(From L-R) Vikram Raghavan, Dr Ranbir Singh, Justice Chelameswar, Ashok Desai, Arvind Datar and Dr Kamala Sankaran (Photo: Vakasha Sachdev/The Quint)

Independent Judiciary Must for Liberal Democracy: J Chelameswar

Supreme Court Justice Jasti Chelameswar addressed the attendees at the launch of a new book about the origins of the Supreme Court on Monday, where he spoke about the need for legal scholarship to tackle the institutional problems faced by the judiciary today.

The most senior judge of the Supreme Court after the CJI, Justice Chelameswar had recently conducted an unprecedented press conference along with the three other senior judges of the Collegium, to express their dissatisfaction with the functioning of the apex court, with their primary grievance being the assignment of cases by the CJI to benches without any clear rationale.

The event also saw remarks by Dr Ranbir Singh, Vice-Chancellor of NLU Delhi, former Attorney-General of India Ashok Desai, senior advocate Arvind Datar and Dr Kamala Sankaran, VC of Tamil Nadu National Law School. Vikram Raghavan, one of the co-editors of the book, also addressed the gathering. The attendees included Justice Madan Lokur of the Supreme Court, Justice Ravindran Bhat of the Delhi High Court, and

The book, authored by legal scholar George H Gadbois, Jr (author of ‘Judges of the Supreme Court of India (1950-1989)), is titled “Supreme Court of India: The Beginnings”, has been published posthumously thanks to the efforts of Raghavan and co-editor Vasujith Ram, and discusses how the Supreme Court came to be the near-unique institution it is.

Role and Importance of Judiciary

Justice Chelameswar’s speech focused on the importance of the judiciary to the whole country, and how the “decisions made by these institutions, touch the lives of the people.”

He noted that although about 10 crore out of 120 crore people in India have a direct interaction with the judiciary, the laws of the country bind everyone. As a result, a study of the judiciary (such as that in the book) was essential.

He went on to repeat something mentioned by him at his press conference on 12 January – the importance of a properly functioning judiciary to a liberal democracy, saying:

“I believe and I am sure that each one of the members present at this gathering believe that for the survival of a liberal democracy, an impartial and independent judiciary is essential. Without this, a liberal democracy cannot flourish.”

The ‘Impossible’ Backlog of Cases

In Justice Chelameswar’s opinion, legal scholarship has an important role to play in tackling the problems plaguing the judiciary. In his words, research and study of the kind conducted by Gadbois, can “provide nourishment to the judiciary.”

An example of where this nourishment is needed is the issue of pendency, or backlog of cases. Even though the Supreme Court under the Constitution was not meant to have a large superintendent role, the apex court’s good intentions may have led it to bite off more than it can chew.

“The jurisdiction which the Supreme Court is conferred by the Constitution, coupled with the eagerness of the court to do complete justice [has] created a huge amount of arrears in the court; something to the tune of 50-60 thousand cases. A backlog that appears impossible to clear.”
“A solution must be found if the institution is to remain relevant. The problem is real. The requirement of finding a solution is imperative. The ways and means for solving the problem are required to be devised.”

He does, however, end on a positive note, thanks to the hope given by serious and thoughtful research.

“Research works like the book on hand would go a long way to provide necessary material to find solutions to the problem. The people of this country, I believe, owe some debt of gratitude to Gadbois, and Mr Raghavan and his team deserve great appreciation from all of us,” Justice Chelameswar said. 
The story first appeared at The Quint.
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