It appears that we finally have a Chief Justice who has at least one ear to the ground; because the past four CJs had none. Through his speeches at two events in the past week, CJ Ramana has shown that he is acutely aware of how alienating and intimidating courts in India are.
The CJ at these events flagged the many barriers to access to justice in our country: lengthy and expensive proceedings, complicated rules and procedures, lengthy judgements filled with jargon and technicality, more often than not in a language alien to them. The nuances of law are left to be understood and debated only by those who understand the jargon.
Citizens in rural India, as the Chief Justice noted, feel particularly out of place while dealing with courts.
What he proposes is an “Indianisation” of the legal system, the need to “adapt to the practical realities and localise our justice delivery system”. The colonial rules and procedures currently followed, he says, are not the best suited to the complexities of India.
The Chief Justice has also emphasized the need for wider usage of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) methods such as Lok Adalats, mediation and conciliation. The deficiencies in the formal legal system provide all the more reason to seriously pursue these methods. Though, it would be ideal if the preference for ADR methods didn’t flow from an aversion to the courts, but from a genuine trust in these methods as being fair.
The regular court system, meanwhile, must be simultaneously reformed or the trust in them would further erode. There is an immediate need to simplify the procedures followed in lower courts in India to make them people-friendly. These are arguably the most important level of courts in India because no other level deals with the rights of ordinary people as often as they do.
Whether all this can be called ‘Indianisation’ of the judiciary is up for debate. But even without finer details available right now, Chief Justice’s reform plan seems to be directionally correct. But anyone planning to ‘reform’ the judiciary must not only look within, but outside too. For only when we see how the justice system works in practice in other places, we can choose what’s most suited to ours.
This short editorial titled ‘’Indianising’ Our Courts: CJ Ramana Plans Reform‘ has been written by Tushar Kohli and represents the collective view of the Editorial Team.