The recent tragic gang-rape incident in the capital had shaken national sensitivities and hastened the process of introspection, Union Law Minister Ashwani Kumar said here on Saturday.

He was speaking at a seminar on recent trends in judicial reforms a global perspective.

The public outrage after the Delhi tragedy was not only against the depravity of a few. It was also against the perceived inadequacies in the way the procedural laws were administered. Law was perceived as impotent in the face of grave injustice, leading to unacceptable erosion of peoples’ faith in the justice delivery system and the rule of law itself. In a country of 1.2 billion people, judicial institutions have a formidable and unenviable task of delivering expeditious and affordable justice, consistent with the non-negotiable principles of fair trial.

Mr. Kumar said, “We need, therefore, to work towards strengthening our judicial system, which is seen to be efficient and geared to ensuring justice for all in the finest traditions of our liberal democracy based on respect for the rule of law. Judicial reforms have indeed acquired urgency in view of the imperative of coping with the challenges of a transformed world defined by technology globalisation and insatiable aspirations of our people. The efficacy of any judicial system depends eventually upon the legal empowerment of people and their ability to access justice. For instance, creating special courts for domestic violence and sensitising judges may not be enough if women are not aware of their rights, or are afraid of approaching the police or courts.”

The Minister noted that judicial reforms should be anchored in an ecosystem that was conducive to respect for the rule of law and such that led people to having faith in the state’s legal architecture as guarantee of a just society. Hence rule of law in a democracy must secure the rights of citizens’ participation in the processes of governance.

Explaining the government’s initiatives, he said the proposal to create an all India judicial service was at an advanced stage of consideration. This would hopefully improve the quality of judges at the subordinate level. To reduce delays in judicial decision-making, several amendments were made in the past to the Codes of Criminal and Civil Procedure. A system of plea bargaining was introduced in the Code of Criminal Procedure to encourage the accused to plead guilty in appropriate cases and save the court time in conducting long trial. ADR systems were also introduced to check pendency of cases and help people in resolving cases quickly and amicably. Permanent lok adalats were being set up for expeditious resolution of disputes relating to public utilities.

Justice Dalveer Bhandari, Judge, International Court of Justice at The Hague, and President, India International Law Foundation, said in the presidential address that access to fair, inexpensive, speedy and substantial justice was a basic universal human right. To ensure compliance of this basic right, judicial reforms were carried out in various countries. To fully protect the fundamental rights, human rights and other rights, it was imperative that there should be continuous legal and judicial reforms according to the changing circumstances. It was perceived that global issues were becoming increasingly prominent because of liberalisation and globalisation. Urgent judicial and legal reforms were absolutely imperative in India not only to clear the backlog of cases but also to ensure that future cases were decided promptly. There was need to employ time-tested alternative methods of dispute resolution such as arbitration, conciliation, mediation, lok adalat, gram-nyalayala, nyaya panchayats etc in a big way.

Delegates from India and abroad attended the day-long seminar held at Vigyan Bhavan.

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