Judicial Reforms

It is time to end judicial feudalism in India

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Article 235

Mains level : Paper 2- Independence of judiciary

Context

The August 11 order of the Himachal Pradesh High Court directed that “hereinafter, all the courts in the state other than the high court shall be referred to as district judiciary”. Furthermore, “these courts shall not be referred to as subordinate court” but as trial courts.

Issues with the judicial hierarchy Vs. hierarchy of judges

  • The expression “subordinate courts” used by Part VI, Chapter 6, of the Constitution of India cannot signify that judges are subordinate.
  • The term subordinate has implications for the independence of the judiciary, entrenched with and since Kesavananda Bharati (1973) as the essential feature of the basic structure of the Indian Constitution.
  • No judge is “subordinate” to any other, constitutionally judges are limited in the jurisdiction but also supreme within their own jurisdiction.
  • However, Article 235 speaks of “control over subordinate courts”.
  • This Article created the notion of subordination by describing these entities and agents as persons “holding a post inferior to the post of a district judge”.

Constitutional provision

  • The Constitution no doubt contemplates a hierarchy of jurisdictions, but no judge, acting within her jurisdiction, is “inferior” or “subordinate”.
  • On appeal, or review, a court with ample jurisdiction may overturn and even pass judicial strictures but this does not make the concerned courts “lower” or “inferior” courts.
  • Supervisory powers: High courts always have considerable powers of superintendence on the administrative side but this “supervisory“ power has been recognised by the apex court as a “constitutional power” and subject to the right of appeal as granted by Article 235.
  • While the Constitution allows “supervision”, it does not sanction judicial despotism.
  • Despite this, arbitrary practices in writing confidential reports of district justices seem to continue.

Way forward

  • Constitutional amendment: A complete recasting of Article 235 is needed, which does away with the omnibus expression of “control” powers in the high courts.
  • The amendment should specifically require the high courts to satisfy the criteria flowing from the principles of natural and constitutional justice and all judicial officers who fulfil due qualification thresholds should be treated with constitutional dignity and respect.
  • Collegiate system at high court’s level: For most matters (save elevation), senior-most district judges and judges of the high courts should constitute a collegiate system to facilitate judicial administration, infrastructure, access, monitoring of disposal rates, minimisation of undue delays in administration of justice, alongside matters concerning transfers, and leave.
  •  If an ACR is to be adversely changed in the face of a consistent award for a decade or more, it should be a collegiate act of the five senior-most justices, including the Chief Justice of the High Court.
  • CJI Ramana has recently agreed in principle, following the request of the Supreme Court Bar Association, that chief justices of the high courts should consider lawyers practising in the Supreme Court for elevation to the high courts.

Consider the question “Do you agree with the view that the Constitution contemplates a hierarchy of jurisdictions, but no judge, acting within her jurisdiction, is “inferior” or “subordinate”. Give reason in support of your argument.”

Conclusion

The changes suggested here needs to be implemented to ensure the independence of the judiciary at all levels.

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