On Thursday the chief justice of India said that the pandemic has been one of the biggest challenges that the nation has faced in delivering unhampered justice to the common man. Justice SA Bobde also urged the government to figure out solutions and draught out a plan to battle the new problem of inequality that has emerged from justice being dependent on technology due to social distancing being the new norm.
The chief justice spoke about this new kind of inequality at an event organised by the supreme court. The event was organised to commemorate constitution day and was attended by Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad and President Ram Nath Kovind among others.
Chief Justice Bobde highlighted the issue that the novel coronavirus pandemic could put forward for the justice seekers. He said that “very early on, the supreme court of India realised that the virus had the potential to threaten the rule of law itself and completely block out the access to the justice system”.
Justice NV Ramana is the second most senior judge in the apex court and in his welcome address, he talked about the unfolded criticism faced by the constitutional institutions in the present world. he also said that the only answer to this was to work more and more on the pathway to fulfil the constitutional duty. He also said that a new trend of unfair and unfounded criticism is flowing against the constitutional institutions and is destroying the public trust, ultimately harming the core foundation of democracy. Justice Ramana said, “Nothing should deter us.”
President Ram Nath Kovind, in his address, also talk about this new inequality stating that “notion of justice implies access to justice and improving access to justice for all is a work that is in progress”. He also mentioned that the higher judiciary has been working in this direction by making available its judgements in more and more regional languages.
The Indian judiciary has seen a lot of criticism and from day one has always welcomed it. There has been continuous criticism of collegium and appointment of judges.
What is the problem or inequality being addressed?
Noting the incessant rise in the number of cases every other day since the very first day, the judicial institutions had to work out a way to keep imparting justice to the troubled. There was a need for instant mutation in the justice delivery system with two choices available with the decision-makers- either to shut down the courts completely or switch to a virtual hearing system. All this time, there were several problems put on the table for the courts to solve- difficult situations pertaining to migrant workers, dead bodies not receiving burial for fear of infection, affordable costs of treatment, woefully inadequate facilities for treatment of dying men and women, and inadequate hospital beds. The court finally decided to hear all these matters via video conferencing instead of just shutting down the institutions altogether for a prolonged period.
Digging deeper into the problem…
Even though some matters were successfully heard and reserved via virtual means, this process of justice through video conferencing has given rise to a new kind of inequality. It was extremely difficult to determine the extent of inequality this mode had created on account of justice becoming technology independent. Now, under the circumstances, it became more difficult than ever for the common man to get justice, especially those who do not have access to technology.
The Chief Justice of India, in his address, also appealed to the information technology Minister of India to come up with a remedy.
KK Venugopal, the attorney general of India, was of the point of you that further innovations (such as live streaming) to this process of virtual hearings by video conferencing could be implemented. He said that he envisions that every single subordinate court in this country, including every High court, will one day have video conferencing and video streaming.
The IT minister, Prasad, hit out at criticism of the judiciary that goes beyond propriety. He also talked about the criticizing terms such as judicial barbarism.