The Indian legal system will not change unless there are certain improvements happening at the district court level, said the Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud.
“I do believe that if we have to change, we have to change the face of district judiciary first and foremost,” he said.
The new Chief Justice was speaking at the felicitation function in his honour, organised by the Supreme Court Bar Association, where he also shared insights on multiple issues including the selection of judges to high courts, installing a transparent system for listing of cases, and issues faced by young lawyers.
He also gave a few tips to young lawyers at the bar.
Emphasising that the district level judiciary in India requires change at multiple levels, the Chief Justice said that he once met a young woman judicial officer in Kolhapur, Maharashtra, who said that the district court there did not have bathrooms for women judges.
“A young woman district judge in Kolhapur told us that there were no toilets for women judges in this district court… These young girls, who are judicial officers at the age of 25-30-35, they leave their homes at 8:30 in the morning to come to the court, and they return home and can use the washroom only at 6 o’clock in the evening,” said Chief Justice Chandrachud.
However, the judiciary also needs a shift in culture, especially in the way they treat district judges as members of “subordinate judiciary”, the Chief Justice told the audience.
Justice Chandrachud recalled his experience of district judges remaining standing, and, at times, even serving food to high court Judges when they were having dinner. There was a time when it was not unusual for district Judges to stand by the side of the road when a high court judge travelled through the district. These practices have to change, said the Chief Justice.
“It used to be conventional for the district judges to stand when high court judges are having dinner, sometimes even serve the high court judges. That speaks of our colonial mindset. I would always say, look we would not have our food unless you sit on the same table with us and have your food,” said the judge, who had also served as Chief Justice of Allahabad High Court before being elevated to the apex court.
The bulk of the judges in the high courts are chosen from the practicing lawyers, while the Supreme Court judges—barring those who are chosen from the bar—are chosen from among high court judges, usually the chief justices of high courts.
Referring to the issue of elevating lawyers to the High Court, Justice Chandrachud said he is open to the idea of choosing the Supreme Court lawyers as High Court judges, as long as there is a balance between the High Court lawyers and the apex court lawyers.
“Something I can let out by way of a secret, many of us, when a young lawyer appears before us, the instinct which you have, as judges who have come from the high courts, is to say is this person not good enough to be appointed a judge of the high court, and I have my own list of lawyers that I have in my mind,” said the Chief Justice, sharing his vision.
“I’m sure the Supreme Court, that has some of the best young minds in the country, would be able to contribute greatly to the enrichment of our high courts, so long as we balance the needs of the High Court lawyers also to be considered for appointment.”
Listing of cases has been a much-talked about issue among lawyers, with some expressing disappointment over long delays in listing.
Justice Chandrachud said he wishes to put in place a system, which will work like a standard operating procedure in the listing of cases.
“We need to make listing of the court transparent, objective, and perhaps… my aim is to employ technology, so as to remove the element of human interface in the listing process,” he said.
There is a need to institutionalise the listing process, he said.
The CJI said he wants to embrace technology, not because he loves technical aspects but because he believes that technnology can work as an instrument of inclusion.
Chief Justice Chandrachud is also the administrative head of the Supreme Court of India, who decides among other things which combination of judges will hear which type of cases.
He wants to put in place a system where it will not matter who the Chief Justice is, when it comes to listing of cases, he said.
Talking about lawyers, the Chief Justice said he admired how almost every demand he has heard from the lawyers sounded reasonable to him. The only question is how to accommodate them, he said.
While praising the lawyers, he shared with them a lesson he learnt while working as one. He was working with the legendary Fali S. Nariman in a case that was being argued before a Constitution bench.
“When the judges were exchanging a conversation between themselves, I was keen to tell the seniors what is the next line of authority to cite. He (a senior) put his hand up and said ‘quiet’. He told me ‘When the judges speak, when the matter is going on, always be silent, see what they are talking about. That will give you an insight on which way the matter is going and what to expect of it.”
Assuring the lawyers in the gathering that he will always try to solve their issues, he said, “I begin by telling you, I’m not here to do miracles… I’m deeply grateful to you for your sense of faith. My motto always is, if this were to be the last day of my life, have I left it a better place.”