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When the judiciary is hyper-active

T S Thakur retired after a year of turbulent tenure as Chief Justice, Supreme Court of India. Sharp pronouncements on serious differences with the executive marked his tenure.   He pointed to over three crore cases pending in different courts due to the government sitting over the recommendations of the Supreme Court Collegium on the appointment of new judges. The Karnataka High Court has 50 per cent vacancy. The situation is not very different in several others. The executive has not reconciled to the Supreme Court rejecting government’s efforts to end the exclusive prerogative of the judiciary to recommend the appointment of new judges.

For several years the Madras High Court has been witnessing a severe erosion of the authority of judicial administration. The highly politicised advocate fraternity of Tamil Nadu has frequently thrown to winds discipline and respect to the rule of law. Successive chief justices seemed powerless to restore decorum. Combined with the lack of a system of efficient management, cases piled up. It takes years to complete a case.

Bar councils should act...

In its report on the violent clash between the police and lawyers on 19 February 2009 Srikrishna Commission recommended the Supreme Court to “take this opportunity to exercise its extraordinary constitutional powers and lay down sufficient guidelines for the behaviour of the lawyers within and without the court premises as the bar councils have not been acting as an active regulatory body of their professional conduct.”

Unfortunately, these were not implemented. Police, bitten by a passive government and an ineffective judiciary, seemed to have lost the capacity to ensure even a minimum decorum. 

Chief Justice R K Agrawal, who had a short tenure at MHC, tried to address these issues. On his transfer to the Supreme Court he expressed distress  over the state of affairs:  “many of my colleagues here have privately expressed their desire to seek voluntary transfer to other high courts. My colleagues from other high courts are hesitant to come to this court,” he said, while delivering his farewell address.

When one thought if 19 February 2009 was the lowest point, one was treated with a more shocking display of different sections of lawyers defying the rulings of the court.  Lawyers in Madurai dared the administration by protesting the judgment to wear helmets and in great numbers rode motorcycles without wearing helmets. When an action was sought to be taken against these, bus loads of these landed at the MHC, marched into the chief justice’s chamber, shouting slogans.

The point of no return...

The point of no return seems to have been reached. Judges decided to take several firm steps. The court framed rules to take action against such unruly behaviour. Luckily, the State Bar Council took action by suspending a number of lawyers. Most important among the actions was the one to beef up security. Chief Justice S K Kaul ordered handing over security to the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF). The state, in continuance of its defiance of several such measures by the Centre, tried to resist this as well. But it couldn’t. CISF took charge of security of the high court premises that costs the state a bundle: around Rs 600 crore a year – an amount that could go well to improve the infrastructure and systems to streamline the operations. However, there seems to be a lot more of peace and order inside the court premises since.

An index of deterioration is provided by the steep fall in the number of legal luminaries adorning the Madras High Court. Until three decades ago lawyers from Chennai used to be in demand at Delhi, Mumbai and elsewhere to represent high profile cases. Today even the Tamil Nadu government imports these from Delhi to argue its cases! To argue the case of Shekar Reddy and his associates, one notices leading lawyers like Abhishek Manu Singhvi and Amit Desai landing in droves at Chennai!

One more index was provided by the President of Bar Council of India: of the 14 lakh members of BCI, nearly half of these have been enrolled with fake qualifications or who had no qualification at all. Chief Justice J S Khehar, expressed his anguish that “these people worked without a licence, go to court and practise without any authority.”

The sad part is, few seems to be concerned with these.  – SV

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