Formation of new association to signal beginning of mass campaign for far-reaching judicial reforms in India

prashantFifteen people’s organizations have come together and formed a campaign committee to launch a nationwide movement, Campaign for Judicial Accountability and Reform. Text of the statement issued by them following a meeting on November 22-23 in Delhi:  

The two-day convention on judicial accountability and reforms, organised by the Campaign for Judicial Accountability and Reforms (CJAR) concluded with the formation of a campaign committee and the adoption of an agenda for the campaign for coming year. The campaign committee consisted of more than 15 peoples’ campaigns that came together with a strong assertion that justice concerns everyone and ensuring the accountability of the judicial system would be the shared responsibility of a range of peoples’ movements and campaigns.

Prashant Bhushan, Convenor of the Campaign, said that he envisages a simple, transparent, honest and efficient legal system where people can negotiate their own cases without the need of lawyers. The broad areas that need reform are access to justice, delays and competence and integrity of judges and sensitivity of judge to the concerns of common people and to the directive principles in the Constitution. Speaking about the Judiciary’s uneven and inconsistent track record in addressing social equity, safeguarding the constitutional guarantees given to common people in accessing social justice as embodied in the right to liberty, equality and fraternity and in directive principles. We need very strong judicial reforms.

“Although the Judiciary needs to ensure that every common person must be able the approach the citadels of justice without any fear, we are losing confidence in their commitment to these principles and we are going to launch a nation-wide movement similar to the anti-corruption movement”, he said.

He emphasized that diverse people’s organizations and networks have expressed interest and some have extended support to the Campaign for Judicial Accountability and Reforms. This includes: National Election Watch, Right to Information Campaign, Campaigns for Right to Food and Right to Housing, NCDHR, Safai Karmchari Aaandolan, NAPM, ADR, Pension Parishad, Peoples’ Action for Employment Guarantee, NTUI, NFIW, NASVI, Common Cause, Fight for Judicial Reforms, Forum for Fast Justice, National Litigants Bench, Swaraj Abhiyaan, along with others. It is time that an independent body to ensure judicial accountability on the lines of the Election Commission and CAG be set up, he added.

Jagdish Chokker, representing National Election Watch, said that given the complete lack of commitment of the political party to electoral and political reforms, it is clear that unless concerted public pressure is mounted nothing is going to change. Although the higher Judiciary has expressed interest in these reforms and urged the political parties to do so, they cannot exert their authority in the manner they need to without reforming themselves and setting their own house in order which includes cleaning up the functioning of the bar and the lawyers under their jurisdiction. He stressed that that reform in the legal system did not just include “reformation of the judiciary but also of the exploitative practices of lawyers and we must work towards making lawyers more accountable and transparent as well.”

The Convention had hosted the First Justice Krishna Iyer Memorial Lecture, delivered by Justice GS Singhvi. The lecture was presided over by senior advocate Shanti Bhushan. Justice Singhvi discussed Justice Krishna Iyer’s life and paid tribute to his career as a great jurist and thinker. The lecture was attended by representatives of people’s movements, lawyers, academics and students. In paying tribute to Justice Krishna Iyer, the campaign reaffirmed the importance of judicial accountability and transparency particularly towards the poor and the marginalised.

Nikhil Dey of the NCPRI added that transparency and accountability in the judiciary was the right of all people particularly of the poor and marginalised who often approach the judicial machinery as the very last recourse. “For RTI activists and for all people’s campaign their expectation that judiciary protects their fundamental rights, necessitates that the Judiciary functions in the interests of people and their rights.”

Madhuresh from NAPM said that in the current context where the government has subscribed to a pro-corporate reforms agenda and any opposition to that paradigm is seen as anti-development, the judiciary has become an important refuge and people look to it to uphold the constitutionally guaranteed right to dignified life and livelihood. It has become increasingly important to reform the judiciary. He stated that one major concern that activists have is the way higher judiciary is now functioning. He went on to add that the “Judiciary are being less and less governed by rule of law and the constitutional principles and more and more are being influenced by the ‘pragmatism’ and partisanship that often informs decision of the executive” he stated. “This is very evident in the manner in which environmental clearances are being given without hearing the pleas of marginal communities such as dalits and adivasis.

These campaigns and groups will go back and ratify their decision and make a commitment to spread the campaign in their respective regions and areas. Vipul Mudgal of Common Cause said that the issue of judicial reform cannot be left to the legal brotherhood and civil society and citizens must work relentlessly to make the justice system accessible to the poor.

On the Constitution Day on November 26, 2015, representatives of People’s Organizations and Network will come together to affirm their faith in the Constitution in the light of the attack on plurality, freedom of expression and right to dissent.

CJAR hopes and expects this convention and the involvement of various people’s movements and campaigns in this campaign, will signal the beginning of a mass campaign for far ranging Judicial Reforms in the country.

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