Tag Archives: High Court and Supreme Court Judges (Salaries and Conditions of Service) Amendment Act

Judging our judges

20 Jan

Today’s post is an article appearing in the Indian Express, concerning the condition of judges in our country:

In defence of their lordships (Indian Express)

GOPAL SANKARANARAYANAN Posted online: Wednesday, Jan 20, 2010 at 0250 hrs

On September 1 2009, Neeraj Kishan Kaul stepped down as a judge of the Delhi High Court — a mere four months after being sworn into that coveted office. Exactly two months later, Justice V. Giri of the Kerala High Court followed suit, being the first permanent judge of that court to do so. At a time when brickbats are cast on the courts by social activists and judge-baiters, it is a matter of concern that some of the finest judicial talent decline the gavel. Some reflections on the life of a judge in India, could perhaps explain why the Bench is losing its allure.

Overworked: Every week, the average superior court judge is expected to peruse a hundred paperbooks — tightly stitched files containing the fate of the litigant — some of which run into thousands of pages. Coupled with this are the actual court hearings from 10 am to 4:30 pm every weekday, many of which require elaborate, well-reasoned judgments, citing appropriate precedent, culled out through meticulous research. After all, the law of the land is being laid down. In addition are various social engagements, lectures, committee meetings and teaching assignments. Such being the lot of a judge’s life, little time is available for self and family.

Outcast: Thanks to an ill-conceived and overly moralistic resolution passed by the Supreme Court in 1997, those elevated to man the courts are advised to “eschew” contact with members of the Bar and to “practice a degree of aloofness”. Spare a thought for one who has spent the past 20 years in the lap of a convivial Bar with fellow lawyers, only to now be asked to isolate oneself from those very companions of many a tea-room chat.

Obsolescent: In a tongue-in-cheek remark that formed a part of one of his judgments, the English judge, Lord Bridge had said “the populist image of the geriatric judge, out of touch with the real world, is now reflected in the statutory presumption of judicial incompetence at the age of 75”. In India, with Constitutionally prescribed retirement ages of only 65 for the Supreme Court and 62 for the High Courts, judges are presumed to be past their “sell by” date when that golden birthday arrives, even if all their contemporaries at the Bar are still at the peak of their powers. Simply put, if Ram Jethmalani had accepted judicial office, he would have retired 22 years ago.

Impoverished: While a judge in Singapore earns a million dollars a year and his British counterpart makes almost half that amount, as per the recently enacted High Court and Supreme Court Judges (Salaries and Conditions of Service) Amendment Act, 2009, the Chief Justice of India sits pretty at the top of the Indian judicial ladder with about $ 26,000. That amount is just a little less than what the nation’s reputed corporate firms offer graduating law students. For a more direct perspective, the top 20 lawyers in the country earn that amount in a single day’s hearings. It is little wonder then, that each of them had declined judgeship when offered.

Accused: Enough homilies have been delivered, especially in the recent past, on the conduct of the judiciary. Some arguments have had merit, while others have been plainly motivated. Yet, in all of this, when the integrity of judges have been questioned and the institution’s lack of transparency attacked, little thought is given to the vast majority of honest and industrious members of the Bench who have sacrificed much to be of service to the nation. To weather all of this in the grim knowledge that only silence is permitted requires rare mettle.

Kaul and Giri have returned to enrich the Bar, both commencing practice at the Supreme Court. Their reasons for demitting office remain personal. Yet, one cannot help but wonder that if the factors enumerated above had been different, the result might have been otherwise. Unfortunately, in today’s India, a judge’s chamber no longer possesses the warm hearth on which justice curls up to rest for the night. It is a cold, wet floor, where the silence is only broken by the ticking of a relentless clock.

The writer practices law at the Supreme Court of India

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