Getting justice in India has always been a slow-motion process. In a freewheeling chat, Union Law Minister M Veerappa Moily tells Brijesh Pandey how change is in the air.
One of Indian judiciary’s biggest banes is the time taken to clear cases. How do you plan to speed up the process?
That’s why I’ve undertaken several reform measures. When these come into effect, no case will go beyond three years. We have come out with a National Litigation Policy and a State Litigation Policy. We have to get out of the ‘let the court decide’ mentality. Government litigation takes up a big chunk of our judicial process. We have to reduce this. We want to make the government a more responsive and efficient litigant. The idea is to review the litigation, whether it is worth continuing or not. With this change in policy, the number of cases will ultimately come down.
What about the criminal justice system?
We are giving it a lot of importance. There will be a prioritisation of cases and it will be divided into simple and serious cases. The former will be disposed faster.
How do you plan to make the judiciary function effectively?
We are setting up an additional 5,000 courts. They will work as subordinate ones under district courts. In each of the district court, we are introducing a new management system. Sixty percent of the work done by judicial officers will be taken over by managers so that the former can concentrate on judicial matters. We are also training judges and lawyers in the art of case management. We have allocated Rs.5,000 crore to Lok Adalats and Mega Lok Adalats under the 13th Finance Commission.
What about the Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill?
The Lok Sabha has referred the Bill to a Standing Committee. The Bill incorporates a mechanism for inquiring into complaints against high court and Supreme Court judges. Strict action will be taken against frivolous petitioners, who will punished with rigorous imprisonment.
The judiciary does not seem to attract new talent and there are many vacancies in both lower and high courts.
We are working on a quick system to fill the vacancies but we can’t sacrifice merit. We can’t appoint all sorts of judges. That’s why the Judicial Accountability Bill counts. We would get the best judges, ones with integrity. Once that happens, things will be smoother. Other than this, we are thinking of setting up a National Judicial Service on the lines of the IAS. Young people will be hired as district judges. Twenty-five percent of the total requirement is for district judges. I’m also working on a programme called the Indian Legal Service, which will draft laws at the Centre and state levels.
The plight of undertrials was another issue you targeted. How did you tackle it?
There are many undertrials who should not be in jail. Most of them are poor. Because they don’t have the money to get bail, they are languishing in jail. I launched a programme on 26 January 2010 and I can proudly say that as on 20 December, 4.25 lakh undertrial cases have been solved. It is a marvellous achievement. This proves our judiciary can be responsive.
Of late, the Indian judiciary has been in the spotlight. Graft cases involving top judges are coming out in the open. The UPA2 is also having a tough time in courts over appointments and the stance it has taken on several issues. How do you intend to deal with it?
Just because the courts are transparent, each and every discussion in the courtroom should not be made public. There should be restraint on the part of the media. Mediapersons should also be trained on what to report and what not to. At times, they report off-the-cuff remarks. Normally, the judge will ask probing questions, and the defendants will give provocative answers. That’s normal. Searching questions cannot be taken as censure against the government. Unfortunately, each court trial is accompanied by a media trial. That should not happen.