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Accessible and speedy justice possible by 2029

opinionAccessible and speedy justice possible by 2029

PM Modi would surely welcome CJI Chandrachud’s emphasis on inclusive justice, given that inclusion has been a watchword of his.

Mahatma Gandhi gave a talisman to the policymakers of an India that would soon be freed of the colonial yoke. This was to sift through the records kept by memory and settle upon the most wretched, the most deprived individual who has been encountered. It may be a beggar getting drenched in the rain but still importuning those ensconced in passing limousines to hand over a few coins of the wealth they possessed to him or her, but getting only indifference in return, even as the desperation on the face of the beggar visibly grows. It may be some other person, wracked by fever and shivering in the winter cold with only a tattered sheet to keep him warm, with passersby scarcely bothering to glance in the direction of the man huddled in a corner in a fetal position. It may be some others whose luck, if ever it existed, had long since run dry. The Mahatma asked if the measure being contemplated by the policymaker would have a beneficial effect on that most wretched individual, or whether it would not in any way alleviate his or her misery. If the latter, it would not be a policy that was worthy of being carried out. When Covid-19 surged across the border from China to India, often not directly but from visitors from faraway lands that the virus had travelled to during the course of its spread as a pandemic that during 2020 and 2021 caused tens of millions of lives, as much as some of the wars of the previous century. As a response, Prime Minister Modi ordered that a sustainable level of foodgrain be provided to every family that was in need, a figure that at its peak reached hundreds of millions. Leafing through glossy magazines or watching programs on television screens, it would be a rarity to find an image or a mention of the poor of the land. The higher the position of an individual in the social ladder, the greater the chance of figuring in the news. The rest remain invisible.

Chief Justice D.Y. Chandrachud is right on target when he says that the greatest challenge facing the judicial system in India (or in practically all countries, with few or no obvious exceptions) is to ensure that the justice system ensures access to all citizens, especially the least privileged. The Chief Justice correctly saw technology as a means towards the fulfillment of such an objective. In the democratic system of governance, checks and balances are what keep the in flywheel of society stable rather than veering off in an unstable direction. A modern executive in a country as complex and populous as India comprises millions of individuals. Despite the best leadership and a preponderance of the honest and the able within the bureaucracy, there will still be elements who seek to profit personally, often by harming the interests and welfare especially of those who may lack the resources and the ability to react to such breaches of the governmental code of conduct. In such a situation, should the victim knock at the doors of the nearest court, he or she may be faced with counters from a phalanx of individuals who have a vested interest in misgovernance, and who may come up with superficially credible reasons why allegations against wrongdoers are not true even when they are. Ensuring that every court proceeding gets live streamed is a way in which technology could operate as a deterrent against false statements. Perjury in the sense of knowing something to be false and yet repeating that as truth in a court, needs to be punished severely.

Once there is complete transparency in court proceedings through the internet, the odds would be high and rising that untrue averments will get noticed and protested against. Apart from access, what is needed is speed in the delivery of justice, and here also technology could help. Virtual hearings could take place, and courts may need to regard it as normal practice to have a hybrid system that is both physical as well as virtual, including not just advocates and clients but judges as well. Much of the cost of getting justice involves travel expenses, and a virtual mode could not just ensure that powerful judicial minds listen to and decide on cases even in remote locations, but that others involved in the case too avoid travel where possible. Prime Minister Modi has mentioned in his Independence Day address some of the priorities that will be followed during a third term. He would surely welcome CJI Chandrachud’s emphasis on inclusive justice, given that inclusion has been a watchword of his. The Prime Minister and the sitting Chief Justice of India need to work together to ensure that transparency, access and faster delivery of final verdicts become the hallmarks of the justice system in India by 2029.

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