By K Raveendran
Chief Justice NV Ramana’s ‘Vijayawada speech’ in the form of Sri Lavu Venkateswarlu Endowment Lecture has been noted for his exposition of how popular majority is being used these days to embark on arbitrary actions by the government. Of course, the CJI was speaking in general terms, but it is obvious that his indignation has been caused by the prevailing situation in which the Modi government’s actions have been called into question one after another. He was particularly harsh at the tendency to denounce judicial review of executive actions as judicial overreach, which has been a hallmark of the Modi dispensation.
But CJI Ramana also raised some other challenges his predecessor not too long ago had to face in the chequered history of Indian judiciary. Chief among these is about domain expertise, which courts in an earlier era did not have to contend with. The rapid development of science and technology has seen how judges fall short in terms of expertise to deal with newer and newer problems. The new world of internet is, in fact, an ocean of unknown quantities, with problems such as dark web, identify theft, fraudulent online transactions, defamatory content, hate speech etc.
Adding another major layer of complexities is the virtual currency and money laundering through new mechanisms, which the judiciary has no expertise to deal with. Justice Ramana pointed out how even understanding the mechanisms underlying offences related to these might be beyond the Judges and investigators. An additional layer of complexity relates to the issue of jurisdiction. This might be the case with politicians and bureaucrats as well, but they show little reluctance to deal with them and even make laws that later on creates problems for the courts in interpreting.
The Chief Justice pointed out how apart from changing dimensions of criminal law, there are also new and complicated civil law issues that have arisen due to advance in technologies. These are all transforming the legal landscape and require judges and other authorities to have vast technical knowledge. “Our understanding and the laws cannot lag too far behind changing technology. We are still discussing issues related to internet, while technologists are talking about the Metaverse”, he said.
The CJI lamented about poor legislations, which are making the task of the courts all the more difficult. There is usually no impact assessment or basic scrutiny of constitutionality before passing of legislations. He reminded lawmakers that the minimal that is expected out of the legislature while drafting laws is that they abide by settled Constitutional principles. While making laws, they must also think of providing effective remedies for issues which may arise out of the law. But these principles seemingly are being ignored.
Justice Ramana regretted that the lack of foresight in legislating is often directly resulting in the clogging of courts. He cited, for instance, the introduction of the Bihar Prohibition Act in 2016, which resulted in the High Court being clogged with bail applications. Because of this, a simple bail application took one year to be disposed of, he pointed out.
Elaborating on the helplessness of the judiciary, the CJI pointed out how the role of the executive was crucial in ensuring justice. “The courts do not have the power of the purse or the sword. Court orders are only good when they get executed. The executive needs to assist and cooperate for the rule of law to prevail in the nation. However there appears to be a growing tendency to disregard, and even disrespect Court orders by the executive,” he said.
The Chief Justice also spoke at length about the vexed problem of long pendency of cases and the heavy backlogs, which are hampering the delivery of justice for large number of litigants, shaking their faith in the judiciary. Recent statistics indicate that 4 crore 60 lakh cases are pending before Indian Courts. By itself, this number is not a very useful indicator. Further, the population of India, which is nearly 1.4 billion, and the judge-to-population ratio of 21 judges per million must be kept in mind, Justice Ramana cautioned. (IPA Service)