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Training Our Judges Better

How and By Whom?

Pattabhi Ramarao Kovuru (kovuruin@gmail.com) teaches at the National Judicial Academy, Bhopal, India.

Continuous judicial education of serving judges is sine qua non for improving their knowledge and enhancing “delivery of timely justice”. Whether it is appropriate for the executive to be involved in any way with the curriculum, or what are the most suitable methods for teaching, or who are best suited to impart this kind of training are some of the questions explored in this article.

All the views expressed in the article are personal, bonafide and made in the best interest of judicial education.

The law ministry, in the last quarter of 2013, “drafted a brief overview of legislative and policy initiatives taken in the recent past to be taught at judicial academies in 22 states”.[i] The measure was undertaken to help judges update their knowledge and further augment their skills ‒ elements critical for improving the efficiency and productivity of the judiciary and speedy delivery of justice. With several efforts underway to improve the justice delivery system in our country, has come the  awareness that quality of justice is dependent on the  performance of the judges, and that the performance can be enhanced only by properly and continuously educating our judges. Contrary to the belief that increase in the number of courts and judges will solve  all the problems related to justice delivery, it is  now understood that proper training and continuing education for judges is crucial for strengthening the justice delivery system.

Though it is universally recognised that continuing judicial education is sine qua non for improving the skills of judges, an issue of great concern is whether it is appropriate for the executive to prescribe the curriculum for judges. One objection to such prescription is that the  law ministry might not be competent enough to prepare a course for judges, and the second and more important one is that the executive wing might be overstepping its mandate in preparing the curriculum for an independent judiciary. The independence of the judiciary gets undermined by such prescriptions, since the “executive” often has the propensity to train judges in a manner that serves and propagates the interests of the state. Hence even the slightest interference from the executive with the system of judicial education, should be curbed immediately. An ideal situation would be for the law ministry to entrust the task to an expert independent body comprising judicial educators. This would take care of the expertise required to undertake an exercise of this nature and at the same time ensure the independence of the judiciary. Apart from this, several other issues regarding judicial education in our country need to be pondered and debated upon.  

Establishment of National and State Judicial Academies

The idea of judicial education and training of judges in India is of recent origin. While preparing its 117th report in 1986, the Law Commission of India noticed that except for two training institutes at Guwahati in Assam (for north-east states) and at Secunderabad in Andhra Pradesh, there were no institutions to train judges anywhere in the country. The Law Commission strongly recommended the establishment of a national level judicial academy at Bangalore and advised the state governments to establish judicial academies in their states. The Supreme Court in 1991 also gave directions to establish judicial academies in every state[ii] but later withdrew these in 1993 when the government announced its decision to establish the National Judicial Academy. The court observed thus:

Subsequent to the hearing of the main petition, the Union Government has announced the establishment of a National Judicial Academy for comprehensive training of judicial personnel. A Committee under the chairmanship of the Chief Justice of India has been constituted. The National Judicial Academy when constituted, we hope, will take over in a comprehensive way all aspects of the training of judicial officers at all stages. In this view of the matter, we delete the directions issued to the States for the establishment of Training Institutes and make it optional for the States to have such Training Institutes either independently or jointly with other States, if they find it necessary.[iii]

The National Judicial Academy (NJA) was established in 1993 at Bhopal.[iv] As it was not possible to train all judges and other judicial personnel at the NJA, the state governments on recommendation of their respective High Courts established training institutes for judges in their states. Now all the states[v] in our country except Tripura and Meghalaya have judicial academies, established to train their subordinate judicial officers. All state judicial academies (SJAs) are actively functioning except the recently established one in Manipur.

Methods of Teaching

The purpose of judicial education, both at SJAs or the NJA, is to enhance the quality of justice; to be precise, to improve the skills of adjudication. Vital questions in regard to judicial education pertains not only to what is to be taught, but how and by whom it is to be done. In All India Judges' Association and others vs. Union of India and Others[vi], the Supreme Court of India, way back on 24 August 1993, observed that:

Neither knowledge derived from books nor pre-service training can be an adequate substitute for the first-hand experience of the working of the court-system and the administration of justice begotten through legal practice. The practice involves much more than mere advocacy. A lawyer has to interact with several components of the administration of justice. Unless the judicial officer is familiar with the working of the said components, his education and equipment as a judge is likely to remain incomplete.[vii]

The court stressed on importance of court-craft and continuing judicial education with a pragmatic approach. 

This article dwells both on the methods that should be adopted to impart judicial skills as well as on the type of people who can contribute efficiently to this process. One universally recognised teaching principle is the use of adult learning techniques, and the other is that only judges can teach judges and nobody else, no matter how qualified they are. The First National Judicial Pay Commission (FNJPC) in its report in 1999[viii] laid stress on both these principles. In  advanced countries like the United States, Canada and Australia,  judicial colleges are  administered by senior judges working as directors,[ix] and principles of andragogy are employed in these institutes.  In United Kingdom the training of judges, members of tribunals, and magistrates is the responsibility of the Judicial College.[x]

In our country, though SJAs have judges both as faculty members as well as  directors, most of them are neither trained academicians nor trained in andragogy. The “Lecture Method”, “Discussion Method” or sometimes the “Case Study Method”,  considered as chief strategies for imparting legal education, are being employed by SJAs.  But absence of a vision for judicial education, and the failure  to differentiate between legal and judicial education are some of the reasons why SJAs are not being able to deliver.  The National Judicial Education Strategy (NJES), developed at the NJA, requires implementation of adult learning techniques. By initiating programmes like “Training the Trainers”,  attempts are being made to encourage the use of these techniques at SJAs. But instead, the faculty at SJAs, comprising judges, are employing methods designed for teaching at law schools. Moreover, majority of the faculty at the NJA are also from law schools and  use teaching methods different from the recommended ones for judicial education.    

Revamping the NJA and SJAs

The NJA is expected to operate as a think tank and guide the SJAs. It is expected to “function as a national clearing house of information in the judicial arena and set standards of excellence in the justice delivery system by sensitizing presiding officers and judges on all issues germane to judiciary”.[xi] But with a very small faculty, comprising academicians and fresh law graduates (as law associates and research fellows), who do not have any court experience, it may be difficult to achieve the goals stated in the NJES. Since its inception, the NJA has been headed by  academicians and at present by a senior advocate of Punjab & Haryana High Court. However, it is recommended that the faculty should mainly be from the community of judges. This is not to say that the academics should be kept out of fray altogether. Senior and established academicians could be invited as guest faculty and  can be included in committees to guide  judicial education in this country.

The urgent need is to revamp the management and composition of SJAs and the NJA. Senior judges of High Court, serving or retired, with academic inclination should be full time directors of SJAs, and a retired Supreme Court judge with an interest in judicial education should be invited to head the NJA. Judges from the district judiciary with academic inclination and experience of having worked in the judiciary should be encouraged, by offering attractive incentives, to join the faculty. Out of this faculty a cadre of  judicial educators should be constituted. A committee of senior judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts and academics who earlier worked as directors of NJA should be constituted to revise the NJES.  There should be a clear cut division of the work between NJA and SJAs. This committee should also design and prescribe the methodology to be adopted to impart adjudication and management skills, and if needed management experts from higher learning institutes like Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) can be consulted. The fundamental rights of life and liberty stand jeopardised in the hands of untrained or ill-trained judges. Invested with the power to govern and direct the judicial academies, the High Courts and the Supreme Court  should take continuous steps to improve the quality of judicial education in this country.



[i] “Govt. moves to enhance skills, attitude of judges”, The Times of India, Bhopal October 14, 2013.

[ii] In All India Judges’ Association vs. Union Of India  (order dated 13/11/1991) AIR 1992 SC 165 Supreme Court gave directions to all the states to establish in-service training institutes within one year from the date of judgment or at any rate not later than 31-12-1992.

[iii] All India Judges' Association and others vs. Union of India and Others AIR1993SC2493. In this order dated 24/08/1993 in Review Petition No. 292 of 1992 the Supreme Court has withdrawn the direction given on 13/11/1991 regarding establishment of   in-service training institutes by the states (SJAs).

[iv]NJA is an independent society established on 17th August 1993 under the Societies Registration Act, 1860. Between 1993 and 2000 it functioned with Delhi as headquarters and in August 2000 a new campus at Bhopal was established. Though the registered office of academy is still in Delhi, the academy practically is being administrated from Bhopal itself.

[v] As Guwahati High Court is common High Court for states of Assam, Nagaland, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh, the Judicial Academy in  Guwahati trains judges of all four States.

[vi]  Ibid.

[vii] Ibid.

[viii]  Paragraph13.5.25 of the report of the First National Judicial Pay Commission.

[ix] “Judicial Education around the World: a Select Survey”, Chapter13.5 of the report of the First National Judicial Pay Commission.

[xi]ANU/PIBU/0387/2002 Department / Board: PIB Date : 03.09.2002 available at www.manupatra.com (accessed on 20 November 2013)

 

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