On Saturday, the Chief Justice of India, DY Chandrachud, participated as a speaker at the India Today Conclave on ‘Justice in the Balance: My idea of India and the importance of separation of powers in a democracy’. He particularly engaged in discussions on Constitutional democracy. This is the first time a sitting Chief Justice of India has agreed to take live question in the Conclave.
Pendency of cases
The first question posed to the CJI was with respect to the pendency of cases. Acknowledging the shortcomings of the institution, the CJI responded, "We need greater efficiency...judge to population ratio skewed, lack of infrastructure in district judiciary main reasons. Our judiciary is based on the colonial idea that people have to access justice. But it must now give way to the idea of justice as an essential service that we must provide to our citizens"
Role of technology to enhance access to justice
While addressing the issue of backlog, he talked about the role technology can play to transform the judicial process.
"Part of my mission of dealing with where we should be in next 50 or 75 yrs is transform the judiciary through the use of technology...During COVID, we launched VC facilities. We now need to look at technology beyond COVID."
He also talked about his vision to make court accessible by putting technological advancement to good use.
"There are about 34,000 judgements of #SupremeCourt from 1950, which could be accessed by subscribing to pvt software provider. How many young lawyers or citizens can pay so much? One of the first things I did was to digitise all of them...We have a free judgement text portal & search engine. Now we are using #ArtificialIntelligence & #MachineLearning for translation of these judgements. We are using modules prepared by distinguished IIT Madras professors."
While speaking about providing justice as an essential service, the CJI revealed, "We are now using technology to translate all judgements of Supreme Court into all languages of Constitution. Want to reach out to citizens in their language."
Addressing a question on the parameters for judicial appointments, the CJI responded, "First, we look at merit & professional competence. Second is seniority. Third, need for broader sense of inclusion & diversity, but that is not at the cost of sacrificing merit. Fourth, to the extent possible, we try to give adequate representation to different high courts, states, & regions. While considering appointment of a judge, we consult puisne judges routed through same high court."
Transparency in the Collegium System
On transparency in the Collegium System, CJI Chandrachud stated that there are in broadly two facets of transparency - a) process of appointment, & b) choices made during appointment. He emphasised that to make the process completely transparent, the Collegium is now putting out resolutions on the Supreme Court website, so that citizens are aware of the parameters on which the appointments are made. Very candidly, he said, “No system is perfect, but this is the best that we have developed. Let them judge and critique us”. He indicated that while making appointments, the Collegium has to look into different aspects including personal lives of candidates so far as they are relevant to the discharge of their judicial duty. The personal lives of the candidates cannot be opened up to society and put on trial in the name of transparency, otherwise it would deter good candidates. The CJI said that the collegium system was devised to ensure independence of judiciary, which is a cardinal value. The effort is to insulate judiciary from outside influences to preserve this cardinal value.
Earlier in the day, at the same forum, the Law Minister, Mr. Kiren Rijiju expressed displeasure about the Supreme Court revealing executive’s reasons for not appointing judges. CJI Chandrachud responded saying, "What is wrong about having different in perception? But, have to deal with such differences with a sense of robust constitutional statesmanship. I respect Law Minister's perception. But, we put the govt's reason on the website to meet criticism that we lack transparency & genuine belief that opening up our processes will foster greater confidence in the work we do...Someone might say, revealing IB reports publicly might compromise sources of info & put lives in danger. This was not a case like that. Report dwelt on sexual orientation of openly gay candidate for prospective judgeship. All we said was, sexual orientation of candidate has nothing to do with ability or constitutional entitlement to assume a high constitutional office of HC judge."
Pressure on judges
Responding to the question, if there is any pressure on him to decide a case in a particular way, the CJI said, "In my 23 years as a judge, no one has told me to decide a case in a particular way. We are so clear in the principle we follow. I would not even talk to a colleague presiding over a case & ask them what is going on...There are some lines. In High Courts, we hear appeals against our colleagues because division benches hear appeals against decision of single judge benches. We share lunch, but we don't share anything about the appeal. That's our training."
Considering the question from the the perspective of pressure on judiciary from the executive, he said -
“if by pressure you meant from the executive, absolutely no...There is no question of any pressure...If we were under pressure, could we have given ECI verdict? ECI verdict is just one judgement. I can cite many such judgements, some of which do not make headlines. The largest litigant in India today is the State. Most of our judgements involve the State & its instrumentalities..."
He conceded that while deciding cases that would have wider ramifications for society at times judges are required to introspect and reflect. However, that cannot be construed as pressure, but only an attempt to search for the truth and the correct solution.
"But in terms of pressure on conscience, mind, & intellect...I would be a hypocrite if I said that cases that came up before us did not give rise to doubt...Especially when you know that what you are deciding today will have wider ramifications for society, even in the future. A lot of work we do, is therefore, based on how we envision the future..."
The CJI urged citizens to hold on to their trust in democracy in this era of social media when it is easier to lose trust in institutions. He assured that judiciary is not hesitant to speak truth to power.
He said -
"We know the line that separates policy & politics from the law. In some cases, that line is not as easily defined, but we have to do that exercise regardless of its difficulty."
Impact of Social Media on the judicial process
During the course of the talk, the CJI revealed that he does not follow Twitter, "it's important to not be affected by the cacophony of extreme views which you sometimes find there."
Commenting on the impact of social media, particularly live-tweeting, on the judicial process, the CJI said -
"Social media is a product of the times. A couple of decades ago, only a handful of cases would be reported. Social media has changed that. There's live-tweeting of every word said in court. Puts an enormous burden on us...In our courts, much of arguments is a dialogue between bar and bench. What happens is, what is expressed in the course of hearing, is not the expression of ultimate view which judge is going to take...What happens as a result of social media is, when there is an expression of opinion by the judge, the public seems to believe that this is the way the judge is going to ultimately decide. This is far from the truth...I don't blame them, not everyone conversant with the processes of the court. What is the answer? Not to have a more closed system, but to have a more open system, so that people truly understand nature of judicial system."
When asked about whether he watches TV debates, CJI Chandrachud revealed, "Bits and pieces. But, I personally try to read as broadly as possible...So I try to read as broadly as possible to get a cross-section of what's happening.
He clarified that the knowledge gathered from sources outside do not colour his judgement -
"Having said that, when a case opens up, you have to tell yourself that all that you have gathered from outside the four corners in pleading have to be kept out & you will decide the case on the basis of the record before you. All part of our training which involves confronting your own biases. We are all human. But, own personal preferences should not be allowed to affect the outcome of cases. While you judge others, you cannot be judgemental of others."
Younger generation refusing judgeship
The CJI stated that the younger generation is refusing judgeship. He said, later when they get the judges they deserve, they should not complain about their quality. He encouraged good, young people to enter the profession and accept judgeship when they are called upon to do so.
On what he would like his legacy to be, "Bottom line is no case is too big, or too small. In my court, smallest grievances have commanded same respect as imp constitutional issues.In small cases, you touch lives of human beings, while in important constitutional cases, you chart the future of Indian society...great amount to be learned from every bit of our work..."
He added -
"a lot of people ask why we deal with small cases of bail, etc. No case of bail is small...No case of bail is small because it deals with personal liberty of citizens."
Talking about the model of justice followed in India, which is based on the principles of access to justice, the CJI said that unlike the Supreme Court of the United States of America that sits for 80 days in a year and takes up selective cases, the Supreme Court sits throughout the year and its doors are open to all -
"Two models of justice adopted by Supreme Courts across the world...Ours is unlike American SC that sits for 80 days a year & deal with 180 cases. Our model, envisioned by the founders of our Constitution, was based on access to justice. It was a model that saw transformation of a colonial society into an independent society, under which Supreme Court would have its doors open.Access to justice was very broad under this model of justice. Problem is of course pendency. But, for good or bad...I think for the good, that is the model our founders decided to adopt."
Allegations regarding long vacations
Addressing allegations about long vacations for the judges, CJI Chandrachud disclosed the hectic schedule of the Supreme Court judges throughout the week and assured all, that vacations are utilised for writing judgments and to meet other judicial responsibilities. He said that only during summer vacation, the Judges would get a week off to travel with family.
"People see us sitting in court from 10:30 & 4, handling 40-60 cases every day. This is a fraction of work we do to prepare for the next day. In order to be ready for next day, we spend an equal amount of times in the evening reading. Our judgements are on reserve, so on Saturdays, typically, every judge will dictate judgements. On Sunday, we read for Monday. Not speaking just for myself. Every judge of the Supreme Court works for seven days in a week. Look at other Supreme Courts in the world. American SC sits for 8-9 days in a month, annually 80 days, & don't sit for 3 months in a year. Australian High Court sits about 2 weeks in a month, annually less than 100 days, does not sit for 2 months. Singapore sits for 145 days in a year, UK almost the same as us. Indian Supreme Court sits for about 200 days every year. What people do not know is this...most of the time during vacation is spent preparing judgements kept in reserve because there is just not enough time in the week, when you are working 7 days trying to keep ahead of the curve."
The CJI said that judging is not only about disposing cases, but also about reading the law, envisioning the future. He expressed his opinion that, unless a judge is provided with the time to introspect and reflect they will not be able to augment the quality of justice.