CM cites delay in disposal, prohibitive cost of litigation as barriers to accessing justice

Chief Justice of India Justice P. Sathasivam on Tuesday expressed concern over the steady decline in the reputation of the judiciary and legal profession.

He was addressing judges, advocates, bureaucrats and others after inaugurating the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) centre and laying the foundation stone for the construction of an administrative block of the Madras High Court in the presence of Chief Minister Jayalalithaa here.

Mr. Justice Sathasivam said judiciary was perhaps the country’s most respected institution. The public esteem and credibility it enjoyed deserved to be cherished and preserved. However, there was unfortunately a growing crisis within it.

“The manifestation of this crisis lies not only in the ever-increasing arrears of cases in courts and the consequent delays in our justice delivery system, but also in the steady decline in the reputation of the judiciary as also of legal profession. This institution, unlike other institutions in the democratic setup, thrives only on the trust and confidence reposed by the people,” he said.

The CJI said though the people did not elect the members of judiciary, judges and advocates were ultimately accountable to them. The justice system was the principal instrument in satisfying the undertakings in the Constitution. “Therefore we, the sentinels of the judiciary, must strive to ensure to the litigants easy access to the court…”

Mr. Justice Sathasivam said judiciary was viewed as a shield for the common man against abuse of power and arbitrariness. Observing that the working of the judiciary had a profound effect on the administration of the country as a whole, both lawyers and judges should be more mindful of their acts.

He said the Supreme Court had introduced a new system where litigants and advocates would get an SMS or email on the listing of cases. Soon after taking charge as the CJI, he had written to Chief Justices of High Courts advising them to give priority to women, SC, ST, BC and minorities in judicial appointments. On the appointment of High Court judges, he said the views or objections of the State government would be taken into consideration.

Participating in the function, Ms. Jayalalithaa said increasing awareness of rights and abiding confidence of the people in judiciary had witnessed a tremendous spurt in litigation. However, lack of awareness of legal provisions, delay in disposal and prohibitive cost of litigation were some of the barriers in the way of accessing justice.

“The cost of litigation has increased exponentially over time and the ability of the marginalised sections to avail [themselves] of their Constitutional right to legal remedies is seriously hampered by their lack of resources. There are a lot of litigants clamouring for speedy justice. But the elements of judiciousness, fairness, equality and compassion cannot be allowed to be sacrificed for the sake of expeditious disposal,” she said.

Ms. Jayalalithaa said the ADR was a pragmatic tool in solving new generation familial conflicts. “The surge of matrimonial disputes in court is a poignant reminder of the ills that plague the fabric of relationships in the family.

Litigation, whether for divorce, maintenance, alimony, child custody or any other matrimonial cause, should cease to be viewed in terms of failure or success of legal action. The amicable settlement of family conflicts is a social therapy,” she said.

Supreme Court Judge Justice F.M. Ibrahim Kalifulla, Acting Chief Justice of the Madras High Court R.A. Agarwal among others spoke.

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