The Campaign for Judicial Accountability and Reforms (CJAR), of which LRS is a constituent, organised a one – day seminar on the topic in Hyderabad on 20th June 2007 at the Administrative Staff College of India, Hyderabad with the assistance of the Centre for Media Studies, Delhi (CMS). Participants from various towns of Andhra Pradesh such as Kurnool, Warangal, Kakinada, and Hyderabad / Secunderabad attended the meet, which was organised following the decision at the First Peoples Convention on Judicial Reforms (Delhi, March 9 – 10, 2007 – see report eslewhere on LRS web) to organise meetings on the topic in several parts of the country in order to build up the Campaign on a nation – wide basis.
Welcoming the participants, Dr Bhaskar Rao, Chairman, Centre for Media Studies pointed out that the discussion – “whither the judicial system” should not be restricted to Delhi, and the issue of the access of the poor to justice was a very important one. Dr S K Rao, Director, Administrative Staff College of India, said that much good could be done by the judiciary – but there was much which needed to be done to reform it now. The Chief Guest, former governor of Himachal Pradesh and Karnataka, Dr V S Ramadevi inaugurated the website of the CJAR, and the various features of this site were explained on behalf of the team which had worked to establish it. All participants were exhorted to contribute regularly to the website and use it as a tool to further the campaign for judicial accountability and reforms.
Noted Human Rights activist and senior lawyer Mr K. G. Kannabiran pointed out that like other institutions, the judiciary too was in a crisis today. The British court system, which we have inherited was “neutral and impartial” only when imperial interests were not involved. Judicial review is spreading, erasing boundaries put down by the theory of separation of powers. While politicians sometimes care for public opinion, the courts, not fearing public opinion, have formulated a “principle” appropriating the power of appointment of judges to the judiciary itself! The method of appointing judges, with the secrecy involved, has led to much corruption; legal ‘merit’ today lies in the ability to manipulate judgments and decisions. There is no way to remove such judges. Impeachment is impossible – and offences supposed to have been committed by Justice Ramaswami pale in front of those we hear of from other judges these days, making him seem like a mere pickpocket!
Governments over the years never tried to solve political problems politically, treating them instead as “law and order” problems. From the issue of Jammu and Kashmir to the demands of the Gujjars, many issues raised by the people have been dealt with by force. When Sikhs were massacred – no one got justice. Gujarat riots witnessed the total suspension of rule of law. Today, land is being acquired across the country for “public purposes” by the governments, and then sold at high prices to wealthy corporates!
Senior Advocate Mr Prashant Bhushan, one of the founding members of the CJAR, said that the vast majority of people in our country cannot even access the judicial system. Another major problem faced by people is delays – very few people have use for judgments in the end. Upto 75% of cases become meaningless after 15 years. Disposal of cases alone is not rendering justice. If a system is informal, it will be faster and more meaningful. A system which could function which could function without lawyers could be relevant for the vast majority of cases.
Nominations for appointment to the higher judiciary are totally ad – hoc, even a list of candidates is not drawn up! Higher courts these days are routinely handing out anti – people judgments – for example decreeing the demolition of slums housing tens of thousands of people in Delhi and Mumbai, ordering hawkers off markets and rickshaws off the roads. Whatever an elected government is unable to do, is being done by the judiciary with impunity. Today, labour laws are being used against labour, instead of protecting their rights. The total unaccountability of the judiciary, cloaked in multiple layers is protecting it from scrutiny. There is no disciplinary power except impeachment, which is impossible to carry out. They are so totally immune that even an FIR cannot be lodged against a judge without permission of the Chief Justice! The power of “contempt” is so awesome that even the press is unwilling to report on misdoings of the judiciary.
Dr Venkatesh Sundaram of LRS pointed out in his presentation that the concept of rights itself has undergone change over the centuries. English kings used the concept of “divine right of kings” to rule over their subjects, while a modern definition of rights of individuals and collectives and their harmonisation is the need of the times. The laws and system of governance which the colonialists put in place were meant primarily to safeguard the colonial system of exploitation and plunder. Maintenance of “public order” by the judiciary meant maintenance of orderly conditions for exploitation of people and resources. The “impartiality” and “independence” of the British judicial system from the government of the day was and remains a sham.
Every sector of the economy today – from agriculture to retail – is seen as source of profit by big corporations Indian and foreign. More and more sectors are being opened up to foreign capital. The judiciary is aiding and facilitating this increased loot and plunder of the country, its toilers and tillers, tribals and indigenous peoples. “Judicial activism" is thoroughly anti-people, arbitrary, unjust tool, by which the ruling class and its political parties are able to carry out attacks on the toiling people without revealing their hand.
All over the country, in various struggles, people are fighting to extract sovereignty and take it into our own hands. In a modern state, all arms of the state must be under the control and supervision of the people. This means that the judiciary too must be electable and subject to recall by the people. The struggle we are waging to renew the judiciary and bring it under the control and supervision of the people is an important part of the overall struggle for empowerment. It is only appropriate that one the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the formal divestment of our sovereignty by the British crown, that we rededicate ourselves to the task of vesting it with the people.
Prof Madabhushi Sridhar, in his presentation, said that the demand of judiciary to be exempted from the purview of the Right to Information (RTI) Act was unacceptable. The lower judiciary was in fact more accountable and less independent. As regards the higher judiciary, the permission of the Chief Justice was required even to register a First Information Report (FIR) against a judge, let alone prosecuting or punishing him for any offence!
The post – lunch session saw many participants, both advocates and peoples’ activists, making presentations and interventions. About twenty interventions were made, some of these, for example those by A V Gurunadh, and D Subba Rao, were in Telugu. Mr Venkateswara Rao RTI activist said that the intention of the framers of the Constitution was to give justice to the poor, but the last 60 years have seen a tragic decline in the delivery of justice. The judicial system always now acts as an instrument of the rich and powerful, snatching away land and water of the poor. He said the media should be allowed to criticise without fear of contempt. Ms Swati of the CGG said that “common sense” was uncommon, especially among the judiciary. She questioned the need to give absolute power to judges, and said that there was a need for a code of ethics for the Bench. S M S Abdul Siddiqui, Member, District Legal Services, Warangal, pointed out that the whole of the society, not just judiciary, was in rot. There was a long struggle to free our land – now we need to free it again. Legal services unfortunately remain limited. A joint struggle to change the situation was needed the most. Advocate Nagendra Babu said that while the legislature and bureaucracy were somewhat accountable, the judiciary, especially the higher courts, were least accountable. If higher courts function properly, lower courts can be set right within a month.
The Meet ended by adopting a charter listing various concrete demands to reform the judiciary, making it more accessible and accountable.