Independence of District Judiciary

The judiciary must take utmost care to see that the temple of justice does not crack from inside
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“The independence of the District Judiciary must also be equally a part of the basic structure of the Constitution. Without impartial and independent judges in the District Judiciary, Justice, a preambular goal would remain illusory. The District Judiciary is, in most cases, also the Court which is most accessible to the litigant…On a single day, the District Judiciary handled nearly 11.3 lakh cases. It was seen that during the period of the pandemic as well, the District Judiciary was yet efficient and undertook its functions to ensure that justice is delivered in a timely manner. It is thus important to recognize that the District Judiciary is a vital part of the independent judicial system, which is, in turn, part of the Basic Structure of the Constitution.” - All India Judges Association v. Union of India & Ors.

A Judge must always discharge his duties by upholding the Constitution and the laws with a strong character, impeccable integrity, and an upright conduct. The duties of Judicial office must also be performed, keeping in mind the principles of independence, impartiality and objectivity, which are the hallmarks of judicial values and professionalism.

In a catena of judgments, the Supreme Court has observed that the concept of independence of the judiciary is a noble concept which inspires the constitutional scheme and constitutes the foundation on which rests the edifice of our democratic polity.

If there is one principle which runs through the entire fabric of the Constitution, it is the principle of the rule of law and under the Constitution, it is the judiciary which is entrusted with the task of keeping every organ of the State within the limits of the law and thereby making the rule of law meaningful and effective.

It is to aid the judiciary in this task that the power of judicial review has been conferred upon the judiciary and it is by exercising this power which constitutes one of the most potent weapons in armoury of the law, that the judiciary seeks to protect the citizen against violation of his constitutional or legal rights by the State.

It has also been observed by the Supreme Court that integrity is the hallmark of judicial discipline, apart from others and the judiciary must take utmost care to see that the temple of justice does not crack from inside, which will lead to a catastrophe in the justice-delivery, system resulting in the failure of public confidence in the system.

The standards of ethics expected of judges are more rigorous than those applied to other professions. Hence, the maintenance of discipline in the judicial service is of paramount significance and the acceptability of the judgment depends upon the credibility of the conduct, honesty, integrity and character of the officer.

The District Judiciary in India plays an important role in preserving and protecting the rule of law. It also plays a crucial role in generating public confidence which sustains the credibility of the judiciary. What is vital to the judicial system is the independence of the District Judiciary as it is the backbone of the judicial system.

The Supreme Court has time and time again held that the District Judiciary should not be referred to as Subordinate Judiciary because the District Judge is not subordinate to any other person in the exercise of his/her jurisdiction and it is also disrespectful to the constitutional position of a District Judge to call him/her as a Subordinate Judge.

The Constitution recognizes a District Judge as an essential cog in the judicial system and respect ought to be accorded to the District Judiciary and its contribution in preserving the rule of law in the country at all times.

The District Judiciary is the only physically accessible institution for majority of the litigants for accessing justice which is a facet of right to life guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution. Therefore, adequate emoluments, pension and good working conditions for the members of the District Judiciary are essential for its effective functioning.

In All India Judges Association v. Union of India & Ors., the Supreme Court held that the separation of powers demands that the officers of the Judiciary should be treated separately from the staff of the legislative and executive wings as the judges are not employees of the State but are holders of public office who wield sovereign judicial power.

Article 50 of the Constitution directs the State to take steps to separate the judiciary from the Executive and this distinction is important because judicial independence from the executive and the legislature requires the judiciary to have a say in matters of their finances.

Allowing the Executive to decide the pay of the judiciary may lead to unintended consequences, hence, to secure the independence of the judiciary, it is essential that the pay of judicial officers is separate and distinct from the pay of staff of other wings of the State.

The Supreme Court has evolved various principles, which form the foundation of judicial pay, pension and allowances and they are; uniform designations and service conditions of judicial officers across the country; pay of judicial officers must be stand-alone and not compared to that of staff of the political executive or the legislature; independence of the judiciary is part of the basic structure of the Constitution; access to an independent judiciary enforces fundamental rights guaranteed under Part III of the Constitution; the function of all judicial officers in the District Judiciary and judges of the High Court and the Supreme Court is essentially the same.

The Courts, together, constitute the unified judicial system for administering justice, so, there must be integration in terms of pay, pension and other service conditions between the District Judiciary, the High Courts and the Supreme Court. The service conditions of judges of one state must be equivalent to similar posts of judges of other states to ensure that the judicial system is uniform and effective in its functioning.

The Judiciary in India has always upheld the core principle of the rule of law which says, “Be you ever so high, the law is above you.” This is the principle of independence which is important for the establishment of participatory democracy, maintenance of the rule of law and delivery of social justice.

Therefore, for the effective functioning of the District Judiciary, as has been held by the Supreme Court recently, it is necessary that required amendments are carried out in Service Rules of the Judicial Officers across all jurisdictions, and what is also required is that the High Courts and the competent authorities must bring the rules in conformity with the recommendations of the Second National Judicial Pay Commission accepted by the Supreme Court as efficient functioning necessarily requires judges of calibre as well as capacity to be provided with the right incentives and promotion opportunities so that the successful functioning of the judiciary is maintained.

Adequate judicial infrastructure for the District Courts in India is also the need of the hour. A large number of District Courts in the county still operate from structures which are dilapidated, making it difficult to perform their functions effectively.

According to the National Mission for Justice Delivery and Legal Reforms, adequate judicial infrastructure is a pre-requisite for reducing delays in cases. Many statistics show that the District Judiciary struggles with pendency due to shortage of courtrooms, support staff, and residential accommodation for judicial officers.

Therefore, time is ripe to improve the infrastructure of the District Judiciary so that it can perform its functions effectively without any obstacles as its independence is a pre-requisite to the rule of law and a fundamental guarantee of a fair trial, in the words of Lord Chief Justice Hewart in the case of R v Sussex Justices ex parte McCarthy, “Justice should not only be done, but should manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to be done.”

Muneeb Rashid Malik is an Advocate

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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