People know that judiciary will stand by them, says CJI
The judiciary stands by the people when things go wrong, Chief Justice of India NV Ramana said on Saturday while addressing multiple events, where he also supported opening up court proceedings to people through efforts like live streaming.
The chief justice first addressed an international audience at the India-Singapore Mediation Summit 2021 before inaugurating the Gujarat high court’s live streaming service later in the day. Through the day, he touched on the issue of pendency of cases – which he said was not an indicator of a system’s effectiveness or failing – and called for a greater role of mediation in settling disputes.
“People are confident that they will get relief and justice from the judiciary. It gives them the strength to pursue a dispute. They know that when things go wrong, the judiciary will stand by them,” the CJI said at the Mediation Summit, adding that this trust explained why cases flood Indian courts.
At the launch of the Gujarat High Court live-streaming, the CJI said: “It is high time for de-mystifying the justice delivery system in the country and furthering access through open courts.”
Justice Ramana said that while courts in the country are open to litigants and lawyers, access to justice will “become a true reality when litigants and interested parties get to witness, understand and comprehend” justice dispensation first hand through live-streaming.
He hinted that at the Supreme Court, efforts were underway to open some courts for live-streaming. “People may want to follow the arguments of the lawyers and observations of the bench only in certain cases, such as those that involve Constitutional interpretation or attract public attention.” Currently, this information is available through the media, he added, and there can be some transmission loss leading to misinterpretation of questions asked and observations made the bench, which often gets amplified by vested interests.
“The formalisation of the live streaming of court proceedings is the best cure for the aforesaid malady.”
But, Justice Ramana warned, live streaming could also become a double-edged sword as judges might feel the pressure of public scrutiny, which can result in a stressful environment.
The privacy of parties involved and the safety and security of the victims and witnesses should also be ensured during live streaming, the CJI told Gujarat High Court Chief Justice Vikram Nath and other judges of the HC at the virtual event.
At the earlier event, the CJI spoke about pending cases in Indian courts. “The often-quoted statistic that “pendency” in Indian courts has reached 45 million cases -- which is perceived as the inability of the Indian judiciary to cope with the case load -- is an overstatement and an uncharitable analysis.”
Pendency cannot be a useful indicator of how well or poorly a system is doing, he said.
The problem ailing the Indian judiciary is of delay, he added, and said he was of the strong view that the development of alternate dispute resolution (ADR) techniques such as arbitration, conciliation and mediation can reduce delays by settling disputes outside courts.
The current state of mediation in the country shows that between 2005 and March 2021, nearly 3.22 million cases have been referred and nearly 1 million cases have been settled by nearly 43,000 mediation centres.
To ensure mediation is successful, CJI suggested it should be prescribed as a “mandatory first step” for resolution of every allowable dispute. “Perhaps, an omnibus law in this regard is needed to fill the vacuum,” as mediation is not governed by any law unlike the Arbitration and Conciliation Act 1996.
Some recent laws, such as Commercial Courts Act 2015 and Real Estate (Regulation and Development) Act 2016, provide a clause for compulsory pre-litigation mediation.
Since mediation is cheap and simple, it can benefit a vast majority of litigants in India who belong to middle and poorer sections of society, Justice Ramana added, giving the example of Lok Adalats that have helped reduced cases coming to courts.
Over 7.84 million cases were settled by the Lok Adalats in 2019 and 2020 of which nearly 3.94 million cases were settled at the pre-litigation stage.
The CJI cited the Indian epic Mahabharata to say that mediation, as a concept, is deeply embedded into the Indian ethos. In the epic, he said, Krishna’s futile attempt to mediate the dispute between the Pandavas and Kauravas was pivotal. “Failure of mediation led to disastrous consequences,” CJI said.
He also cited the example the example of aeroplane pilots to suggest ways in which mediation can be improved. Commercial pilots have a simulator component in their training where they are equipped to respond to multiple scenarios – similarly, training programmes of mediators should contain such a component, he said.