Unless the judges know they will be held responsible for their verdicts and the delays in delivering them, India’s broken criminal justice system that favors the rich and punishes the poor will not be repaired
In his recently published memoir Justice for the Judge, former Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, now a MP for Rajya Sabha, on whom a privilege has been tabled for allegedly degrading the House of Lords, reveals tensions between the government and the judiciary.
In his most recent media interviews, however, he is frugal with the crucial law of the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC), which was controversially rejected by a chamber of the Supreme Court in 2015.
First response to an incident reflecting the link between the executive and the judiciary. Gogoi was a judge at the Gauhati High Court. The late Tarun Gogoi was prime minister of the Congressional government in Assam. Judge Gogoi says in his book that the prime minister tried to “influence the outcome of the police officer case”.
Such political interference in legal proceedings is not uncommon. Over the years, an entire ecosystem has evolved to undermine the criminal justice system.
The symptoms are malignant. According to PRS Legislative Research, there are over 4.5 million cases pending in various courts, including 3.8 million cases in lower courts, 60 lakh cases in high courts, and unscrupulous 70,000 cases in the Supreme Court. At the current rate, 23 new cases are added to the backlog every minute. As a result, the prisons are overcrowded with prisoners waiting for years to be tried.
The court infrastructure, especially in the lower courts where trials take place, is chaotic. The number of vacancies at all levels of the judiciary continues to grow, which is putting judges under pressure. Bad pay makes many easy targets for incentives.
A self-serving judicial ecosystem has three levels. The first consists of high-ranking attorneys who intimidate, persuade, or harass judges to grant adjournments when scurrying from one courtroom to another, and bill each litigant several lakh rupees for a one-minute performance.
The second level consists of shadowy fixers who work between attorney and judge and “settle” cases for review. The third level consists of silent, invisible officials in the court registers who play an important role in deciding which cases are prioritized.
In his memoirs, Judge Gogoi points to the hidden hand in the Supreme Court Registry, which leads to strange results: “The date set by Judge Dipak Misras Bench for the hearing of the Ayodhya case, October 27, 2018, was a Saturday . The matter was therefore brought up on October 29, 2018 (Monday) in front of a bench of judges Sanjay Kishan Kaul, Judge KM Joseph and myself. It was ordered that the matter be presented to the competent body for negotiation in the first week of January 2019. A specific date was not chosen.
“So I expected my permission to be obtained before listing the cases. This was not done and suddenly, without my knowledge, the case was listed on January 4th, 2019. At that point, I hadn’t even formed the bank that would hear him. My assessment of the level of willingness to negotiate was also not yet complete. “
“Neither the general secretary nor any of the registrars could explain how the case was put on the list without my knowledge and permission. Be that as it may, on January 4th the bank consisting of Judge Kaul and myself had no choice but to issue the following order: “Further orders in the matter will be issued by the competent authorities on 10.1.2019” Bank, how it can be made ‘. “
Judge Gogoi also writes obliquely about the second line of shadow makers – including some disreputable but well-known journalists – who helped create an impeachment charge against then-CJI Dipak Misra in order to prevent him from hearing the Ayodhya case because of one was of the opinion that the judge was favorably disposed towards the views of the litigants who want to build the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya.
Gogoi writes: “CJI [Dipak] Misra, who chaired the Bench when hearing the case, declined to postpone the hearing until 2019. In his own way, he tried to continue the case. But sometime in April-May 2018, the impeachment episode surfaced. Many believed that the impeachment proceedings were aimed at preventing CJI Misra from hearing the Ayodhya case. “
“Whether this has any substance is not in my knowledge. However, I find a certain commonality between such thoughts and the views expressed in certain circles that the events related in an earlier chapter would have calculated similarly not only with the upcoming Ayodhya hearing, but also with the ongoing hearings in sensitive cases like Rafale can be and NRC in mind. The only difference was that the first move (with CJI Misra) was successful, but the second (with me) was not. “
“During the hearing there were repeated negative remarks by activists and lawyers on one or the other independent issue, perhaps to disrupt the peace that was required to resolve a case of this magnitude.”
The first tier of this vicious ecosystem, made up of senior counsel, orchestrated the ousting operation of CJI Misra, who was viewed as hostile to the ecosystem’s agenda. Their main goal was achieved: not impeachment, but to shake CJI Misra enough to convince him to postpone Ayodhya-Ram Mandir’s hearings after the Lok Sabha elections in May 2019. Ironically, it was left to Judge Gogoi to deliver the landmark ruling on the Ram Mandir on November 9, 2019.
Judge Gogoi is not entirely blameless himself. He was one of four senior judges who attended the infamous January 2018 press conference allegedly aimed at improving the transparency of the Supreme Court. Judge Gogoi was charged with sexual harassment by an employee and faced widespread criticism for accepting membership of the Rajya Sabha four months after retiring as a CJI.
All of this indicates the urgent need for judicial reform. The establishment of the NJAC was blocked by the Supreme Court for years before it downgraded the law as unconstitutional. The college system, according to which SC judges select co-judges, is nepotistic. It has a built in conflict of interest. The NJAC will end this and hold judges accountable and make their appointments transparent to encourage merit to nepotism.
Another important judicial reform that is still dying is the creation of a new appeals court to handle disputes arising from supreme court judgments after all appeal courts have been exhausted. The Supreme Court should only deal with matters that require constitutional interpretation or cases that concern material issues of national interest.
The stereotype that bail, not jail, is the norm should be strictly adhered to. Unless the judges know they will be held responsible for their verdicts and the delays in delivering them, India’s broken criminal justice system, which favors the rich and punishes the poor, will not be repaired.
The author is the editor, author and editor. Views expressed here are personal.
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