‘A judge must not become judgemental’ | India News

He studied economics at St Stephen’s College and became the subject topper at Delhi University. His next stop was not the Civil Services, but law, a subject that had fascinated him as a child. After all, his father, Justice Yeshwant Vishnu Chandrachud, was the 16th Chief Justice of India and the country’s longest-serving CJI. In a free-wheeling chat with TOI’s Dhananjay Mahapatra, Justice D Y Chandrachud, who took over as the country’s 50th CJI on Wednesday, spoke about the different influences on his life – from what his father taught him to how their domestic help when he was growing up made him a staunch protector of rights, especially women’s rights. He also outlined the changes he plans to bring about in the next two years. Excerpts:
What are your priorities as CJI?
After struggling to keep all the courts functional during the pandemic, I am hoping to use this term to engage in some long-term institutional planning and capacity building. At the high courts, we have a sanctioned strength of 1,108 judges, of which about 30% are vacant. We are functioning at sub-optimal capacity and if we wish to tackle pendency head-on, we will have to fill up our sanctioned strength on a war-footing. Vacancies have gradually been reducing. Hopefully, you will see a much steeper decline in the coming couple of years.
What are your plans to speed up the justice delivery system?
Our mission is to ensure that the colonial model of justice where people have to seek out justice is replaced by a justice delivery model where the justice system reaches out to citizens at the grassroots level. The focus will be on accessible infrastructure and infusion of litigant-, lawyer and judge friendly technology. As e-Committee chairperson, my endeavour is to ensure that court services reach every individual, even those who do not have access to technology. The e-Committee has been working to provide services at the gram panchayat level though common service centres.
Use of technology can be optimised only if there is a change in mindset. I invite all judges, including those in the HCs and the district judiciary level, to lead by example. The physical infrastructure must be strengthened across the district judiciary to optimise functioning of courts and make them more accessible and litigant-friendly, including for those with disabilities.
There is a perception that the constitutional court judgeship is confined to a few where the lineage counts. Your views.
I do wish to prioritise a move towards having a more diverse bench that is closer to representing the diversity of our country. This will take some time. The Supreme Court we see today comprises individuals who joined the bar nearly four decades ago when the legal profession was not accessible and inclusive. The situation has improved over time as the reach of legal education has expanded.
However, increasing diversity must be a continuous endeavour. I hope that over the next few years, we see a much diverse set of young graduates opting for a career at thebar because that is the only way we will have a more diverse bench in the coming decades. Statistics on newer recruitments in the district judiciary have been inspiring. Almost 50% of the civil judge (junior division) recruits (3,792 out of 7,829) are women.
What are the values you learnt as a budding lawyer from your father, who was also the CJI?
The first thing I learnt and imbibed from my father was a sense of humility. Arrogance of power is destructive of an open mind. The Constitution confers significant
powers on the judicial branch of the nation. The field of justice is much vaster than what an individual can fathom in its entirety. Once you acknowledge that, you develop a sense of humility. Second was robust judging. This requires an ability to be open in your thought and approach to law and social problems. When you keep an open mind, you are more accepting of diverse thoughts and opinions. A judge must not become judgmental when judging. Judges must be cognisant of diversity in every sense.
Why did you choose the legal profession and why did you leave a lucrative practice to become a judge?
In many ways I am an accidental lawyer. When I was a child, I was always fascinated with law. Butonce I grew up, I became interested in economics. I pursued a degree in economics from St Stephen’s College where I topped Delhi University. As a young student, I contemplated pursuing Civil Services as many of my peers were preparing for it.
I had a deep affinity to rural communities. However, as fate would have it, I attended a few classes at Campus Law Centre in the break and was instantly enamoured with law. I spent the next few years at Campus Law Centre (DU)where I came to understand how law is about reasoned dialogue and an effort to find social balance.
Culture, religion and rule of law — can there be harmony of these three in India?
For the founders, the Constitution was premised on both a deep trust in the tolerant nature of its citizens and an unshakeable belief that our diversity would be a source of strength. The Fundamental Rights’ chapter ensures a delicate balance in guaranteeing individual liberty as well as protection of our plural polity. The rule of law under the constitutional safeguards must be applied to every person without an exception.
Does tackling high pendency require better case management or more judges?
There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution for pendency in India. Both better case management as well as a larger number of judges are required. Our solutions must be tailored to each court, based on the problem that it faces.
The problem is just not about increasing the number but the quality as well. Some solutions are -use of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) methods, including mediation and arbitration; use of technology, curb culture of adjournments and weed out infructuous cases. The government is the largest litigant in India. It is necessary for the government to adopt a policy to streamline dispute resolution and reduce the matters it contests in courts. One way is for the government to also increase use of ADR mechanisms.
What do you expect from a constitutional court judge?
A constitutional court judge must discharge his duties in strict adherence to the oath and perform duties without fear or favour; adhere to constitutional values of human dignity, liberty, equality and fraternity while adjudication a case; act with integrity and good conscience; animate their decisions with the value of social justice, cognizant of their being custodians of the rights of citizens; understand that no case is ever too small. Matters concerning individual rights such as the unjust denial of liberty, pension and acquisition of land have farreaching consequences on human lives. Judging is all about being compassionate and using robust common sense.
How would you like to be remembered at the end of your tenure?
I would like to be remembered as a judge who brought a humane face to the law. A judge who was on the right side of justice. As a disciple of the Constitution; as an administrator who facilitated a modern judiciary utilising technology to make the interface of citizens with courts simple and transparent.

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