'Judges should also be made accountable to the public'

Law Minister Veerappa Moily wants to make appointment of judges more transparent

Union Law Minister Veerappa Moily is a man in a hurry. Mandated by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to provide a roadmap for judicial reforms, he has embarked on chalking out a ‘120-day agenda’ for the same. To realise this, he is putting in 14-15 hours a day. In an exclusive interview with B S Arun and Pratap Patnaik of Deccan Herald, he elaborated on the agenda. Excerpts:

The PM has talked of a 100-day agenda for the government. What have you been mandated by him?

Well, it is a roadmap for 120 days. But I am going to do it much earlier — by Sept 30. It will be an action plan for short, medium and long terms. This action plan will enumerate a two-pronged strategy to not only bring down the number of pending cases (3.5 crore at present) but also to reduce the number of litigations coming to the courts.

Can you elaborate?

Stress will be on accountability in judiciary, improving infrastructure, reducing pendency, etc. Alternative dispute redressal system will be set up so that the Central and state governments do not rush to the courts for redressal of their disputes.

More morning and evening courts will be set up all over the country just as in Delhi and Gujarat. The pending vacancies of five Supreme Court judges, 251 high court judges and 3,129 lower court magistrates will be filled up soon.

If need be, some retired judges would be asked to preside over fast-track courts and Lok Adalats to clear the backlog. In order to check more litigations coming to the courts, more tribunals, fast track-courts, and Lok Adalats would be set up. The government will also review the system of multi-level revision of a case. The disposal of cases will be made time-bound.

Now, criminal cases take up to 20 years to complete, as they go from trial court to the Supreme Court...

In the criminal justice system, police stations will be equipped with mobile forensic laboratories and other scientific equipment for early completion of the investigation. This move is a part of the police reforms in the country recommended by the Administrative Reforms Commission headed by me. Search for evidence is not the duty of the courts but of the police. In a police station, interrogation room should be equipped with latest scientific equipment. Only then the conviction rate will improve.

The Chief Justice of India has demanded appointment of more judges and better infrastructure for clearing the pending cases. What is your opinion?

Funds for infrastructure and creation of more courts wherever it is needed will not be a problem.

What’s your strategy to beat the time-consuming proceedings at the courts?

The Centre has earmarked Rs 750 crore for providing computers and other hardware to the Supreme Court and high courts so that the use of information technology facilitates faster proceedings and involves less paper work.

What about the infrastructure and facilities at lower courts?

The facilities will be extended to the magistrate and munsiff courts too so that the cases in these courts are disposed of early — giving relief to the common people.

Are you going to make the appointment of judges to higher judiciary transparent?

Yes. I know there are criticisms that judges in India make their own appointments since 1993. The names of the judges are recommended for appointment by a Supreme Court collegium. I need to take the judiciary into confidence; I will discuss the issue with the judiciary to make the appointment process more objective. If there is a need, we will have to make a law to make it more objective and this is a part of the judicial reform. Judges all over the world don’t appoint themselves. The question is either we go back to pre-1993 or evolve a consensus.

And about providing reservations in higher judiciary?

We are not going into this issue at this stage. At present, reservations is applied in lower judiciary.

What’s your view on judges’ accountability, considering that a few cases of alleged corruption have come to light in the recent past? Also, how do you view the refusal by the judges to declare their assets?

No public authority should be immune from being prosecuted for committing an offence. The Judges Inquiry and Accountability Bill is a must. They should also be made accountable to the public. The Bill deals with that. It is a serious issue which is on the agenda of the government.

What’s your view on the entry of foreign law firms into India?

I will discuss the issue with the legal fraternity.

Your predecessor H R Bharadwaj had said that it would be made on a reciprocal basis...

I do not want to pass any comment on the statement of my predecessor. We have a potential to capture the world’s legal profession. I will give importance to spreading better legal education. When I was a minister in Karnataka, I initiated the setting up of the National Law School University in Bangalore. We can have quality law education in the country. The entry of foreign law firms into the country will not be an issue, once we produce quality lawyers in India.

Will there be a Supreme Court bench in south India to fulfil the demands of the southern states?

I am yet to discuss the matter with the Supreme Court (CJI) or the legal fraternity.

Your views on the establishment of a separate bench of the Karnataka high court? Is there any plan to convert the circuit bench at Dharwad into a full bench?

I am yet to hold consultations to talk about the issue.

How will you approach the issues of the impeachment of Calcutta high court judge Justice Soumetra Sen as recommended by the Chief Justice of India? And the cash-at-doorstep of a judge of the Punjab and Haryana high court and the Provident Fund scam in Uttar Pradesh?

I had a discussion with the Rajya Sabha Chairman (and Vice President) Hamid Ansari on the impeachment process of Justice Sen. A committee set up in this regard will have to submit its report. About the other two cases, I presume the inquiry is on.

What about the Women’s Reservation Bill? Is there any move to dilute the proposal to reserve 33 per cent of seats in legislature considering the opposition from certain quarters?

We are committed to implementing it. The draft Bill is pending before the standing committee of Parliament. The committee is yet to give its draft proposal.

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