Of Courts & Judges

The Courts in India have an unenviable task of trying to clear the backlog of cases in a litigation friendly country. As per reports there are nearly 4 crore ( 40 million) cases pending before the Courts in our country, with 10 % of them dating back to over a decade! Yet, while one cannot generalize, about Courts or Judges, as an ordinary citizen of India I am surprised by some of the things reported from the Courts.

In the past decades, what happened in the Court largely remained a mystery as the ordinary person had no idea of what went on and who said what. In the area of Industrial Disputes, in which I have some experience, it was common knowledge that between the two lawyers dates were often ” fixed”to suit their convenience. If A asked for an adjournment this week, the opposing lawyer B would ask for one on the next date which was some weeks away. Hence cases dragged on for months together, if not for years.

The pandemic brought about many changes. Most courts these days have taken to having virtual hearings. This is a welcome move. At least cases do go on and in some Courts large number of cases have been settled during the year or more of the pandemic. Also I notice that online portals such as Bar and Bench give almost ball by ball commentary of court cases, much like in a cricket match. The reader gets to know what the lawyers said, what the judge observed and so on. This is totally new to many of us as we would never have had access to such information before.

This new found transparency has sometimes embarrassed the judges and the advocates! A post that went viral on social media in August 2020 showed Senior Advoacate Rajeev Dhawan caught on camera taking puffs on his hookah while arguing a virtual case before the Rajasthan High Court ! One doesn’t know whether the learned Judge had anything to say to the senior advocate. Perhaps he didn’t as the much respected Mr Dhawan is in his ’70s, a graduate of the University of Cambridge, and a Commissioner of the International Commission of Jurists. Still, so much for setting a good example to your juniors and the world at large!!

In a more recent case, the Madras High Court made scathing observations about the Election Commission of India saying it was “singularly” responsible for the second wave of Covid. It even went to the extent of observing “Its officials should be booked for murder.” In a situation where deaths are mounting all over the world due to Covid- around 3.2 million as of date- even the casual reader would find these remarks rather puzzling, if not petulant.

The Election Commission naturally was stung by these observations and took the case to the Supreme Court which a few days ago agreed the “murder charge” remarks of the Madras High Court were “harsh” and the “metaphor inappropriate “. It was good that they did so! Sadly, over 230,000 people have died in India as of date due to this pandemic. Holding the Election Commission responsible for the deaths during the political rallies has become fashionable but more people are accountable too. What about the politicians – of all political parties- who organized and held these rallies? What about the people themselves, who flocked to them ? What about the media which gave the rallies such extensive coverage making each political party vie for higher eyeballs? All of them knew fully well these could be super spreader events for the Corona virus.

As mentioned earlier, we are these days becoming privy to what actually happens in Courts. Thanks to Bar and Bench, I am reading with great interest the remarks of the Supreme Court and the Delhi High Court in the matter of oxygen supply to Delhi during this pandemic. While it makes for interesting reading I couldn’t quite make out what the point in law was for the Courts to decide. Surely, deciding on the amount of oxygen needed for each hospital, city, and State; the methods of reaching oxygen to hospitals; is the job of the executive rather than that of the judiciary?

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