“Government officials should be made accountable if they resort to frivolous litigation”: Senior Advocate C.S. Vaidyanathan
Senior Advocate C.S. Vaidyanthan spoke about access to justice, accountability of government officials, SLPs at the Supreme Court and more.
Hello Mr. Vaidyanathan, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us, with the Supreme Court Observer. I quickly wanted to ask you a few questions about the Court and its functioning and the big goal of it all, which is access to justice. So what do you think some of the biggest issues with access to justice are today? What are our biggest challenges?
We have a huge population who have become acutely aware of their rights and therefore they are seeking recourse to courts for resolution of disputes. The problem is local panchayat kind of system which was existing is no longer there. Families are not able to solve problems. So you have all these coming to courts. But I think the biggest litigant is the government and citizens feel that he’s being forced to knock at the doors of the court. And I think this is the major issue. I think it will be possible for the courts, for the government to cut down litigation if they remedy their businesses at a quicker pace.
I think one of the challenges as part of what you said is that there is a huge docket that the court is working with and significant pendancy issues as well. Some significant measures have been brought in to increase the speed of hearing and clearing cases because you’re directly working with the Supreme Court day in and day out. What do you see are the biggest requirements and changes that can be brought in and can be sustainable institutionally?
I think mediation which is being suggested is a good way. And, I think the government officials should be made accountable if they resort to frivolous litigation or drive citizens to frivolous litigation, I think they should be made fully accountable. That’s one way of cutting down because today almost in 60% of the cases which are pending in the country, government is a party, and therefore amongst the private parties the dispute is not so much. And when we talk of arbitration as an alternate means, it’s only in very few cases because it’s a commercial dispute, therefore the private disputes and I think it’s a thoughtless manner also in which the laws have been made. I think, for example, amendment of Negotiable Instruments Act brought about within a year, 50 lakh cases. So at that time, almost one-sixth of the addition to the backlog was thanks to this single amendment. They never considered the impact that it will have on judiciary. And this is one thing that needs to be attended.
Some recent data also shows that SLPs, Special Leave Petitions, also populate the Court very much.
Yeah, but the problem is, if people’s confidence in the district courts and in the high courts is going down, they find that okay, we have no option but to go to the highest court and see whether this can be done. And that is why people are knocking at the doors of the Supreme Court with SLPs. And look at the way even for bail people have to come all the way up to the Supreme Court. It shouldn’t happen. And it’s something which needs to be set right. I think in spite of some of the judges emphasising very very often, the district courts don’t seem to be changing very much, except a few cases. And even in the high courts there is some kind of either a fear complex or just let the government have its way and keep people in prison, more as a punishment even before conviction.
The Chief recently mentioned that they were considering a permanent Constitution Bench. What are your views on that?
I think it is absolutely essential. The prime function of the Supreme Court should be to settle laws and particularly the constitutional interpretation and setting guidelines for the rest of the courts. And unless the pending matters in regard to various constitutional issues are resolved, the pendency in the high courts, in regard to those very matters arising—or which are dependent on the Supreme Court settling the issue will continue.
Sir, arguably, lawyers have—and people in the legal profession have the most influence on shaping law and shaping society. What would you say are the biggest next steps? The first action item, if I could call it that?
Lawyers have been the leaders in the past, during the freedom struggles.I think lawyers today have become more commercially oriented. I think there has to be greater sensitisation to the fundamental duties, not merely of the lawyers, but of the citizens. I think if it doesn’t start with the lawyers, it won’t percolate down to the citizens. I think this is one of the main things that we have to consider.
And a conference such as this, that is the LAWASIA conference, what are some of the biggest takeaways from this and the values of an engagement like this?
All these conferences, whether it is LAWASIA, IBA or UAEA, this enlarges the vision of participating lawyers, number one. Number two, fraternisation with the other lawyers from various other communities, various other countries, and helps develop some kind of a broader interdisciplinary approach.
Sir, today is Constitution Day. If you could tell or give our viewers a message—
I think as a citizen, I think we all must read the chapter on fundamental duties. There have been a lot of emphasis on fundamental rights. I think the scientific temper that it talks about, the living with nature, environmentally, being aware, I think these are aspects on which all lawyers need to focus.
Thank you so much for your time.
With the Supreme Court Observer, this is Mr. C.S. Vaidyanathan. Thank you.