Explained | How effective has judicial intervention been in increasing security in district courts?

What directions pertaining to court security have been issued by the Delhi High Court? What has happened in the case initiated by Supreme Court so far? What can be done to reinforce security inside court premises?

May 05, 2023 06:10 pm | Updated May 07, 2023 11:47 am IST

A security personnel stands guard at Saket Court where a firing incident occurred in which a woman sustained injuries in New Delhi on April 21, 2023.

A security personnel stands guard at Saket Court where a firing incident occurred in which a woman sustained injuries in New Delhi on April 21, 2023. | Photo Credit: ANI

The story so far: Shots rang out for close to a minute on the Saket district court premises last month as a suspended lawyer chased a woman and allegedly fired multiple times at her, reportedly over a monetary dispute. As aghast bystanders looked on, the accused, 49-year-old Kameshwar Kumar Singh fled the scene on his scooter but was later arrested from his brother’s home in Faridabad. The woman, 42-year-old M Radha, sustained bullet injuries on her abdomen and right arm.

Almost a year ago on April 22, 2022, two people sustained minor injuries after a constable opened fire outside the Rohini court complex following a scuffle between two advocates and one of their clients.

In September 2021, one of Delhi’s most high-profile gangsters, Jitender Gogi, was gunned down in the Rohini court complex by members of a rival gang, who dressed up as lawyers. The two shooters were subsequently shot dead by Delhi Police personnel. That same year, a 47-year-old DRDO scientist exploded an IED inside the Rohini court complex intending to eliminate a neighbour with whom he had an ongoing feud.

Such repeated instances of shootouts raise a pertinent question- how effective has judicial intervention been in augmenting security across district courts in Delhi?  

What are the recent security measures undertaken by the Delhi police?

Taking cognisance of the Saket district court shooting, the Delhi High Court has asked various bar associations in the capital to convene a meeting with Delhi Police officers to discuss strengthening security in court complexes. A Bench of Chief Justice Satish Chandra Sharma and Justice Subramonium Prasad directed that the meeting be held within two weeks, saying it will consider the matter again in July.

The direction was issued while hearing a batch of petitions seeking increased safety in trial courts including a suo motu case registered by the High Court following the Rohini district court shoot-out on September 24, 2021.  

In a status report filed by the Delhi police in November last year, the High Court was apprised that in all seven district courts, 997 security personnel had been deployed, including 493 security staff, 243 Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) personnel, and 261 police personnel.

It also said that boom barriers and 59 wireless sets and control rooms for prompt communication had been set up and that every person entering the court premises was subjected to searching and frisking. Over 2,700 CCTVs, 85 baggage scanners, 242 handheld metal detectors, and 146 door frame metal detectors were also installed in the district courts, according to the report.

What directions have been issued by the Delhi High Court in the past?

In December 2021, the Delhi High Court issued a slew of directions for revamping existing security arrangements in Delhi’s trial court complexes. The Court said that all persons will be checked by security personnel on entry, and also ordered round-the-clock monitoring of court buildings through CCTV cameras.

A division bench of Chief Justice D N Patel and Justice Jyoti Singh also ordered frisking at two checkpoints, namely, at the entry gates of the court complexes and the entry points to the buildings housing the courtrooms. Lady police personnel will be deployed for checking lady advocates, staff and litigants, per the order.

The Delhi Police was also directed to ensure that the latest technology in metal detection and baggage scanning is used and that no baggage is permitted inside the court premises without scanning.

The Court also ordered the Delhi Commissioner of Police to constitute a team of experts to periodically undertake a security audit of all district court complexes and the Delhi High Court. Police personnel were instructed to diligently check all vehicles entering the court complexes and allow only authorized vehicles with stickers, including vehicles of staff, advocates and judges.

‘Installation of automated gates, like the ones installed at Metro stations, be considered to tackle the huge footfall in the courts. Advocates shall render complete cooperation with the security personnel at the time of checking, frisking and baggage scanning’,  the order read.

The respective bar associations were instructed to devise a mechanism to issue ID Cards with QR codes or bar codes to advocates. The Bar Council of Delhi was ordered to devise stickers, preferably with Radio Frequency Identification (RFID), for vehicles used by advocates, in consultation with the bar associations and the police department.

What has happened in the case initiated by Supreme Court so far?

In 2021, in the wake of the killing of Additional District Judge Uttam Anand, in Dhanbad in Jharkhand, the Supreme Court initiated a suo motu petition to enhance the security of court premises as well as officials engaged with the justice delivery system. 

Formation of central security force not advisable: Centre

During the proceedings, the Centre had apprised the Court that it is ‘not advisable’ to form a Central security force to protect the country’s judiciary and court complexes.

Appearing for the Centre, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta submitted that public order and police are state subjects under the Constitution, and thus State police forces would be better equipped to gauge deployment needs in local courts and oversee other logistical requirements.

The Centre also informed the Court that the Ministry of Home Affairs had in 2017, issued extensive guidelines for States. The guidelines inter alia mandated that the Protection Review Group (PRG) consisting of state special branch, intelligence, and home departments periodically review security arrangements in high courts and subordinate courts.

Courts cannot be turned into ‘fortresses’ in name of security: Supreme Court

In February this year, a bench comprising Justices S Ravindra Bhat and Dipankar Datta observed that courts cannot be turned into ‘fortresses’ in the name of security. The Bench emphasised that a balance must be struck between security concerns and an open court system, which allows the public to access court proceedings. It also underscored that a ‘one size fits all solution’ might not be effective and that areas, districts, and States which require heightened security must be identified on priority.

In the last hearing, the Court directed all high courts to submit their responses on the progress made with respect to the installation of CCTV cameras inside court premises to senior advocate and amicus curiae Siddharth Luthra.

Are there security loopholes in district courts?

Raising concerns over the lack of identity verification by guards and personnel at entry gates, a lawyer who practices at Saket court, on the condition of anonymity, said, “There is effectively no security. I can just put on a black coat, a white shirt and enter the court premises. The security personnel will not ask for my bar council identity card”. He added that the accused was wearing a lawyer’s uniform which helped him enter the court premises despite being suspended as it is unlikely that anybody must have bothered to check his bar ID.

According to the lawyer, the arrangement for checking vehicles is also inadequate. “Vehicles bearing advocate stickers can easily get inside the court premises. Nobody bothers to check the authenticity of these stickers. Even a layman can get hold of an advocate sticker since it does not necessarily have to contain any information such as the advocate’s name and enrolment number”, he said.

However, Saket Court Bar Association secretary Vipin Chaudhary maintained that security at the court complex has always been tight. “There is no security lapse. Every person is being frisked. There is security personnel at every gate. If you come by car, you will have to show your bar ID and your vehicle will be checked and only then will you be allowed inside the premises”, he said.

When asked how the accused was able to enter the premises, Mr. Chaudhary said, “It is an unfortunate incident. Since he was a lawyer although his license was suspended, he was by chance not frisked on that day.” He also added that all the directives passed by the Delhi High Court have been implemented and that only the recommendation of issuing bar identity cards with QR codes is pending consideration before the Bar Council of India.

According to a report by the legal think tank Vidhi, only 11% of the 665 surveyed district courts in the country had a working baggage scanning facility.

What can be done to augment security inside court premises?

Senior advocate N. Hariharan suggested that the Bar Council of Delhi could issue smart cards with RFID as a common identity card for lawyers across district courts. He also suggested replicating the pass system in place in higher courts to verify the identity of litigants.

After advocate Virender Narwal was murdered in broad daylight last month, the Bar Council of Delhi constituted a special committee to draft a comprehensive Advocates Protection Act. A petition was also moved in the Delhi High Court seeking directions to the Delhi and central governments to consider enacting the legislation.

In March this year, the Rajasthan government passed the Rajasthan Advocates Protection Bill, 2023 in the state legislative Assembly. The Bill, the first of its kind in the country, provides for the protection of advocates from offenses such as assault, grievous hurt, criminal force and criminal intimidation, along with damage or loss to property.

Foreign jurisdictions have established specialized security forces to guard court complexes. For instance, the US Supreme Court is looked after by the United States Supreme Court Police, a federal law enforcement agency that derives its powers from Title 40 Section 6121 of the U.S. Code. It is answerable to the Supreme Court rather than to the President or the Attorney General.

Similarly, the Tasmanian legislature in Australia passed the Court Security Act, 2016, permitting the establishment of a specialized security force for the Supreme Court and the Magistrates Court.  

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