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How Can We Make District Courts More Effective In The Age Of Internet And Virtual Revolution?

The author is trying to co relate the observations made by Mr. Justice D.Y Chandrachud in webinar titled as Future of Virtual Court and Access to Justice in India conducted by Nyaya Forum on 24/5/2020 with the necessity of strengthening District Courts all over India and how to make lower judiciary more strong and effective

To improve the quality of imparting justice at lower judicial level in Tehsils and trial courts, has been a prime importance of Judiciary since long. Academies have been set up in India for the said purpose where after clearing the written examinations for recruitment at lower and higher level of District requirements, judges are given practical as well as theoretical training. The present COVID-19 pandemic has increased expectations from the judiciary manifolds.

Virtual Courts, seems to be, is the most hot and favourite topic among the legal fraternity today. Lot of articles have been written and webinars conducted since the time lockdown was first imposed. The most informative is the one presided over by Dr. Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, of the Supreme Court of India, being the chair-person of e-committee which is responsible for modernization and customization of all e-courts at all levels, starting from Munsiffs to the Supreme Court.

He spoke of the efforts put in collecting data all over India by NJDG, the National Judicial Data Grid, the role of Alternate Dispute Resolution and Online Dispute resolution forums in curtailing disputes and also emphasized upon the importance of District Courts as the most important and relevant platform which needs to be automated and Judges made tech savvy enabling them to impart justice at the lowest level of judiciary.

He further mentioned that the whole Judiciary, including lawyers and litigants have to get out of the phenomenon called Appellaticitis. Meaning thereby that we have to make our District courts so powerful yet judicious that possibility of running to Appellate Forum, gets reduced to minimal.

Off the Bench authored by Justice Krishna Iyer, spoke for the first time, the need of Judicial Management. Just like any other Management studies and rules in other fields, what Justice Krishna Iyer, suggested that the same management process should be implied in the Judiciary. And his suggestions were considered upon and today, the functioning of the lower judiciary is far improvised than what it was 20 years ago.

But the pendency has still not reduced and the other alarming factor which has been noted is that the trust upon the lower judiciary has declined at a much higher rate. So where is the problem? Why it is that even after lots of efforts and labour as put in by the government and e-committee in the enhancement of lower judiciary, not much improvement is seen in its efficiency and rate of infection of the disease called Appellateitis has increased manifold? Why is the lower judiciary losing its trust among litigants and lawyers too?

According to many, it is approach and maturity of the lower level judicial officers, which is a cause of concern. Indian lower judiciary till the year 2002 warranted lawyers with minimum 3 years experience to appear for the lower judiciary examinations. This condition was later scrapped by the Supreme Court in 2002. Today fresh law graduates are allowed to appear in such examination and after selection they start presiding over the courts by the age of 25. Survey says that the average age of lower judicial officers in India is 25-26 years.

It has been opined by many jurists that for a person to become a judge and take over the functioning of the courts, it is necessary that he or she has attained some level of maturity. Nowhere in the world or that matter of fact in India too, upon attainment of degree in any other management course, makes a man capable to take over the reins of a position which commands complete discretion. And judiciary is one field where we are allowing a young judge to decide upon the fate of someone who may either lose his freedom or may lose his rights in a civil claim. Though one year mandatory training is imparted to these judges, but is that enough. Most feel it is not.

What is required to be understood is that the power to decide somebody's fate doesn't involve only the knowledge of law but a far stretched maturity which a judge learns and attains over period of experience spread over years. It is a common phenomenon that a person's maturity over a subject comes with time. And by the time freshly appointed Magistrates and Higher judicial officers gain any experience, they are simultaneously expected to dispose of certain number of cases every month, majority of which end up before appellate courts.

The judges presiding over Appellate Courts can reason a situation and facts and interpret law in a better and judicious way than the lower judicial officers. Hence, that maturity is must. And no matter how much more you equip the lower judiciary with this advanced and automated technology but till the time they would not think and practice their powers like a matured person, they would end up mismanaging the courts and keep giving faulty judgments.

Then where and what is the solution.
Let us begin with a small example. A story in fact. When I was young, my parents presented me with a thick story book:
Short stories from Russia or Russian Fables. There was one story about a Czar who passed a sermon that the one who gets him a shinning Cup lying at the bottom of the river will get to marry Czar's daughter. Depth of the river was fathomless and inhabited by crocodiles.

Many divers lost lives in pursuit to marry the princess. Then there was this poor young man, a diver, who too wanted to change his fortune. But he had a father who was a reputed diver of his times. He shared his desire with his father to jump in the river and get the cup. The father requested him to take him along to the river side and if the poor lad dies in his pursuit, he decided to commit suicide as there was no one left to take care of him.

Once on the banks of the river when the young guy was about to jump, the father, being a diver, expressed his desire to see the cup. And then he told his son that the cup was not in the bottom of the river but at the top of the mountain under which the river was flowing. River just carried the reflection of the cup. So the young man climbed up the mountain, got the cup and married the princess. The moral of the story is that it's not the courage or intention which matters to do a certain job but the experience too plays an important role. It was his father's experience being a diver that helped him to get to his goal.

Young lawyers, freshly out of law college, have no experience to impart justice. Most of them are unlucky in trying their fate in Civil Services Examinations. Their mind set is to RULE whereas judiciary requires an element of SERVICE. Merely a year's training and that too occasionally in quantum of hours spent would not teach them much. Similar is the case with the higher judicial officers who get appointed at District and Sessions level. Then are the bureaucrats who are assigned with the judicial work.

Where is the experience, the depth and conscious to impart justice? Most of these officers never get elevated to any senior judicial position. Throughout their career spanned over years of service, never get them to understand the insight of High Court and Supreme Court judges who look at law and understand it from a completely different perspective. Making these fresh judicial recruits sit with likes of their own won't fetch them an experience of understanding law from a judge who is dealing with their orders in an appeal or revision. Very few have a vision even to reach to the top. For most the power and money, forgive me but that is a fact, makes them happy and contended.

What I want to say is that if the Hon'ble Supreme Court does feel that District level courts should contribute in removing this disease Appellaticitis then training of the junior officers should be done accordingly. The training period should be increased from one year to two years. For the first six months they should be made to sit with High Court Judges. Then, next six months with Supreme Court Judges and then next six months with the likes of their own to understand the court craft.

The final six months they should be subjected to lifetime experiences of various jurists, judges, eminent lawyers and other people who have struck it big in their respective fields other than law. Then they should be evaluated on basis of their maturity before handing over such responsible posts to them. Imparting justice is not easy. It is not a duty but a service towards society. They must know how and in what manner senior judges deal with their judgments and orders. This will help them to concentrate on their approach right from the beginning.

The vision which Justice Chandrachud has in his mind--to control the disputes--can only be achieved by making lower judiciary strong and compassionate to society's woes. To make them understand what the top level management desires from them. Sometimes I wonder when our peers say that no lawyer is complete without training of minimum of two years under a good senior lawyer and that too after understanding the work at District level, then how come the same analogy is not applied upon the judges who have no experience of being a good lawyer at the first place?

No matter how advanced technology we make available to them, but till the time they don't understand the concept behind the word JUSTICE nothing would work. If the senior judiciary wants to make our districts courts strong they will have to share their experience and expectations with these young judicial officers. Merely going to judicial officers' training institute and giving lecture is not enough. Instead these officers should be made to sit in the court rooms like any Research officer spends hours in company of the senior judges, like any apprentice in a Lawyer's office and made to understand what Judiciary expects from them.

And after training of two years, if the committee feels that the officer is still not ready, he should be given an option to resign or undergo further training. But please don't put the fate of lakhs in dark by letting them to loosely deal with world's most humble and noble duty/service, even if it is during first five years of their joining services. They would create havoc and the higher judiciary will end up cleaning the mess for all times to come. What we have to remember is that even though one gets a license to drive, yet for first six months we have to drive under a senior driver's supervision. Once satisfied that we have learnt the skill then we are given a permanent license.

It is also noted that there are times when the reserved category seats get carried forward for the next requirement opportunity. Most feel that would be unfair to the society at large. If at such eventuality happens, why cannot those seats be allocated to general category students to meet the requirement of time?

Before concluding I just want all to go through Chapter Judicial Power A Management Mess from Off the Bench by Justice Krishna Iyer. May be many more have expressed such views but the manner in which he has penned down the lapses on part of the system, I doubt if anyone else can present the same with such rawness coupled with eloquence. But still a small excerpt from it which would be apt to conclude my interpretation of path shown to us by Justice Chandrachud.

The excellence of management can not emerge from lord shipping the judges but needs choice of competent judicial personnel based on relevant criteria. What are the pertinent qualities in the selectee and who are the selectors? How is management skill to be determined? While Judicial Independence is inalienable value, ignorance and arbitrariness and indifference to the fundamentals of the Constitution are indefensible in the gullible guise of judicial independence.

To blink at systematic management blunders is dangerous since Judicial Power is no omnipotence in the sky but great ability to accelerate access to right and justice withstanding pressure from lobbies, political clout, purchase by oblique economic operators and submissions to prejudices and partialities which run counter to the fundamentals of the Secular Socialist Democratic Republic.

Of Course Scholarship in law, general sympathy with weaker sections, concern for distributive justice, commitment to judicial remedies for the masses, awareness of international developments in the spectral range of human rights and past which throws light on the class slant, must be preferred to income hunger, dubious integrity and inclination for participation in social justice activities.

These call for careful screening while hand picking candidates so that those who are allergic people oriented social values to these factors and are addicted to fancy fees, mega corporate clientele delayed justice, less scruples about truth and justice and more focus on success at the bar even by professional skullduggery, tendency to cultivate politicians and Big Business may be eliminated. Judge power Management begins with right choice for right reasons of those who justly fill the Bill.

This selection, based on criteria, whether of a hotel or hospital or super market, calls for training and mastering of special techniques, more so if the job demands high dignity, equanimity, dignity and other complex considerations.

Needless to mention that same approach and care should be taken by self appointed ADR and ODR forums while selecting Mediators/Arbitrators and Dispute Redressal Officers. The E-Committee or any other forum or the law governing such forums should lay specific guidelines for the same.

The views, above, are primarily expressed to lay and build a strong foundation for effective and most advanced judicial system in India as hinted by Justice Chandrachud. End-Notes:
Written By: Sanjay Manchanda - D-781/90 
Email: [email protected]

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