M A I N   N E W S

PM for judicial reforms
Expresses concern over hostile witnesses
S.S. Negi
Legal Correspondent

New Delhi, March 11
In the wake of public outcry over the failure of prosecution in Jessica Lall murder to nail down the accused wielding political and money power, Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh today expressed serious concern over criminal cases falling flat in courts. But Chief Justice of India (CJI) Y. K. Sabharwal blamed the government for not taking adequate steps to implement judicial reforms, though he acknowledged that the criminal justice system was on the verge of “collapse”.

Differences in perception between the executive head and the head of judiciary on the issue was evident with the Prime Minister putting the blame on the manner in which the cases were being prosecuted in courts and witnessed turning hostile, as the CJI tried to place the blame at the door-step of the executive branch of the State, responsible for investigating and conducting trials.

They were addressing a conference of Chief Ministers and Chief Justices of High Courts on judicial reforms here.

While making a reference to “surfacing” of reports about corruption in the judiciary in recent times, Dr Singh said, “the manner in which some cases are being prosecuted, particularly where cases fall because witnesses turn hostile or change their evidence is causing concern.”

He said there was a need to ponder upon whether the existing procedures were adequate and foolproof, if the present laws were adequately used to prevent deviant behaviour and whether new provisions of law were required so that the justice system “is seen to deliver justice and in time.”

But the CJI said that the executive had not done much for improvement of the investigative and prosecution machinery”, pointing out that “significant suggestions for separation of the investigating wing from the law and order duties and changes in rules of evidence still lie unattended.”

“The criminal justice delivery system appears to be on the verge of collapse due to diverse reasons. Some of the responsibility will have to be shared by the executive branch of the State,” the CJI in his keynote address said.

“The public outrage over the failure of the criminal justice system in some recent high-profile cases must shake us all up in the realisation that something needs to be urgently done to revamp the whole process, though steering clear of the knee-jerk reactions, remembering that law is serious business,” he said, reminding the government that recommendations of the Supreme Court, various commissions, including the Law Commission on judicial reforms , had remained “unattended”.

He cited non-release of matching grants by the state governments to the judiciary, shortage of judicial officers, delay in their appointment, infrastructural constraints, procedural delay due to non-reforming the laws to suit changing needs as some major thrust areas required to be immediately attended to.

In view of the facts and figures put forth by the CJI how disposal had gone up during the past five years when lower courts/ High Courts had disposed of 3.62 crore cases, including 1.86 by Lok Adalats and the burden was increasing due to very law “judge-population ratio”, the Prime Minister had to deviate from his written text to agree with the CJI that “status quo could not be allowed to continue”.

In his written speech he had stated that pendency was due to “less disposal” and increasing number in filing of new cases. “I do agree that status quo could not be allowed to continue…I entirely agree with the Chief Justice that this is totally an unacceptable situation.”

But the Prime Minister had a word of caution for the judiciary on “judicial activism” and mentioned in this context the “misuse” of public interest litigations (PILs).

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