ABOUT THE AUTHOR
This article has been written by Jaya Kohli, a Law Student at University Institute of Legal Studies, Panjab University.
The objective of the Indian Constitution is to secure justice for all its citizens apart from securing liberty, equality, and fraternity. The Apex Court of India plays a pivotal role in the Indian Democracy by keeping the spirit of justice alive amongst its citizens.
Justice which is considered as the soul of a democratic society must be administered without any kind of fear or favour. An Independent, impartial, and intelligent judiciary is the basic ingredient needed for the success of a democracy.
The Supreme Court of India is the highest court of law in the country; its jurisdiction and decisions supersede all other legal institutions of India. Article 124 of the Indian Constitution provides for the establishment and composition of the Supreme Court. Articles 131-140 divides the powers of the Supreme court into the following three categories:
(1)- Original Jurisdiction
(2)- Appellate Jurisdiction
(3)- Advisory Jurisdiction
Under Article 131 of the Constitution, the Supreme Court of India exercises Original Jurisdiction in any dispute arising between Union and one or more States and between two or more states. However, such a dispute must involve a question of law or fact on which the existence of legal rights depends. As per the Appellate Jurisdiction (under articles 133 and 134), an appeal may lie to the Supreme Court of India in any civil and criminal proceedings of a High court. The advisory function of the Supreme Court is also of pivotal importance. As per this jurisdiction, in case of any ambiguity regarding the interpretation of a clause of the constitution or if a certain constitutional issue arises, the President can refer the same to the Supreme Court for its expert opinion. Under Article 142, the Apex court has the constitutional mandate to pass such orders as are necessary for doing complete justice in any case before it. However, it seems to be a matter of academic discussion as to who controls the process of justice. The government by providing funds for the smooth functioning of the courts controls their capacity indirectly, thus controlling the process of justice inadvertently. It also controls the process of trial through its control of funding. The independence of the Indian Judiciary can also be a matter of debate.
The Indian Constitution does not follow the doctrine of separation of powers, but it has been reiterated in many cases that the independence of the judiciary is a basic part of the constitution, however it's practical value remains debatable. A very alarming situation that the Indian judiciary faces is the burgeoning arrear of pending cases, not only in the lower courts but also with the Supreme Court.
A delay in disposal of cases frustrates the very purpose of justice as explained in the famous saying - "Justice delayed is justice denied". The very fact that High Courts and Supreme Court have extended their attention to virtually all kinds of matters related to common people have led leading jurists to describe the Supreme Court as an "All India Miscellaneous Court". Thus, lots of improvements are required in the functioning of the courts to relieve the courts of their burden.
In the 21st century, the social-evil of corruption has plagued every single institution of our country. This practice of corruption, bribery, and nepotism rampant in the judicial system sacrifices the ideal of justice for a petty amount of money, wherein a common man is forced to resort to these evil practices just to achieve his fundamental right to justice.
Thus, the Anti-Corruption laws should be made more stringent to punish those who act as stumbling blocks in an individual's path to justice and social security. Despite these few bad apples, the Indian Judicial system has actively intervened in cases wherein the question of 'Value of Human Life' and 'Human Dignity' arose.
This is established from M.C Mehta v. Union of India M.C.Mehta v. Union of India A.I.R, 1998 SC 186, wherein the Supreme Court applied the principle of absolute liability as distinct from the English principle of strict liability as laid down in Rylands v. Fletcher - The court found that strict liability provided corporations with several defenses to avoid liability, however, absolute liability provides them with no defense and constitutes a part of the fundamental Right to Life as enshrined in Article 21 of the constitution. Apart from this, Judicial Activism has immensely contributed to strengthening the rights of the citizens. Needless to emphasize the judiciary is a vital organ of any democratic setup responsible for providing fair and expeditious justice to all. However, lots of structural reforms are required to improve the working standard of the judiciary. In this context, it is important to note that whenever the issue of structural reforms in the judiciary is raised, the focus is only concerned with the higher courts, which are High Courts and the Supreme Courts. However, unless the functioning of courts at the grassroots level is improved, the actual benefits of reforms will not reach the common people. By only improving the working conditions of higher courts, the delay injustice cannot be curtailed. The pendency in higher courts is always given some thoughts, but the burden of the lower courts is never even considered even though more than 100 million cases are pending in the lower courts which adversely affects the trust of the common man in the judicial system. It does not mean that reforms at a higher level are not needed, but ignoring the lower courts shall be an imprudent way of reforms.
Thus, in the nutshell, the Indian Judiciary has always been an active participant in safeguarding the rights of its citizens. However, there is an immediate need for reforms in the judicial sector to make it competent and suitable to serve the needs of our democratic society.
Arpit Richhariya, “Is the Indian judiciary independent anymore?”, Jurist (August 20,2020, 14:40 p.m), https://www.jurist.org/commentary/2020/05/arpit-richhariya-indian-judiciary-independence/
Inderjit Badhwar, “Indian Judiciary: Future Shock”, Indian Legal (August 19,2020,13:44 p.m), https://www.indialegallive.com/top-news-of-the-day/indian-judiciary-future-shock
Ruma Pal & Arghya Senugupta, “70 years of Indian Judiciary | Opinion : The Courts must reform so that they can preserve—Seven Must Dos”, Outlook (August 20,2020, 10:00 a.m), https://www.outlookindia.com/magazine/story/india-news-70-years-of-indian-judiciary-opinion-the-courts-must-reform-so-that-they-can-preserve-seven-must-dos/302680