Court of India where I required a “proximity-pass” for gaining entry to the
building. Coming from the Bombay High Court where entry is free, I was rather
unprepared for what awaited. It took nearly two hours to obtain that pass for
something that required fifteen minutes. Seeing greatly harrowed litigants
around me miss their cases due to the slow-paced queue was disheartening and
alarming. The system poses serious doubts over the notion of administering
justice in open courts that legal systems cling to. This short comment is an
attempt to put the same into greater perspective.
checks were in place with no special restrictions imposed for gaining entry to
the Court. A slew of orders came in the wake of bomb blasts in court premises
across Uttar Pradesh in 2007. Throughout orders issued since late 2007, the
official reason behind these measures was ensuring greater security. The
Supreme Court was declared a “high security zone”. Accordingly, one has to
undergo two full checks before entering the Court premises, and one
frisk-search just outside court-halls.
must fill a form to get a photo-id proximity pass; your name, occupation,
mobile number and address primarily. Passes are only issued for visiting a
particular court for your particular case. These must be stamped by an Advocate
on Record (not your ordinary advocate), and submitted along with copies of a
designated photo-id. All this data is keyed in by persons behind a counter, who
takes your photograph, and hands over the pass. If you visit Court often, next
time just tell your mobile number to help retrieve the details. From personal
experience, I can vouch for this working till a year from the previous visit.
Court creates several consequences that are not often considered. The most alarming
is refusing entry to any interested member of the public who does not have
matters in Court. There was a pass system in place before the photo-id at the
Court, but without such a complete restriction. Today, it is nearly impossible
for one to hear matters of immense national importance being argued by some of
the sharpest minds in our country. In the absence of audio-recording arguments,
this is indeed tragic.
“open justice” is foreboding in a democracy for two reasons. First, in a
country where the law is notoriously inaccessible, such measures deepen the
persisting non-engagement between the law and common public. Especially, those
“ghosts” in our system: the have-nots living without any government-issued
identity. These measures thus not only exclude non-litigants, but also poorer
ones. There is also the issue of accountability. Though the press covers the
Court it is no substitute for people being able to see what exactly goes on
highest court of law owing to terror threats is doing exactly what terror
ideologues desire. Courts are supposed to ensure a society runs on the rule of
law, not ratify measures taken under terror from a gunman. Today when the
sceptre of terror-threats looms larger than any real terrorist activity, it is
difficult to question the value of “security” as an object. I do not object to
imposing restrictions on this basis, agreeing with those who argue that
security, or a sense of it, is valuable. However, one must question the nexus
between the measures taken and the stated object. Is there a presumption that
someone without a matter in Court would not be a terror threat, which justifies
such a complete restriction?
nexus of the proximity pass for ensuring security within the Court, we must
look at the measure itself. Issuing these passes has little or nothing to do
with protecting the “high security zone” from the professed terror threats. Persons
are in any case subject to body-searches and a scan of their belongings before
entering Court. If the only additional value in the pass is that it records
photographs – why not place cameras at entry gates?
terror threats. The USA and England have suffered particularly gravely.
However, consider the restrictions for entry to their Apex Court. Both do not
impose such a clear prohibition on entry of non-litigants. In fact, they encouragevisitors
to the Court, as can be gleaned by a quick look at their websites. Having been
to the UK Supreme Court, I can confirm they do not require identification proof
to allow entry (at least till 2012). They do however have effective
court-management systems. Thus if designated spaces for visitors are fully
occupied in a court-hall, then one cannot enter the same.
hearing arguments on the constitutionality of the “Aadhar” scheme deployed by
the Government. One of the fundamental grounds of challenge is the retention of
personal data by the government without any statutory backing. If one considers
the apparently innocent proximity-pass, is it very different?
information. However, it takes our name, address, contact number, occupation
and photograph. Further, we know this data is being stored, somewhere. This
retention is not backed by either the statute of the Supreme Court, nor the
1966 Rules. Even the administrative orders do not mention anything about
storing that data. When one considers the number of litigants that frequent the
Court, the thought of all that information being misused is a daunting prospect
address against these thoughts is their symbolic indulgence. What is an issue
of entry into the Supreme Court beyond a symbolic one of other issues? Most
certainly it is so, but that does not reduce its importance. The fact that the
Apex Court is actively propagating exceptions to the rule of law it must
promote is disheartening and problematic. Further, the absence of any murmur of
dissent against the systematic exclusion of the majority of Indians from their
Supreme Court is a damaging indictment of the level of interaction between our
public and courts. Perhaps someday, we will have the pleasure of listening to
Mr FaliNarimanor other legal doyens argue, for no other or better reason than
us wanting to.
finding the relevant information for this piece.)