Current Affairs - Judiciary
On 13th September, 2023, the Union cabinet granted approval for the commencement of Phase 3 of the e-courts project, with a financial allocation of Rs 7,210 crore.
- Significant Financial Allocation: This funding underscores the government's commitment to enhancing the digital infrastructure of India's courts.
- Enhancing Access to Justice through Technology: The eCourts Mission Mode Project, now in its third phase, plays a pivotal role in improving access to justice through the effective use of technology.
- A Transformative Initiative: Launched in 2005, the e-courts project was conceived to equip the Indian judiciary with cutting-edge information and communication technology.
- It seeks to digitize every aspect of the litigation process, from initiation to the final judgment.
- Previous Phases: Phase 1 involved computerizing district and taluka courts, introducing Case Information Software (CIS) to offer essential case-related services to litigants and lawyers.
- Phase 2 innovations: It focused on the integration of systems across courts and introduced the National Judicial Data Grid (NJDG), a real-time repository of case pendency and disposal data.
- Phase 3 Innovations: The third phase introduces several innovative features, including digital and paperless courts, which transition court proceedings into a digital format.
- Phase 3 also leverages Artificial Intelligence and subsets like Optical Character Recognition (OCR) for case pendency analysis and forecasting future litigation.
- The scheme aims to enhance access to justice by making the system more accessible, affordable, reliable, predictable, and transparent for all stakeholders.
On 13th September, 2023, the Supreme Court issued a directive stating that police briefings to the media should not result in a media trial. The court has instructed the home ministry to prepare a manual on police briefings within 90 days.
- Preventing Media Trials: The Supreme Court emphasized that police briefings to the media should not lead to a media trial that prematurely determines the guilt of the accused.
- Input from Director Generals of Police (DGPs): The apex court has asked all state Director Generals of Police (DGPs) to provide their suggestions for the manual.
- Additionally, the input of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) will be considered in this process.
- Balancing Rights and Privacy: The Supreme Court emphasized the delicate balance between the fundamental right to free speech and expression, the rights of the accused to a fair investigation, and the privacy of victims.
- Tailoring Information Disclosure: The court recognized that the nature of information disclosed to the media should be tailored to the specific circumstances of each case, considering factors such as the age and gender of victims and accused individuals.
Recently, a committee appointed by the Supreme Court, led by Justice Amitava Roy, shed light on the harsh living conditions faced by women prisoners in India.
- Gender Exclusion in the Justice System: The report identifies a clear gender bias in the correctional justice system, describing it as "evidently gender exclusionary."
- Rising Female Prisoner Population: Between 2014 and 2019, the female prisoner population in India increased by more than 11%.
- Challenges Faced by Women: Women inmates encounter more significant obstacles than men when trying to access fundamental amenities such as medical care, legal aid, paid work opportunities, and recreational activities.
- Limited Contact with Children: Only prisons in Goa, Delhi, and Puducherry permit female prisoners to meet their children without barriers or glass partitions.
- Sanitary Napkin Availability: In India, fewer than 40% of prisons offer sanitary napkins to female inmates.
- Shared Facilities: Approximately 75% of female wards in prisons require sharing kitchens and communal facilities with male wards.
- Scarce Exclusive Women’s Prisons: Only 18% of female prisoners are allocated facilities within exclusive women's prisons.
- Co-Lodging: Women prisoners, including both undertrials and convicts, are housed together in the same wards and barracks.
- Lack of Gender-Specific Training: Matrons lack training in conducting gender-specific searches of women inmates.
- Complaints against Abuse: Women inmates can register complaints against jail staff for abuse or harassment in only 10 states and 1 union territory.
- Inadequate Medical and Psychiatric Wards: Prisons lack separate medical and psychiatric wards designed for the specific needs of female inmates.
- Child Delivery Facilities: Basic minimum facilities for childbirth within prisons are inadequate.
- Shortage of Healthcare Professionals: There is a shortage of healthcare professionals trained to address the gender-specific healthcare requirements of female inmates.
Recommendations by the Committee
Reducing Violence among Prisoners
- The Committee on Prison Reforms has proposed mandatory segregation of undertrials, convicts, and first-time offenders within correctional facilities. This segregation should apply during court appearances, hospital visits, and other relevant instances.
- To enhance prisoner well-being, prison administrations should actively implement national and state health insurance schemes like the Ayushman Bharat scheme and Chiranjeevi Health Insurance Scheme within correctional facilities.
- The committee has underscored the importance of establishing a robust grievance redressal mechanism, enabling prisoners to register their complaints effectively.
- Overcrowding in prisons primarily stems from the undertrial population. To alleviate this issue, the committee recommends the creation of special fast-track courts dedicated to addressing minor offenses and cases pending for five years or more.
- District and sessions judges should be tasked with the responsibility of regularly monitoring the progress of cases involving accused individuals in custody for more than one year in session triable cases and more than six months in magistrate triable cases.
Utilizing Video Conferencing
- To streamline legal proceedings, the committee advocates for the use of video conferencing whenever possible, especially for the production of senior citizens and sick prisoners in courts.
- In response to an increase in suicide cases by hanging, the panel recommends the construction of suicide-proof barracks using collapsible materials, aiming to prevent such tragic incidents.
- Recognizing the gravity of the situation, the committee emphasizes the importance of regularly training jail staff to identify signs of depression and abnormal behavior among inmates, promoting mental health and well-being within correctional facilities.
On 25th August, the Department of Justice, Ministry of Law & Justice, launched the Tele-Law 2.0 initiative under the DISHA Scheme.
- Inauguration and Milestone: Having delivered 50 lakh legal consultations, the Tele-Law program reaffirms its commitment to ensuring equitable access to justice for every citizen across the nation.
- Integration of Tele-Law Services and Nyaya Bandhu: The amalgamation of Tele-Law Services and Nyaya Bandhu pro bono legal services is a central feature of Tele-Law 2.0.
- This integration simplifies citizen access to legal aid, bolstering the program's goal of providing comprehensive assistance.
- Fostering Legal Empowerment: The launch of Tele-Law 2.0 signifies a paradigm shift in the delivery of legal services, leveraging technology and pro bono efforts to empower citizens with legal aid, regardless of their location or background.
Recently, India's Chief Justice took a crucial stride towards gender equality in the judicial realm by launching a handbook that seeks to revolutionize the language used in legal proceedings concerning women.
- Empowering Judicial Discourse: The Supreme Court's handbook confronts gender biases ingrained in legal language, fostering equitable judicial communication.
- Counteracting Gender Stereotypes: The handbook equips judges and legal practitioners to recognize and rectify gender biases pervasive in legal language.
- Challenging Out-dated Terms: The handbook exposes words and phrases inadvertently propagating gender biases and advocates for their transformation.
- Progressive Language Transformation: The handbook replaces terms like "career woman" with "woman” redefines "eve teasing" as "street sexual harassment," and simplifies "forcible rape" to "rape."
- Purpose of the Handbook: The Supreme Court's initiative seeks to reshape legal language, guiding judges away from perpetuating stereotypes and promoting dignity and equality.
- Examples of Gender-Sensitive Language: The handbook offers alternative terms to rectify gender biases, such as replacing 'concubine/keep' with 'woman with romantic/sexual relations outside marriage.'
- Impact on Society: The handbook highlights the link between language, law, and societal perceptions, emphasizing the need for unbiased legal discourse.
- Global Efforts to Counter Gender Biases: This initiative aligns with global efforts to counter gender biases in judicial language, mirroring projects like Canada's "shadow judgments" and India's Feminist Judgement Project.
On 10th August, the Supreme Court unveiled the 'SuSwagatam' portal, a user-friendly online platform allowing advocates, visitors, interns, and others to obtain e-passes for accessing the apex court.
- Versatile Online Application: The 'SuSwagatam' portal is a web-based and mobile-friendly application that facilitates online registration and e-pass issuance for a range of purposes, including attending court hearings and meeting with advocates.
- Successful Pilot Project: Chief Justice of India mentioned that the 'SuSwagatam' portal underwent a successful pilot project from July 25, 2023, and garnered positive feedback from users.
- Eliminating Morning Queues: The introduction of the portal eradicates the need to wait in morning queues for entry passes, streamlining the process by enabling online generation of passes.
- Video Tutorial Availability: A video tutorial demonstrating the usage of the 'SuSwagatam' application is accessible on the portal's website, providing users with guidance on navigating the platform.
On 18th July, 2023, the Supreme Court issued new guidelines for the designation of senior advocates practicing primarily in the Apex Court. These guidelines replace the ones issued in 2018, following the 2017 ruling in Indira Jaisingh v. Union of India.
- Trigger for New Guidelines: The need for new guidelines arose after a May 12 ruling by a three-judge bench led by Justice S K Kaul, responding to a case seeking modifications in the conferment of 'senior advocate' designation.
- Minimum Age Requirement: Under the new guidelines, the minimum age for applying for the 'senior advocate' designation is set at 45 years.
- Relaxation of Age Limit: However, this age limit can be relaxed by the Committee, Chief Justice of India, or a Supreme Court judge if they recommend an advocate's name.
- Changes in Weightage: The weightage for publications has been reduced from 15 marks to 5 marks, aligning with the May 12 SC ruling.
- Increased Weightage: Additionally, the importance given to reported and unreported judgments (excluding non-principle-setting orders) has increased from 40 to 50 points.
- Committee's Role: The Permanent Committee and the Full Court retain the authority to make the final decision on designating advocates as senior based on the prescribed guidelines.
On 11th May 2022, the Supreme Court of India freezed a colonial era sedition law until its re-examination.
- The Supreme said, “We hope and expect that the State and Central Governments will restrain from registering any FIR, continuing any investigation or taking any coercive measures by invoking Section 124A of IPC while the aforesaid provision of law is under consideration.”
For those who are in Jails under this Provision
- The Court ordered that: “All pending trials, appeals, and proceedings with respect to the charge framed under Section 124A of IPC be kept in abeyance.”
- In other words proceedings should be halted while this order is in effect. For people who’ve been slapped with multiple charges, cases under other heads can proceed only if the rights of the individual will not be affected.
- The court said: “Adjudication with respect to other Sections, if any, could proceed if the Courts are of the opinion that no prejudice would be caused to the accused.”
Two Intriguing Questions before the Court
- The court is seized of two considerations, the security of the State and the civil liberties of citizens. There is a need to balance both considerations, which is a difficult exercise.
What is Sedition Law?
- Drafted by British historian-politician Thomas Babington Macaulay in 1837, sedition was defined as an act by ‘whoever, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the Government established by law in India’.
- As per Section 124A, sedition is a non-bailable offence, punishable with imprisonment from three years up to life, along with a fine.
- The person charged under this law is also barred from a government job and their passport is seized by the government.
Why it should be re-visited?
- Archaic: The Sedition charge, which was included in Section 124 A of the Indian Penal Code in 1870, was imposed by the British Colonial government to primarily suppress the writings and speeches of prominent Indian freedom fighters. At present it should be looked into keeping in present day context.
- Low Conviction Rate: As per the 2020 National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) report, in 2018, 70 sedition cases were filed; however, not a single person was convicted. Similarly, in 2019, 93 cases were filed, while only two were convicted. Similarly in 2020, 73 cases were filed and no one was convicted of sedition.
- Creators have also changed this Rule: The sedition charge was abolished by the United Kingdom in 2010.
- After the First Judicial Pay Commission report (1996) and the Sixth Central Pay Commission (2006), the Supreme Court (SC) constituted the Padmanabhan Commission in 2009 to give recommendations on pay scales, allowances and perquisites of judicial officers.
- However, due to some anomalies, the All India Judges Association filed a writ petition in the SC for constitution of a separate pay commission for judicial officers.
- The SC, under the Article 32, allowed constitution of the Second Judicial Pay Commission in May 2017.
First National Judicial Pay Commission(NJPC)
About Second Judicial Pay Commission
- Following the SC order, the Union cabinet approved the appointment of a second national judicial pay commission for the subordinate judiciary in November, 2017, headed by Justice J P.Venkatrama Reddi, former Judge of Supreme Court.
- The Interim Report was submitted by the Commission in 2018.
- To recommend a uniform pay scale for the service of judicial officers of the subordinate judiciary throughout the country.
- Given the virtue of duties performed by judicial officers they are not equated with state government officers, even though it is essentially a state subject.
- Though there is revision of pay scales for employees of the central government, Judges and judicial officers of subordinate courts got their last pay hike in 2010.
Term of References
- To evolve the principles governing the pay structure and emoluments of Judicial Officers belonging to the Subordinate Judiciary all over the country.
- To examine the present structureof emoluments and conditions of services of Judicial Officers in the States and Union Territories and to make suitable recommendations including post-retirement benefits such as pension, having regard among other relevant factors to the existing relativities in the pay structure between the Officers of Subordinate Judiciary and other civil servants.
- To make recommendations regarding setting up of a permanent mechanism to review the pay and service conditions of members of Subordinate Judiciary periodically by an independent Commission.
- Having considered various alternative methodologies has recommended the adoption of Pay Matrix which has been drawn up by applying the multiplier of 2.81 to the existing pay, commensurate with the percentage of increase of pay of High Court Judges @ 3% cumulative has been applied.
- As per the revised pay structure evolved by the Commission, the Junior Civil Judge/First Class Magistrate whose staring pay is Rs.27,700/- will now get Rs.77,840/-.
- The percentage of Selection Grade and Super Time Scale District Judges proposed to be increased by 10% and 5% respectively.
- The revised pay and pension will be effective from 1st January, 2016.
- Arrears will be paid during the Calendar year 2020 after adjusting the interim relief.
- Pension at 50% of last drawn pay worked out on the basis of proposed revised pay scales is recommended w. e. f. <str1st January, 2016.
- The family pension will be 30% of the last drawn pay. Additional quantum of pension will commence on completing the age of 75 years (instead of 80 years) and percentages at various stages thereafter are increased.
- Nodal officers will be nominated by the District Judges to assist the pensioners/family pensioners.
- Recommendation has been made to discontinue the New Pension Scheme (NPS) which is being applied to those entering service during or after 2004.The old pension system, which is more beneficial, will be revived.
- The existing allowances have been suitably increased and certain new features have been added.
- However, the City Compensatory Allowance (CCA)is proposed to be discontinued.
- House Rent Allowance (HRA) proposed to be increased uniformly in all states.
- Certain new allowances viz. children education allowance, home orderly allowance, transport allowance in lieu of pool car facility has been proposed.
- Improvement in the medical facilities and simplification of the reimbursement procedure.
- Medical facilities to be granted to pensioners and family pensioners also.
- Making Judiciary More Efficient: The recommendations of the Commission will help in promoting efficiency in Judicial Administration, optimizing the size of judiciary and to remove anomalies created in implementation of earlier recommendations.
Subordinate Judiciary – Its Pivotal Role in Justice System
- The Subordinate Judiciary is the backbone of the Judicial System. Most of the common people, especially those living in the rural areas, know of the Courts at the lowest level in judicial hierarchy,e., the Courts located in taluka or mandal areas.The “dynamics of judicial processes” are witnessed by the public mostly in these Courts.
- The Subordinate Courts and the Districts are the eyes and ears of the Judiciary. The image of Judiciary depends much on their efficient functioning and the capacity to dispense justice to the best of their ability.
- The Subordinate Courts play a prominent role in preserving law and order in the society. It is the public confidence in the judicial system that sustains the credibility of the Judiciary. In generating and fostering the public confidence, the role of the District and Subordinate Judiciary is therefore significant.
- Ensuring adequate emoluments and proper working conditions for the Judges constituting subordinate Judiciary will help in promoting judicial independence which is a basic feature of the Constitution.
Why is it in News?
The SC on 11 June 2019 ordered release of the journalist Prashant Kanojia on bail who has been jailed by the UP government.
Relevance of the News: It highlights the supremacy of the constitutional Right to Liberty and the limits of state in using its powers of detention.
Cause of Arrest of the Journalist:
- The journalist was picked up from his home on June 8 by police and taken to an undisclosed location allegedly for having shared on social media a video of a woman claiming she had sent a marriage proposal to Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath.
- The FIR, lodged "suomoto" by UP Police alleged that the journalist had made defamatory comments against Yogi Adityanath from his "twitter social media", with an attempt to malign the image of the Chief Minister.
- The journalist had been booked for criminal defamation, Section 505 of IPC (statements conducting public mischief), Sections 66 and 67 (publication or transmission of obscene material in electronic form) of IT Act.
Grounds of Release by SC:
- The journalist’s wife moved the top court filing a habeas corpus petition seeking release of her husband.
- As per the SC, his Right to Liberty has been infringed and the liberty granted under the Constitution is sacrosanct.
- The court called the action taken by the Uttar Pradesh government of detaining a person on remand for 13/14 days for posting material on social media, a case of deprivation of personal liberty and too excessive for the offence.
- Additional Solicitor General (ASG) of UP contended that release of the journalist would be viewed by people as an endorsement of his social media posts. However, SC countered and clarified by saying that the release would be construed as an endorsement of his right to personal liberty not of his tweets.
- Although SC accepted the fact that free speech is not absolute but also observed that free speech and criticism on social media cannot be choked by imprisonment.
- The court said that the fundamental rights of free speech and personal liberty were “non-negotiable”.