Dwelling at length on the contentious collegium system, Justice Chandrachud said not every system was perfect "but this is the best system developed by the judiciary."
NEW DELHI — Chief Justice of India Dhananjay Yashwant Chandrachud has strongly advocated protecting the independence of the judiciary and cautioned against outside influences that hamper its smooth functioning.
“Judiciary has to be protected from outside influences if it has to be independent,” he said while delivering a lecture on the topic “Justice in the Balance: My idea of India and the importance of separation of powers in a democracy,” at the 2023 India Today Conclave here on Saturday.
Dwelling at length on the contentious collegium system, Justice Chandrachud said not every system was perfect “but this is the best system developed by the judiciary.”
The collegium system of judges appointing judges is a major bone of contention between the government and the judiciary.
The CJI said the object of the collegium system was to maintain independence and that can be done by insulating it from outside influences.
“As the Chief Justice, I have to take the system as it is given to us… I am not saying every system is perfect but this is the best system we have developed. The object of this system was to maintain independence which is a cardinal value. We have to insulate the judiciary from outside influences if the judiciary has to be independent. That is the underlying feature of the collegium,” Justice Chandrachud said.
Talking about the transparency of the collegium system, he said: “Transparency is multi-layered, one is the process of appointment and choices made during appointment. The entire process has to be completely transparent. We have been putting out resolutions on the Internet to ensure transparency.”
Indian judiciary, he said, is based on the colonial idea that people have to access justice. “It is time to evolve the idea of justice as an essential service that we must provide to our citizens,” he said adding that there was a need to Indianise the judiciary in terms of providing more access to the people and the lawyers to the cases in all languages.
“We should be discharging the faith of the people by being more efficient and reducing the backlog. It also shows there is a dearth of infrastructure in the judiciary. Our judge-to-population ratio is not commensurate with what it should be in a country like ours. There is a lack of infrastructure in the district judiciary.
“We need to completely modernise the Indian judiciary. Our model for judicial administration has been based on the colonial model which we have inherited from the British. That colonial model now has to give way because justice is not just a sovereign function but also an essential service,” he said.
Strongly batting for adopting the latest technology in the process of imparting justice to the people, Justice Chandrachud said it was part of his mission “to use and implement technology to ensure better and faster judicial system. It is time we make use of technology beyond a tool used during Covid-19. My aim is to transform the judiciary through the use of technology.”
He said that now technology is being used to translate all judgements of the Supreme Court into all languages. “By doing so, our target is to reach out to citizens in the language they understand.”
“The first thing I did as a CJI was to digitalise all the cases”. He added that there were 34,000 judgments of the Supreme Court from 1950 which could only be accessed by subscribing to a private software provider and not all the young lawyers or citizens afford to pay and get access to them.”
Judiciary has to be more inclusive, he said and talked about including judges from all segments of society.
“We want to make the judiciary more gender inclusive and would want to include more marginalized and minorities into the courts”, he said.
But, he said: “We will not do that at the cost of sacrificing merit; merit is an important aspect in appointing judges”.
When asked how independent was India’s judiciary and if there was any kind of pressure from the government, the CJI said there is absolutely no pressure from the government on how to decide cases.
“In my 23 years of being a judge, no one has told me how to decide a case. I won’t even talk to a colleague who is presiding over a case and ask what’s going on in that case. There are some lines that we draw for ourselves. That’s part of our training…
“There is no question of pressure from the executive arm of the government. I hope I am speaking for the rest of the system as well. There is absolutely no pressure from the government. The Election Commission judgment is proof that there is no pressure on the judiciary,” CJI said.
But, he said, he would be a hypocrite if he would say that “there is no intellectual pressure on us, on our conscience, on our mind while dealing with the cases that come up before us”.
The CJI said: “The work we do, is therefore, based on how we envision the future, especially when you know that what you are deciding today will have wider ramifications for society, even in the future.”
He said our democracy was robust and “we must have trust in it. We live in an age where, because of social media, we have grown increasingly distrustful of public institutions.”
Rahul Kanwal, Aaj Tak News anchor, who was hosting the session, asked him whether he pays attention to social media or especially what is being discussed on Twitter about the courts and judicial system.
“This is more of a confession. I don’t follow Twitter. I think it’s important for us not to be affected by the cacophony of extreme views which you sometimes find on Twitter. I think social media is a product of time, not just technology. Nowadays, there is live tweeting of every word which is being said in the court and that puts an enormous amount of burden on us as well,” the CJI said.