Friday, July 22, 2005
The Madras High Court is one of the oldest in India, but today it has other dubious distinctions to its credit. One of them is that it has the highest number of pending cases. Every year nearly one lakh cases are filed but bizarrely there are not enough judges to settle disputes!
(Ever noticed how the burgeoning population of the country never seems to spill into government vacancies!)
But getting back to the Madras High Court... it has a sanctioned strength of 49 judges but the system groans, stumbles and totters along at half strength with only 24 judges.
Now, you must be wondering - is it that difficult to find somebody to play judge?! No, its not very difficult. Its not very difficult to find someone qualified and erudite to arbitrate. But what is difficult is to find men and women who will not be partisan, who will be fair and who will uphold the loftiest ideals in the Indian constitution.
It would be stating the obvious to say that the independence of the judiciary is a myth. But what is less trite is the disturbing extent to which political parties are now able to extend their sphere of influence. That is why it has taken so long to fill these vacancies. Most lawyers in the Madras High Court will tell you that the public is suffering while the political parties play ping-pong.
This is how it works - any lawyer with a practice of 10 years behind him/her is eligible to become a judge. A collegium of three high court judges draws up a list of nominees. That list is then sent to the Law Ministry. The Intelligence Bureau gets into the act and does a background check on these men and women. If a stench has not started to emanate, the list is forwarded to a collegium of five supreme Court judges. They finalise the list and then it goes back to the law ministry and lastly onto the president after which the judges are finally appointed.
Political parties can throw a spanner into the works at any time during this process. Right now, both the DMK and the AIADMK are unhappy with some of the names on that list. Both sides want names of people on that list, who will toe their line. So they've been stalling it by raising objections.
Meanwhile, the system of justice delivery is slowing down drastically. It is groaning under the heavy burden of cases that are filed everyday. It is proving redundant. Jail sentences finish before bail applications are taken up for hearing. People move out of their homes before a property dispute can be settled with the landlord. More crimes are committed before a conviction can be given for the first one.
K R Tamizhmani, President of the Madras Bar Association, acknowledges that an already weak system has been made weaker. He says of the present crisis, "The system functions on the faith a common man has in it...that faith is now shaken...it may be ruined shortly."
Posted by Alaphia Zoyab at Friday, July 22, 2005