The Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) on Sunday hosted an event in commemoration of the 68th Constitution Day. The celebrations, conducted at the premises of the apex court in New Delhi, were graced by the presence of Chief Justice Dipak Misra as the chief guest and Union Minister for Law and Justice, Electronics and Information Technology Ravi Shankar Prasad, as the guest of honour. Supreme Court judge Justice AM Khanwilkar, Justice Deepak Gupta and Justice Ashok Bhushan, former Chief Justice of India Aziz Mushabber Ahmadi and Attorney General KK Venugopal were some of the other legal dignitaries attending the event.
RS Suri, SCBA president referred to members of the bar as “integral cogs in the wheels of justice” and urged all advocates to remain in their “student mode” and to continue the learning process. Lamenting the commercialisation of the noble legal profession and the advocates’ practice of engaging in frivolous litigation and unnecessarily prolonged litigation, he quoted Mahatma Gandhi- “True function of a lawyer was to unite parties riven asunder”. Further, he urged senior advocates to undertake the role of mentors and take under their wing 5 junior advocates each. He also forwarded a request to the Chief Justice to allocate half an acre of land within the Supreme Court compound to be utilised for construction of advocates’ chambers and centres for recreational and academic purposes. He submitted to Law Minister Prasad that the members of bar associations be excluded from the purview of the GST mandate. “Can judges be taxed for giving judgments,” Suri asked rhetorically. Lastly, the senior advocate spoke of the dangers of tribunalisation with the increasing control of the executive over the quasi judicial authorities. He recommended a single, nodal agency under the aegis of Ministry of Law and Justice to oversee all tribunals and commissions with a view to reduce ministerial interference and long tenure of the presiding officers of these bodies.
Attorney General KK Venugopal, in response to Suri’s apprehension regarding the functioning of tribunals, said, “Mr. Suri is behind times as I have volunteered before the Chief Justice that the Government of India is undertaking to bring in amendments to the tribunalisation acts, giving priority to judges at the first instance.” He further said he is bothered by the long delays in the final disposal of cases from the stage of their institution in the trial courts. He imputed the rising pendency in litigation to the acute shortage of judges- “In 1987, the Law Commission had recommended the number of judges per 1 million persons to be increased to 100 gradually. At present, we have only 18 judges for every 1 million people of the aggregate population.” Lastly, he recommended the establishment of a national court of appeal comprising 15 judges each from the North, South, East and West regions, sitting in benches of 3 and 5 judges, to relieve the Supreme Court of the burden of, inter alia, landlord-tenant disputes, matrimonial matters and bail applications, leaving the top court to handle only constitutional matters, matters involving substantial interpretation of the law and issues of disagreement among high courts.
Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad apprised all present that in 2016, a total of 126 appointments to the high courts were effected, which has been the highest in 30 years. In 2017, till date 106 judicial appointments at the high court level have already been made. He further revealed that since the election of Narendra Modi as the Prime Minister, a sum of Rs. 2,512 crores has been allotted to states and UTs under the centrally sponsored scheme for judicial infrastructure, manifold times the contributions of the preceding governments. Prasad also divulged that recently, the cabinet has approved the allocation of funds for the construction of over 3,000 court halls in the subordinate judiciary. He drew attention to the 5,000 vacancies of judicial officers in the subordinate courts across India and urged the concerned high courts to take appropriate measures. He emphasised on, firstly, the “moral authority” of judges, being their “real authority” rather than the power of contempt and, secondly, the sanctity of stenographers in not revealing the trend of judgments as the “beacons of hope” for the judiciary.
Finally, Chief Justice Dipak Misra, in response to the concerns voiced by the Attorney General, said the high courts all over the country have been working on Saturdays in rotational benches to dispose of criminal jail appeals where convicts have been languishing in jails for as long as 10 years.
In the last two and a half months, 1,100 criminal appeals have been disposed of by the high courts. Even at the Supreme Court, in the same time span, the pendency has reduced by 3,200 cases. The Chief Justice further iterated the need for advocates to come prepared and not seek adjournments and to abstain from seeking early hearing for recent matters at the cost of more urgent and older matters listed on the docket. He concluded, remarking, “The bar and the bench must collectively march ahead to reduce pendency. We cannot let pendency be the roaring tiger in front of us.”
The event was brought to an end with the acknowledgement of the contributions of SCBA members who have completed 50 years at the bar- Koka Raghava Rao, Anoop George Chaudhary and Shakeel Ahmed. In addition, the first and second rank holders of the 2016 Advocate-On-Record examination and authors of commendable law books were also honoured.