Time for introspection

Print edition : October 30, 2015

N.G.R. Prasad, senior lawyer.

IN view of the controversies involving the bench and the Bar in the Madras High Court, Frontline sought the opinion of N.G.R. Prasad, a senior lawyer in the court. Excerpts from his response:

People are asking the question as to what is happening to the Madras High Court, more particularly its Madurai Bench. Some have even gone to the extent of suggesting closure of the Madurai Bench, which in my view is a desperate reaction. One does not close down a hospital merely because the staff have gone on an agitation.

We have to strengthen the courts because even today, despite all that is happening in the country, the common man is looking to the courts for redress. He has immense belief, to the point of faith, in the courts. It is the judiciary that the common man looks to for justice, but that is unfortunately not happening. The confrontational approach adopted by the Madras High Court will only aggravate the problem. Saying that we are left with no option is not the answer. Dialogue between the bench and the Bar is a healthy option.

It is unfortunate that the judiciary is unable but not unwilling to meet the challenges.

The expectations of an ordinary litigant are not many. He wants a delivery system which is both quick and inexpensive. We are not able to provide him that. The net result is that the litigant public naturally tries to resolve its problems by other means, “katta panchayat”, and so on. It is here that some lawyers, who are waiting in the wings, come in. Some of the private colleges started with the blessings of Bar Councils give them a helping hand. It is not a matter of surprise that some of the Bar Council members themselves have private colleges of their own. Therefore, the enforcing machinery becomes weak.

Secondly, there is a backlog of cases. We do not know how we are going to resolve it within a time frame. For example, the sanctioned strength of the Madras High Court is 75, whereas we have only 37 judges of whom 11 are in the Madurai Bench of High Court. I am only taking into account the actual strength and not the working strength. As these pressures and frustrations mount, they manifest themselves in different ways. Fourthly, the collegium, the creation of the judiciary, has not lived up to the expectations of the people in the matter of selection of judges. It has not improved the quality of the judiciary. It is not enough that only some judges in the higher judiciary measure up to the requirements.

In the matter of selection, it is common knowledge that the collegiums try to give preference to some of their near and dear ones in the High Court on sentimental grounds. This naturally affects the credibility of the judicial system. Fifthly, cases are heard but judgments are not delivered in time. One other factor is the question of conferring the rank of senior counsel on some lawyers. This has become a matter of patronage. It is widely known that some become senior counsel and their income doubles and triples. It is only a distinct gown and not a distinguished gown. Therefore, the practice of conferring senior gownship on lawyers must go because it also affects the credibility of the system. There should be one gown for judges and one for lawyers. That is more than enough.

One can keep enumerating what ails the judiciary. But this is not to justify what is happening in Madurai. These are the reflections of what is happening in the judicial system. Initiating contempt proceedings, reinforcing them with police force and the Bar Council of India suspending a few lawyers are not the answer. We have to discuss, debate and resolve the issue by taking into confidence the legal community.

It is being said in certain quarters that stringent measures are taken in order to suppress dissent. I think the lawyers are also prepared for introspection provided there is introspection on the part of the judges.

Ilangovan Rajasekaran