Pushing for Judicial Services Guarantee

By Prabhakar Timble
07 May 2013 05:14 IST

A Delhi court gives its verdict on a 1984 anti-Sikh riots case after a lapse of 29 years. Still, it cannot be held that the matter is conclusively decided. An appeal against the judgement of the subordinate court would be preferred in the High Court. By the time all the possibilities including the irrefutable determination by the Supreme Court of India are exhausted, it could comfortably take another 30 years.  Matters involving disqualification of legislators are decided by the Courts after the completion of the term of the legislature. Under- trials languish in jails without any logical end in sight. The judiciary expects commitments from the government, the public officers, the public institutions and instrumentalities of the State. Time-bound delivery of services is also demanded from private institutions and enterprises which spring a public character. The judiciary pulls up bureaucrats, slaps fines on doctors, expresses displeasure over maintenance of law and order, passes strictures on solid waste management by municipal councils, takes suo motto action to remove hawkers and road side petty traders (‘gaddas’), sermonises on road safety and accidents, ridicules the law enforcement agencies for being tardy and politically influenced, demands Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to be liberated from the government, scraps coal and  telecom allocations  and slams the government over security cover to VIPs. The major drawback of the judiciary is its lack of accountability to the client and the citizen in terms of delivery of judicial service. Punishment for criminals can never act as a deterrent if judiciary stands unaccountable for timely delivery of services.

It may sound preposterous to demand from the judiciary the Right of Citizens to Time-bound Delivery of Judicial Services. However, without such a guarantee from the judiciary, the citizens would further lose faith in this organ of democratic governance. People perceive that the judiciary, like the police are friendly with the villains and the victims are made to run from pillar to post in an almost never ending vicious spiral without any commitment to result of the litigation and grievance.

Vision for time-bound

There is no document or charter prepared by the judiciary enlisting expectations and minimum commitments from it. The Executive cannot lay down such assurances as it would be construed as amounting to interference with judicial independence. Having regard to judicial independence and judicial review as an integral part of the basic structure of the Indian Constitution, it would be also improper for the Parliament to legislate on delivery of judicial services. Hence, the gap has to be filled by the judiciary itself. An efficient   judiciary contributing to promotion of law and order should be set as the vision. The Supreme Court could prepare a master Charter of Judicial Services Guarantee for itself. This could be adapted and adopted by the High Courts and the Subordinate Courts depending on the local ground realities. The Charter of guarantees should specify the time within which the different types of litigation would be disposed by the Courts. The Charter should also include fines for judicial officers in case of deviations from the Charter.

The Service Guarantee may reduce the intellectual exhibitionism in judicial pronouncements. The closer you move to the judiciary, the murkier it gets. There should be a limit in terms of months or years with which the judge and the law officers should arrive at the truth or a finding. It cannot be a licence without any expiry date. Nobody holds the judiciary in contempt more than the legal professionals themselves. It is they who are confident that the law is on the side of the villains, criminals, law breakers and clients who can afford their fees. Just as the real estate and housing is outside the reach of a common man; the judicial estate is affordable to none except the corporates, MNCs and the government. Despite knowing that the judiciary and the judges are not bound to the citizens for delivery of the services and have no standards in this respect, the average citizen holds them in high esteem. The bureaucrats are condemned and the politicians are abhorred even though they deliver public services within reasonable time.

Judicial propriety

Judicial independence should not be a cover to shoot down the demand for guarantee of judicial services. The independence of the judiciary has been used by the Supreme Court to law down norms on appointment of judges, transfer of judges and for claiming exemptions and privileges under different legislations, notably being the Right to Information Act. The judiciary has adopted an internal self-evolved code for such matters.

At the same time, there have been instances where the judges have acquiesced with the government when it has benefited them in terms of post-retirement offices. Justice Dalveer Bhandari, a former judge of the Supreme Court of India was the official nominee of the Government of India for the International Court of Justice (ICJ) while serving as the judge. This is not the only instance where judicial independence was bartered for individual gain. Former Chief Justice of India, R. S. Pathak relinquished office only subsequent to his election on the ICJ. It was Justice Pathak who had delivered a controversial and skewed settlement involving Union Carbide Corporation during the time of his nomination to the ICJ. Justice Swatantra Kumar, former Chief Justice of Mumbai High Court and later the judge of the Supreme Court acting in the judicial capacity had decided that all environmental matters should be filed before the Green Tribunal. On retirement, he became the Chairman of the said tribunal. This opens up scope to allege that Mr. Swatantra Kumar was creating work and content for his next appointment. With increasing opportunities for post-retirement offers for judicial officers, the litigants pitted against the government do not expect unbiased and unprejudiced approach from judges who happen to be in the command years of retirement from services.

Last resort

There are no two opinions that Courts and the judiciary should remain as systems for upholding the rights of citizens and adjudication of their grievances. To minimise crime, punishment and criminal law should act as a strong deterrent. It is the primary duty of the judiciary and the judges to recognise the right of the citizens and the litigants for time-bound disposal of litigation. The recognition should be in terms of a self-evolved Charter of guarantees for delivery of judicial services. The immunity and indifference of the judiciary and judges from time-bound accountability is killing.

Disclaimer: Views expressed above are the author's own.

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Prabhakar Timble

Mr Prabhakar Timble is an educationist and a legal expert. He has served several educational institutions, especially as the Principal of Government College at Quepem, Kare College of Law in Madgao as well as couple of Management Institutes. He was also the State Election Commissioner of Goa.

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