The colonial mindset which pervades the treatment meted out to the district judiciary must change, the Supreme Court observed in a judgment passed on Thursday (22nd July 2021).
The bench comprising Justices DY Chandrachud and Hrishikesh Roy noted that the Trial judges work amidst appalling conditions.
"Lack of infrastructure, inadequate protection, examples of judges being made targets when they stand up for what is right and sadly, a subservience to the administration of the High Court for transfers and postings which renders them vulnerable", the court said.
The court was considering an appeal against the Madhya Pradesh High Court order concerning the Congress leader Devendra Chaurasia's murder in Damoh, Madhya Pradesh. In this case, the Court had earlier taken note of the harassment faced by Additional Sessions Judge, Hata who is in charge of the criminal case .
"The apprehensions expressed by the ASJ in his order dated 8 February 2021 of the machinations of a highly influential accused evading the process of law are amply borne out by the facts which have been 29 revealed before this Court. There is no reasonable basis to doubt the anguish and concern of a judicial officer. ", the bench said.
The court said that Judicial independence of the district judiciary is cardinal to the integrity of the entire system as it is the first point of interface with citizens.
An independent and impartial judiciary is the cornerstone of democracy. Judicial independence of the district judiciary is cardinal to the integrity of the entire system. The courts comprised in the district judiciary are the first point of interface with citizens. If the faith of the citizen in the administration of justice has to be preserved, it is to the district judiciary that attention must be focused as well as the 'higher' judiciary. Trial judges work amidst appalling conditions – a lack of infrastructure, inadequate protection, examples of judges being made targets when they stand up for what is right and sadly, a subservience to the administration of the High Court for transfers and postings which renders them vulnerable. The colonial mindset which pervades the treatment meted out to the district judiciary must change. It is only then that civil liberties for every stakeholder – be it the accused, the victims or civil society – will be meaningfully preserved in our trial courts which are the first line of defense for those who have been wronged.
Independence of individual judges also encompasses that they are independent of their judicial superiors and colleague
Referring to recent judgment in Madras Bar Association v. Union of India, the bench observed:
The functioning of the judiciary as an independent institution is rooted in the concept of separation of powers. Individual judges must be able to adjudicate disputes in accordance with the law, unhindered by any other factors. Thus, "for that reason independence of judiciary is the independence of each and every judge". The independence of individual judges also encompasses that they are independent of their judicial superiors and colleagues.
The court also observed that the Constitution specifically envisages the independence of the district judiciary.
"This is implicit in Article 50 of the Constitution which provides that the State must take steps to separate the judiciary from the executive in the public services of the State. The district judiciary operates under the administrative supervision of the High Court which must secure and enhance its independence from external influence and control. This compartmentalization of the judiciary and executive should not be breached by interfering with the personal decision-making of the judges and the conduct of court proceedings under them.", it said.
The court also added that the judiciary should be immune from political pressures and considerations
"There is no gainsaying that the judiciary should be immune from political pressures and considerations. A judiciary that is susceptible to such pressures allows politicians to operate with impunity and incentivizes criminality to flourish in the political apparatus of the State. India cannot have two parallel legal systems, "one for the rich and the resourceful and those who wield political power and influence and the other for the small men without resources and capabilities to obtain justice or fight injustice." The existence of a dual legal system will only chip away the legitimacy of the law. The duty also falls on the State machinery to be committed to the rule of law and demonstrate its ability and willingness to follow the rules it itself makes, for its actions to not transgress into the domain of "governmental lawlessness". At the same time, we believe that judges, while being undeterred in their commitment to follow the law and do justice, should be wary of launching into a diatribe against the State authorities without due care and reflection.", it observed.
The court said that the apprehensions expressed by the ASJ should be duly enquired into by the High Court of Madhya Pradesh on its administrative side so that if they are found to be true, necessary action should be taken in order to secure the fair administration of justice. The Chief Justice of the High Court of Madhya Pradesh is requested to cause an enquiry to be made on the administrative side so that an appropriate decision in that regard is taken, the bench said.
Case: Somesh Chaurasia vs. State of M.P.
Coram: Justices DY Chandrachud and Hrishikesh Roy
Citation: LL 2021 SC 317