Independence of the district judiciary

Independent and impartial judiciary

The courts comprised in the district judiciary are the first point of interface with citizens. If the faith of the citizen in the administration of justice has to be preserved, it is to the district judiciary that attention must be focused as well as the ‘higher’ judiciary. Trial judges work amidst appalling conditions – a lack of infrastructure, inadequate protection, examples of judges being made targets when they stand up for what is right and sadly, a subservience to the administration of the High Court for transfers and postings which renders them vulnerable.

The colonial mindset which pervades the treatment meted out to the district judiciary must change. It is only then that civil liberties for every stakeholder – be it the accused, the victims or civil society – will be meaningfully preserved in our trial courts which are the first line of defense for those who have been wronged.

The functioning of the judiciary as an independent institution is rooted in the concept of separation of powers. Individual judges must be able to adjudicate disputes in accordance with the law, unhindered by any other factors. Thus, “for that reason independence of judiciary is the independence of each and every judge”. The independence of individual judges also encompasses that they are independent of their judicial superiors and colleagues.

Madras Bar Association v. Union of India & Anr

Apex Court in Madras Bar Association v. Union of India & Anr. speaking through Justice L. Nageswara Rao has observed:

“29. Impartiality, independence, fairness and reasonableness in decision-making are the hallmarks of the judiciary. If “impartiality” is the soul of the judiciary, “independence” is the lifeblood of the judiciary. Without independence, impartiality cannot thrive. Independence is not the freedom for Judges to do what they like. It is the independence of judicial thought. It is the freedom from interference and pressures which provides the judicial atmosphere where he can work with absolute commitment to the cause of justice and constitutional values. It is also the discipline in life, habits and outlook that enables a Judge to be impartial. Its existence depends however not only on philosophical, ethical or moral aspects but also upon several mundane things-security in tenure, freedom from ordinary monetary worries, freedom from influences and pressures within (from others in the judiciary) and without (from the executive). The independence of an individual Judge, that is, decisional independence; and independence of the judiciary as an institution or an organ of the State, that is, functional independence are the broad concepts of the principle of independence of the judiciary/ tribunal.”

Constitutional Obligation

Our Constitution specifically envisages the independence of the district judiciary. This is implicit in Article 50 of the Constitution which provides that the State must take steps to separate the judiciary from the executive in the public services of the State. The district judiciary operates under the administrative supervision of the High Court which must secure and enhance its independence from external influence and control. This compartmentalization of the judiciary and executive should not be breached by interfering with the personal decision-making of the judges and the conduct of court proceedings under them.

There is no gainsaying that the judiciary should be immune from political pressures and considerations. A judiciary that is susceptible to such pressures allows politicians to operate with impunity and incentivizes criminality to flourish in the political apparatus of the State.

Rule of Law

India cannot have two parallel legal systems, “one for the rich and the resourceful and those who wield political power and influence and the other for the small men without resources and capabilities to obtain justice or fight injustice.” The existence of a dual legal system will only chip away the legitimacy of the law. The duty also falls on the State machinery to be committed to the rule of law and demonstrate its ability and willingness to follow the rules it itself makes, for its actions to not transgress into the domain of “governmental lawlessness”.

At the same time, we believe that judges, while being undeterred in their commitment to follow the law and do justice, should be wary of launching into a diatribe against the State authorities without due care and reflection.

Refer : Somesh Chaurasia Vs. State of Madhya Pradesh & Anr.(Supreme Court-22/07/2021)

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