Legal Articles

Rude Fact Check on Judicial Transformation
October 11, 2023

The judiciary is the third pillar of democracy, plays an indispensable role in upholding the principles and functioning of democratic systems worldwide. Its significance cannot be overstated, as it acts as the ultimate arbiter of justice, the guardian of the rule of law, and the protector of individual rights and freedoms. A thriving democracy is characterized by the protection of individual rights and freedoms. The judiciary serves as the primary institution responsible for ensuring that these rights are safeguarded. It interprets and upholds the constitution and laws, providing a check against government actions that may infringe upon citizens' rights. Judges serve as impartial arbiters who ensure that the rights to free speech, assembly, religion, and more are not violated, fostering an environment where diverse perspectives can be expressed without fear.

A fundamental aspect of democracy is the system of checks and balances, which prevents any single branch of government from accumulating too much power. The judiciary acts as a critical check on the executive and legislative branches, ensuring that their actions are consistent with the constitution and the rule of law. It can strike down laws or government actions that are deemed unconstitutional, providing an essential counterbalance to the potential abuse of power. Democracies thrive on peaceful conflict resolution. Courts provide a formal, impartial, and non-violent means to resolve disputes, whether they are between individuals, organizations, or government entities. The legal process ensures that conflicts are resolved fairly and justly, contributing to the stability and peace of a democratic society. In a democratic economy, the enforcement of contracts and property rights is paramount. The judiciary is responsible for upholding these rights, which are essential for economic development and the functioning of markets. Investors and businesses require confidence that their contracts will be honored and their property rights protected, which, in turn, fosters economic growth and innovation.

The judiciary acts as a barrier against the arbitrary use of government power. It ensures that government actions are subject to legal scrutiny and that they are based on clear, transparent, and lawful procedures. This prevents authoritarian tendencies and promotes accountable governance. A well-functioning judiciary that operates transparently and fairly fosters public trust in the legal system and, by extension, the democratic process as a whole. When citizens believe that they can access justice, have their grievances heard, and expect fair treatment under the law, it strengthens their faith in democratic institutions. The rule of law is a fundamental principle of democracy. It means that no one, regardless of their status or position, is above the law. The judiciary ensures that this principle is upheld by applying the law equally to all individuals and entities. This concept underpins democratic societies by providing a framework for order, predictability, and accountability. In dispensing justice, lower judiciary plays a very vital role in our country.

India's lower court infrastructure has long been a cause for concern, with a litany of issues plaguing the judiciary's ability to dispense justice efficiently. From the lack of basic amenities to deteriorating working conditions, the conditions within lower courts paint a grim picture of neglect and disregard for the justice system. For those who have navigated the labyrinthine corridors of lower courts in India, the lack of proper urinals and sitting arrangements for litigants and advocates is an all-too-familiar sight. Litigants often find themselves standing for hours, or worse, sitting on the floor as they wait for their turn. Advocates, the very pillars of the judicial process, often lack proper seating arrangements, forcing them to seek respite on crowded corridors or makeshift seating areas. This state of affairs is not only inhumane but also a blow to the dignity of individuals seeking justice.

In a democratic society like India, the protection of individual civil liberties and human rights is paramount. Preventing arbitrary use of power by the police and enforcement agencies is essential to ensure that citizens' rights to life, liberty, and security are upheld. The rule of law is a fundamental principle in any democratic society. It means that everyone, including government officials, is subject to and accountable under the law. Arbitrary use of power undermines the rule of law and can erode public trust in the legal system. Allowing arbitrary use of power can lead to abuse of authority. It can result in incidents of police brutality, harassment, and corruption. Preventing such abuses is crucial to maintaining the integrity of law enforcement agencies.
Fairness and justice are the bedrocks of any legal system. Arbitrary actions by law enforcement can lead to wrongful arrests, unjust detentions, and unfair treatment of individuals. By preventing arbitrary use of power, the legal system can ensure equitable treatment for all. Public trust in the police and enforcement agencies is essential for the effective functioning of law enforcement. Trust is eroded when citizens perceive that the authorities wield their power arbitrarily. Preventing arbitrary use of power helps maintain or rebuild this trust.

Accountability is a critical aspect of good governance. When law enforcement agencies act arbitrarily, it becomes difficult to hold them accountable for their actions. Establishing clear rules and procedures helps ensure that agencies and officers are responsible for their conduct. The protection of human dignity and respect for every individual is a fundamental principle. Preventing arbitrary use of power is necessary to ensure that people are treated with respect and dignity, regardless of their background or circumstances. Arbitrary actions by law enforcement can lead to social unrest and conflicts. By preventing such actions, the potential for societal conflicts is reduced, contributing to peace and stability.

For those who have navigated the labyrinthine corridors of lower courts in India, the lack of proper urinals and sitting arrangements for litigants and advocates is an all-too-familiar sight. Litigants often find themselves standing for hours, or worse, sitting on the floor as they wait for their turn. Advocates, the very pillars of the judicial process, often lack proper seating arrangements, forcing them to seek respite on crowded corridors or makeshift seating areas. This situation is not only inhumane but also a blow to the dignity of individuals seeking justice. The haphazard file management systems in many lower courts only add to the misery. Vital documents and case files are stored in makeshift places, often leaving them susceptible to loss, damage, or misplacement. This lack of proper file-keeping infrastructure can lead to delayed hearings, adjournments, and a general lack of confidence in the legal system.

Another pressing issue is the lack of essential infrastructure such as air conditioning in courtrooms. Magistrates and even district court or Sessions Judges, responsible for delivering justice, often swelter in unrelenting heat, affecting their ability to concentrate and make sound judgments. Frequent power interruptions only exacerbate the situation, leading to unnecessary delays and frustration.
A lack of respect for litigants further compounds the problems within lower courts. Individuals often feel marginalized, waiting for hours without clarity on their case's status. This not only erodes their faith in the legal system but also fosters a sense of disillusionment. For many litigants and legal professionals, the only respite during a long day at court should be a functional and clean canteen. However, most court canteens are in deplorable states, offering substandard food and unhygienic conditions. The unavailability of basic amenities adds to the misery of all those who enter these court premises.

The state of lower court infrastructure in India raises questions about the government's commitment to ensuring access to justice. The slow and often obstructive legal process becomes to address this pressing issue, the government, legal authorities, and concerned stakeholders even more burdensome when those who are meant to administer justice are themselves subjected to substandard working conditions. We must prioritize significant reform in the following areas.
i. In lower courts, the provision of basic amenities like seating arrangements is a fundamental aspect of creating a more humane and dignified courtroom experience Adequate seating should be available for litigants, who often endure long waiting times. Clean and functional urinals are not only a matter of hygiene but also a necessity to ensure that litigants and legal professionals can focus on legal proceedings without discomfort. A welcoming environment, including clean and well-maintained court premises, can significantly impact the perception of the justice system and make it more accessible and user-friendly for all.
ii. Effective file management is at the core of a well-functioning legal system. The current haphazard methods of file storage and handling often result in delays, misplaced documents, and inefficiencies in court proceedings. Implementing a robust file management system involves the digitization of case records, secure storage, and efficient retrieval mechanisms. This not only ensures the integrity and accessibility of vital documents but also expedites legal processes, reduces administrative burdens, and minimizes the risk of losing crucial case information. A modern file management system is essential for the judiciary to meet the demands of the digital age and streamline legal proceedings.
iii. Infrastructural upgrades are imperative to transform the courtroom environment into a space that promotes efficiency and comfort. Introduction of air conditioning is not a luxury but a necessity, especially in a country like India with extreme weather conditions. It ensures that judges, legal professionals, and litigants can concentrate on the proceedings without being physically uncomfortable. An uninterrupted power supply is essential to prevent delays and disruptions in court activities, which often lead to adjournments and increased case backlog. Additionally, the integration of modern technology, such as video conferencing and digital evidence presentation, can enhance the efficiency of legal proceedings and reduce the burden on the courts.
iv. Respect for litigants is a fundamental aspect of a just legal system. Courts should work to reduce the waiting times that litigants often endure, which can be frustrating and discouraging. This can be achieved through measures such as scheduling hearings more efficiently, reducing unnecessary adjournments, and improving case management techniques. Fostering a culture of respect includes training for court staff and officials on how to interact with litigants professionally and courteously. Litigants should be made to feel that their concerns and cases are treated with the utmost seriousness and respect, regardless of their background or the nature of their legal matters.
v. Canteens within court premises play a vital role in providing sustenance to the legal community and litigants during their long hours at the court. It is imperative that these canteens adhere to strict standards for food quality, hygiene, and pricing. Enforcement of such standards ensures that the food served is nutritious, safe, and reasonably priced. This not only contributes to the well-being of those who spend significant time at the court but also reflects a commitment to maintaining high standards within the court premises. By implementing these reforms, courts can create a more welcoming and supportive environment for all individuals involved in legal proceedings.

In recent times, the judicial system has been making a significant transition towards online hearings, aiming to enhance efficiency and accessibility. While this move is commendable and necessary in the digital age, it raises an important question: Are we prematurely investing in online hearings when the basic infrastructure for lower courts is still sorely lacking? This article delves into the complexities of this dilemma and argues for the importance of prioritizing fundamental court infrastructure before channelling substantial resources into online court proceedings. The shift towards online court proceedings has been driven by several factors, including the need for improved accessibility, cost-efficiency, and the desire to reduce the backlog of cases. Online hearings have undoubtedly brought about convenience and flexibility in many respects, allowing litigants to participate from the comfort of their homes and eliminating the need for extensive travel. These advantages have, in many ways, revolutionized the justice system.

However, this transition has not been without its challenges. The digital divide remains a significant obstacle, with many individuals lacking access to the internet, the necessary devices, or the technical know-how required to participate in online hearings. As a result, a significant portion of the population is excluded from these proceedings, raising concerns about the equitable administration of justice. While courts at the highest levels may have the resources to invest in state-of-the-art online platforms, lower courts often suffer from a lack of basic infrastructure. It's not uncommon to find outdated computer systems, inadequate internet connectivity, and overburdened staff in these settings. This discrepancy highlights a fundamental imbalance in the allocation of resources within the justice system. Lower courts, where the vast majority of cases are handled, are the backbone of the judicial system. These courts address everyday legal issues that directly impact the lives of citizens. A lack of basic infrastructure can lead to delayed proceedings, inefficiencies, and injustice, ultimately undermining the core principles of our legal system.
Before diverting substantial financial resources into online court proceedings, it is imperative that we address the basic infrastructure needs of lower courts. This is not only an ethical imperative but also a pragmatic one. If justice is to be administered fairly and efficiently, the foundation of the system must be robust. The transition to online court proceedings is undoubtedly a positive step towards a more accessible and efficient justice system. However, this transformation should not come at the expense of the basic infrastructure required for the lower courts. An equitable justice system is built on the principle that all individuals, regardless of their economic status or technological prowess, should have equal access to justice. Until basic infrastructure is adequately in place, investing heavily in online hearings widens the existing disparities.
A well-functioning court system is crucial for maintaining public trust. Inefficient lower courts can result in case backlogs, delayed justice, and increased litigation costs for all parties involved. This inefficiency can erode public faith in the justice system. Adequate resources for lower courts are also essential for recruiting and retaining qualified legal experts and support staff. Without the necessary infrastructure and working conditions, it becomes increasingly challenging to attract and keep talented individuals in the legal profession.
The transition to online court proceedings is undoubtedly a positive step towards a more accessible and efficient justice system. However, this transformation should not come at the expense of the basic infrastructure required for the lower courts to function effectively. By prioritizing access to justice and ensuring that the fundamental needs of these lower courts are met, we can create a more balanced and fair legal system that serves all citizens, regardless of their socioeconomic status or technological capabilities. It is only by addressing these foundational issues that we can truly make justice more accessible and efficient for all.