CJI SA Bobde. (ANI file photo)
Chief Justice of India (CJI) SA Bobde on Thursday said that the Supreme Court did not shut down even for a single day during the lockdown period, underscoring the resilience shown by the judiciary in preserving the vibrancy of the Constitution through the pandemic.
“During the lockdown, the Supreme Court did not lock down even for a day as a huge percentage of matters involved fundamental rights of citizens, particularly old persons and victims of domestic violence,” CJI Bobde said on the occasion of the 71st Constitution Day.
Speaking at two different occasions commemorating the event – one organised by the Supreme Court of India and the other by the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA), the CJI recalled the alarming situation created by the Covid-19 pandemic as the courts for the first time encountered a “sudden shock and interruption” that threatened access to justice.
President Ram Nath Kovind presided over the event organised by the Supreme Court while the SCBA event was presided by CJI Bobde.
Speaking at SCBA event, the CJI said, “The biggest and the highest challenge the courts faced was delivery of unhampered justice in the midst of lockdown as it gives a sense of security and well-being to citizens…Closing physical hearing in courts was the first step, as otherwise the disease would have spread like wildfire.”
The CJI said the top court took suo moto note of the concerns of migrant workers, woefully inadequate treatment given to dying Covid patients, unaffordable cost of treatment in hospitals, and dead bodies not being cremated due to fear of the virus. “Our judiciary fared better than judiciaries of other countries,” remarked CJI Bobde, adding that during lockdown, the top court disposed of 14,849 cases, high courts about 1.5 lakh cases, and district courts close to 4.5 lakh cases.
However, the pandemic gave rise to a new kind of inequality, as access to justice became dependable on access to technology.
Lawyers and litigants in subordinate courts could not access justice on this count, CJI pointed out as he urged government’s help to remedy this technological gap even though it involved a huge cost.
President Kovind said, “Justice can be secured to the extent it can be accessed. Access to justice has two major hurdles – cost of litigation and language.” He reiterated his passion for rendering pro bono services to poor litigants while as a lawyer and complemented the Supreme Court for arranging judgments in regional languages that kept citizens in the loop about the law proclaimed by the courts.
Union law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad complemented the judiciary for administering justice despite all odds and said that the biggest asset about our judiciary is the public trust that has resolved conflicts of culture, religion, region, over the years to be resolved through judicial pronouncements.
The law minister flagged the growing criticism against the judiciary. He observed an increasing trend of social media campaigns aimed at securing decisions in a particular way.
“Justice delivery system should not play to the gallery. Judges must be left free to decide cases as per law,” Prasad said while taking exception to a recent article which referred to certain judicial decisions as acts of “judicial barbarism”.
The Minister said, “Unleashing criticism that transgresses the boundary of propriety must be reflected upon….we need to be proud of our judiciary.”
Attorney General KK Venugopal borrowed a saying by Roscoe Pound that courts ought to be swift and certain agents of justice. “If you have to wait for 20 to 30 years for justice, it’s a case where justice has failed to the poor and middle class citizens.”
He believed that in the coming years, all subordinate courts and high courts will have the facility for live streaming and an intermediate Court of Appeal (between High Court and Supreme Court) can finally decide appeals arising from high courts leaving the Supreme Court to deal with issues of national and constitutional questions.
This issue is already pending with a Constitution Bench of the top court.