With the widest possible representation, people get to feel it is their own judiciary: CJI Ramana

CHIEF Justice of India [CJI] N.V. Ramana on Monday said, “[f]or me, it does not stop with having more women judges”, when being asked about inclusivity in the Supreme Court.

CJI Ramana was speaking at the 2nd Comparative Constitutional Law Conversation Series on ‘Judicial Inclusiveness and Retirement: Comparative Approaches of Supreme Courts of the World’s Largest Democracies, India and the United States’ along with Justice Stephen Breyer of the Supreme Court of the United States, organised by The Society for Democratic Rights, New Delhi and the Georgetown University Law Centre, Washington, D.C., and moderated by William M. Treanor, Dean and Executive Vice President, Georgetown University Law Centre.

When asked on recent appointments and greater representation of women judges at the Supreme Court, and even the collegium’s recommendation to appoint an “openly gay” legal professional as a judge to a constitutional court, the CJI answered, “I am happy that the recent appointments and recommendations have generated a lot of debates on inclusivity — for me inclusivity does not stop with having more women judges. Our population is nearly 140 crores. India is home to around 120 languages and thousands of dialects. More than 4,000 communities and 700 tribes. It has 28 states and eight Union territories, each having many religions and distinct characteristics. These social and geographical diversities must find its reflection at all levels of judiciary.”

“…With the widest possible representation, people get to feel it is their own judiciary. Diversity in the bench promotes diversity of opinion. Diversity enhances efficiency. People from different backgrounds enrich the bench with their diverse experiences. A judge from a rural background understands rural India better. A judge from a particular region understands the issues that are better. A judge from the marginalised section understands the issues of marginalised better. I am very happy that the outlook of my collegium members is very progressive. In the recent appointment we could select judges from nine different states and out of them, three are women judges. I know we have miles to go, but the beginning has been made.”

Justice Breyer was then asked about the historic confirmation of Associate Justice-designate Ketanji Brown Jackson to replace him at the U.S. Supreme Court. He said, “With Ketanji here, there will be four out of the nine [judges on the U.S. Supreme Court who will be female] but that does not mean the problem is over…it is not just with women but also with minorities and all kinds of people from different backgrounds…of course, diversity of the background and experience is a good idea.

Further, Dean Treavor asked CJI Ramana on how the type of the Constitution impacts its interpretation, considering the Constitution of India is lengthier than the American Constitution. He answered, “American Constitution and the Indian Constitution, the spirit is the same…there is a clear cut separation of powers. Three organs of the Constitution; we have marked clearly the roles of the legislature, executive and judiciary. There is no problem in interpreting these issues.”

Justice Breyer, on the same issue, also remarked, “…basic values, whether long or short, those values are there. You see in both Constitutions, they include a degree of equality; they include basic human rights such as free speech , free press and so forth. They include a rule of law and we both have the same problem. In both courts, we are not elected people. But we live in the Constitution and under a system, where what prevails is democracy. So, how do we protect the basic values where a majority of the people want to hurt them…that is why it is worthwhile knowing or least paying attention to what these courts do which have the same kinds of the Constitution.”

Dean Trevor then asked the CJI on the relevance of the jurisdiction of public interest litigation, which is one of interpretative tools innovated by the higher judiciary in India, in the spirit of the welfarist Constitution, in contemporary democracy. CJI Ramana said, “It is mainly meant for the marginalised people who cannot approach the court through advocates…The idea is to promote access to justice…when necessary, the court looked beyond the locus standi to uphold the public interest… Because of the proactive approach of the Supreme Court, the public interest litigation became a tool of empowerment for those without voice. It generated awareness on the rights of the people…this has prevented gross abuse of the executive power and checked corruption at some levels and also sought accountability. Of course, I agree, it has some limitations…overall if you look at the scenario, the net outcome is more encouraging and positive.

On being asked on the process of judges’ appointment and retirement, Justice Breyer first said, “...nomination is a political process…I think it’s important for people to understand that once you have been put on that row and you become a judge, you might have different views about law but you are not thinking about politics…we have a system where people have a voice in selecting a judge through a presidential appointment and a confirmation process. That is going to be political, but a job of judging is not political.”

CJI Ramana lauded Justice Breyer for his statements on the job of a judge and said, “Once we start working as a judge, I think, politics is no more relevant. It is the Constitution that guides us.”

Dean Trevor also asked the CJI Ramana to explain his measures for creating a statutory body for advocating infrastructure of the judiciary at all levels and also for fulfilling judicial vacancies on an urgent basis. The CJI answered, “Judicial infrastructure in India remains one of the most neglected areas…this is the subject on my priority list. After assuming the Chief Justice office, I requested my registry to conduct a survey to know the conditions of the courts. The results were disappointing. In the interest of increased access to justice, I had to take up an urgent basis on this issue. So, I sent a report to the Government of India to create infrastructure corporations at national level as well as the state levels, because the pandemic has proved that modern technology has to be an integral part of the infrastructure… so my proposed creation of independent statutory authority at two levels, takes care of the problem of infrastructure because such authority must have functional and financial autonomy.”

On retirement, the CJI, in good spirits, said “65 is too early an age for someone to retire…retirement from judiciary does not mean that I will retire from public life.

Further, CJI Ramana was asked if there is any statutory basis to run legal aid in India, as it is one of the world largest legal aid services. He pointed out, “Our Constitution guarantees equal access to justice…now we have statutory legal service authorities…through these authorities, legal aid is now available to more than 80 per cent of the population…our experience in this area is very encouraging. The pre-litigation settlements and mediation lead to reduction of the number of cases coming to the courts. Providing legal aid to undertrials is another significant contribution of these authorities. We have legal service clinics in jails as well, which provide assistance to undertrials as well as the convicts. The Indian legal service model can be replicated everywhere, particularly in developing countries.”

The video of the event can be watched by clicking here.