While technology has ably aided us in ensuring functionality of the judiciary during the pandemic, technology must be augmented with institutional reforms to resolve the chief issue of access to justice,” he added.
At the same time, the CJI emphasised that the endeavor to enhance access to justice must not be understood in the narrow terms of enriching the experience of those who already possess access but by reaching out to those groups and communities that are denied basic rights.
“Access to justice must be defined in the expression of upholding the faith and perception that the general public holds in the legal system. I can assure everyone that the initiatives launched today are a part of the larger technological and institutional advancement of the Indian judiciary to ensure that even the most disadvantaged communities in the country do not stumble while reaching out for justice,” said justice Chandrachud, who is also the chairman of the e-committee.
He illustrated the Supreme Court’s attempt to apply the ideals through initiatives such as vulnerable witness deposition centres, paperless courts, online RTI portal, E-seva kendras so that citizens may deploy technology to ease their journey through the legal system.
“Soon, the Supreme Court will conduct an audit of its premises to review and ensure its accessibility to persons with disabilities. When I stand before you exactly one year from now, I hope that I can list out a new set of ventures that make justice more accessible to the common citizen,” said the CJI while concluding his address.
The digital initiatives, launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday at the same event, included virtual justice clock, justIS mobile app 2.O, digital courts and s3WaaS websites of district courts.
Virtual justice clock is a real-time informative public dashboard which provides information about pendency of cases across all levels of the court while through the s3WaaS, which stands for ‘Secure, Scalable & Sugamya Website as a Service, the websites of district courts are being upgraded. JustIS Mobile App 2.O and digital courts have been developed as tools for judicial officers of district courts for digitally accessing the court records and aim at making the court paperless.