ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Reimagining Judicial Reform

We the People

When the judiciary and the centre argue about the need for transparency and accountability, it seems that both envision these as duties only towards each other, and not towards society generally. This myopia is evident throughout the history of their struggle into the present-day: neither has focused on making information public, let alone thought of other ways to involve a broad cross section of the people, even as this is becoming more commonplace worldwide.

This year, Constitution Day became the latest front in one of the most hotly debated constitutional battles in our history—the tussle between the judiciary and executive over judicial appointments. Using the rather odd metaphor of constitutional Lakshman Rekhas, signifying the separation of powers between the two branches, senior leaders on both sides spent the day insinuating that the other had overstepped its bounds by trying to control appointments (Choudhary 2016). As has become a familiar pattern, the entire exchange centred merely on this, and there was little discussion of the boundaries that matter most to common people, who should presumably be the centre of all constitutional debates—boundaries that bar access to both information and justice.

Such an absence of people-centred measures marks most of the exchanges between the judiciary and executive in the last year, ever since the former struck down the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC), which the latter had proposed to replace the judicial collegium in making appointments. In the ensuing deadlock over pending high court appointments and finalisation of the Memorandum of Procedure (MoP), which sets out criteria for judicial appointments, Supreme Court judges have repeatedly blamed the centre for overburdening courts by delaying appointments. This is even though an alarming number of seats have remained vacant across courts for years before the NJAC case—a failure for which the judiciary is equally responsible. The centre, for its part, has blamed the high courts for delaying the appointments process and the MoP, while helpfully clarifying that it is not playing any “blame game” (Indian Express 2016).

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