11 Sep :The Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh said here today that his government recognises providing access to Justice in a country of India’s size raises many issues like values that must form basis of our justice system and the concern to make it accessible to the vulnerable and marginalised. In his address after releasing the book “Judicial Reflections of justice Bhagwati,” he said that the steps has been taken to promote legal empowerment and judicial reforms. “In the past four years we have taken several initiatives to strengthen the judiciary at various levels, and reduce the backlog of pending cases,” he said.
The Prime Minister also stated that the government has been working with the judiciary to put in place ‘fast-track” courts and “family courts” and pointed out that there is a large unfinished agenda to reduce the cost of litigation, the magnitude of long pending cases in our courts and to ensure accessibility of the justice system to the poor and marginalized sections of our population. He also said that the Central Government has also asked State Governments to increase the numbers of judicial officers at district and subordinate levels.
Following is the text of the Prime Minister’s address on the occasion:
“I am truly delighted to be here today to release the book “Judicial Reflections of Justice Bhagwati” in the midst of this august gathering. I have had the good fortune of knowing Justice Bhagwati for a very long time. His younger brother, Jagdish, and I were fellow students at Cambridge University and have been friends over a lifetime. For both of us, Justice Bhagwati, was a respected elder brother. Today, therefore, I release this book as a token of my admiration, respect and affection for an elder brother.
I need not remind an audience like this what a distinguished career Justice Bhagwati has had. But I must begin by mentioning that his public life preceded his professional life. Like many patriotic Indians of his generation, he participated whole-heartedly in our Freedom Movement. Responding to Mahatma Gandhi’s call in 1942 he participated actively in the Quit India movement, and had to even go underground for four months to evade arrest.
After securing high academic approval as a student of the Government Law College in Bombay, and after acquiring a good practice at the High Court of Bombay, he was made a Judge of the Gujarat High Court at the early age of 39, and became Chief Justice of Gujarat High Court at the age of 46. Moving to the Supreme Court of India in 1973, Justice Bhagwati arrived on the national stage and has left a lasting impact on Indian jurisprudence. No history of Indian jurisprudence would be complete without extensive reference to Justice Bhagwati’s contributions to it. His tenure as Chief Justice of our Supreme Court will also be remembered for the high standards of integrity and intellectual leadership he provided to our nation’s highest court.
I must also acknowledge today his deep and abiding commitment to the legal empowerment of our people. Like other legal luminaries of democratic India, Justice Bhagwati too saw legal rights as a corner stone of human rights in a free society. As Chairman of the Legal Aid Committee appointed by the Government of Gujarat he showed the way forward in providing free legal aid and advice to the poor and weaker section of our society. He did not rest content merely offering suggestions. He chose to actively associate himself with the implementation of his ideas by accepting the Chair of the Gujarat State Legal Aid Committee that implemented a Pilot Project of free Legal Aid and Advice.
I was deeply impressed by a recent speech of Justice Bhagwati delivered to a conference of District Judges at the National Judicial Academy. I fully share the sentiments expressed by Justice Bhagwati, and would therefore like to quote what he said at length.
‘There are large numbers of people yearning for justice. Very often justice is denied to them not by the Court but by the society. I am particularly going to refer to the poor and the unprivileged sections of the society who are leading a life of poverty. They are unable to afford to go to the court because they are unable to know what are their rights. Even if they do know the rights they do not have the capacity go to the court to enforce their rights …with the result they suffer silently the injustice heaped upon them by the state or by the vested interest. And even when they come to the court they are often not well represented by lawyers because they cannot afford to have good lawyers. It is here your responsibility as a judge comes into play. Because when the case comes before you very often the parties are not matched. They are not properly balanced. One party is superior to the other by the reason of material resources, by reason of the fact that they are able to engage a very competent lawyer whereas the other party is not. And there is always the possibility that injustice will result for want of proper representation of the case on behalf of the weaker section or the weaker party. It is here that you have to be very careful to see that the weaker party does not suffer for want of proper legal representation.’
One cannot felicitate Justice Bhagwati without recalling his contribution to the idea of “Public Interest Litigation”. He pioneered the concept of PIL. This instrument of legal empowerment has left a deep imprint on our legal process and on the processes of social change and political empowerment in our country. Many would argue that like in so many things in public life, in PILs too we may have gone too far. Perhaps a corrective was required and we have had some balance restored in recent times. But in principle, the instrument of PIL did help empower the people and we must thank Justice Bhagwati for giving a lead in this area, especially during his tenure as Chief Justice of India.
Our Government recognizes that providing access to justice in a country of India’s size raises many complex issues. These include the values that must form the basis of our justice system and the concern to make it accessible to the vulnerable and marginalized sections of the community. Steps have been taken to promote legal empowerment and judicial reform. In the past four years we have taken several initiatives to strengthen the judiciary at various levels, and reduce the backlog of pending cases. The Hon’ble Chief Justice of India has taken keen and personal interest in judicial reform and in upgrading the quality of the bench. The Indian Judicial Academy is doing good work in this area. Our Government has been working with the judiciary to put in place ‘fast-track” courts and “family courts”. But we have a large unfinished agenda to reduce the cost of litigation, the magnitude of long pending cases in our courts and to ensure accessibility of the justice system to the poor and marginalized sections of our population. I commend the Chief Justice for his leadership in this area.
I know that this is also a subject close to Justice Bhagwati’s heart. We look to him to give us guidance and intellectual leadership in this critical area.
The Central Government has also asked State Governments to increase the numbers of judicial officers at district and subordinate levels. I recognize that apart from increasing the number of judicial functionaries, we must also upgrade existing infrastructure. Many court buildings and complexes have not seen any expansion since the time they were originally built. I also urge those responsible for maintenance of court premises to take steps that restore to the judiciary the majesty we would like our people to associate with it.
The functionaries and buildings are the visible manifestation of an institution. In the end, people judge an institution by what it does, and how it impacts their life. Perceptions are formed about efficiency, about fairness, about honesty and integrity and about competence and compassion. These perceptions cannot be willed. They are shaped by experience, by hearsay and by public debate and discourse. But there is no doubt that the personal record and reputation of those who sit in judgement does shape our view of the judicial system. As long as we have persons like Justice Bhagwati sitting on the bench we can feel confident and rest assured that our judicial system is in safe, capable, honest, mature and impartial hands. I conclude by suggesting that the time has come for introspection to ensure that judicial appointments at all levels live up to the exacting standards we associate with the name of Justice Bhagwati.
I wish Justice Bhagwati a long life and many more years of service to our Nation.”