SC must take up few reforms immediately

Author: 
Gopal Sankaranarayanan

At the beginning of last month, Justice Ranjan Gogoi commenced his term at the helm of the Supreme Court. He was quick to admit that he was “strict” and that he ought to be accepted thus. For those us who have crossed his path these half dozen years, this comes as no surprise. It is a welcome attribute in fact, if one has to truly retrieve an institution that is creaking under the heavy burdens of its past.
From teeming arrears of cases to disillusioned members of the Bar, the Court requires not just some gentle course correction, but a genuine uprooting of settled practices to guide it back on course. The existing status quo caters heavily to those who favour personal profit or gain from repeated listings and non-effective hearings. It is therefore imperative that some measures are put in place which might upset that comfortable collective.
I list some possible avenues. First, the arrears. One of the reasons that many cases are held up is because larger bench decisions are awaited in order to resolve some point of law. Often this has happened because different benches have been seized of identical questions and delivered opposing verdicts without being aware of the existence of connected cases. I believe this is largely due to the flawed prayer format that is used in Special Leave Petitions.
I suggest that the format for prayers in the SLP be directed to be redrafted specifically stipulating the reliefs that the Petitioner seeks if leave were to be granted and the matter heard as an appeal. This would be then be entered by the registry into the system at the time of filing so that identical / similar such matters would be captured and listed together.
In pursuance of Article 128 of the Constitution, former Judges of the Supreme Court and the High Court could be invited to act and sit as Judges of the Court. There are several able judges who are not otherwise engaged in arbitrations or tribunals who could be gainfully utilized by the institution to act as Judges not only on working days but also over weekends / vacations / evenings in order to dispose of old final hearings, especially criminal appeals. This would probably be necessary on an ad-hoc basis only for a year or two so that the large pendency could be brought under control. In view of the noble object, it would be quite unseemly even for the Government to object to such a measure. It may be noted that as Article 128 opens with a non-obstante clause, the stipulation of the maximum strength of the Court also remains unaffected.
The Passover system has to be ended. It is integral to the health of any Bar that the juniors be duly encouraged. Unfortunately, at the Supreme Court, due to a senior counsel practice that has taken such strong root, and with a judiciary that is most accommodating, juniors are left with few opportunities to display their wares. I strongly suggest a review of the entire Passover and Adjournment systems. Initially beginning as an exceptional measure to keep back matters to allow a counsel to argue later, the Passover has plagued the system to such a degree where it is now sought as a matter of right, and in some embarrassing cases, judges are made to wait for senior counsel to arrive from elsewhere. With due respect, this is the Supreme Court of India, and its dignity needs to be given due deference. If both Passovers and Adjournments were terminated (the latter to be allowed in wholly genuine cases), and time tables fixed for final hearings, it would give so many more opportunities to the non-seniors, and ensure a strong and thriving legal fraternity.
In order that justice be done, it is necessary that cases are properly prosecuted. Over time, we have seen that underprepared or casual advocacy has led to doom for many needy clients who come to court. This is because hiring good lawyers has become an increasingly expensive proposition. In my years at the Supreme Court, I have come to know several very competent young lawyers who remain without briefs because they do not have the contacts to get onto State or Central Government panels at the Supreme Court. It would be ideal if every courtroom were given a list of about 25 such lawyers and when a case is seen by the Bench concerned to be argued poorly, the matter may be passed over and the board could flash the name of one or other of these individuals to assist the court as amicus. The client, the young lawyer and the Court would all benefit from this.
In this era when Information is king, and our every institution is questioned, it is important that efforts be made to reach out to the man on the street to welcome them to our hearth. The Supreme Court ought to take the lead in this direction and allow some familiarity to those who are genuinely interested in knowing more about what it is and how it functions. It is from humanizing it and allowing the public to come further into its embrace that both the Court and the nation can profit. The recent judgement to broadcast certain aspects of court proceedings is a welcome step in this direction. (IPA)

Thursday, 29 November, 2018