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Time to introspect on 60 years of Gujarat High Court

Recently on 1st May 2020, the High Court of Gujarat has celebrated 60 years of its existence by way of Diamond Jubilee with full court reference through video conferencing only. This High Court is having only an Appellate jurisdiction, except in certain matters, where original jurisdiction can be exercised. I would like to examine today the remarkable change in litigation pattern in the entire State of Gujarat, which has seen a sea change in last 60 years. The shape of whole litigation is changed with the passage of time, like in other parts of the country. Before 60 years, there was hardly any rise of core constitutional matters, but now, from Public Interest Litigation to all kinds of writs and plethora of petitions under article-227 has been significantly filed/instituted and all kind of jurisdictions under the High Court have been invoked, used and some times misused too.

Lawyers and advocates of the old generation (of originally Bombay State) now have hardly been seen in the courts. There is amazing growth of new generation lawyers, especially first generation advocates. The noble legal profession, now, slightly turn into glamours profession, as everyday well known and famous advocates is on News Channels (now on webinars). The weightage of advocates increased in the society to certain extent. Heard and perceived stories about charging hefty fees per appearance/hearing attract many ambitious law aspirants.

Once, there was a time, more particularly at the District Court level, where the litigants from rural areas used to come in the morning with fresh vegetables and milk at the doorstep of the advocates and mostly in those days, the office of the lawyers were at home only – with separate space. Some of the advocates used to facilitate the litigants with lunch from their own home. At that time, hardly few vehicles were there and roads were also very dusty and rough. That situation and scenario has completely changed today. Those were the days in which much of the time was consumed in finding authorities/judgements, which were relevant to contesting cases. In those days, many District Court Lawyers did not have sufficient books. There were limited law journals, but time flies and now, we are living in the era of e-library and lots of online webinars. Research is now on fingertips. Too much case laws – too many software and legal market is growing by leaps and bounds. Today judgements of the Supreme Court and High Courts are immediately available within minutes. The Court buildings are now, attractive, modern and infrastructure facilities have been improved a lot.

However, litigant people who are coming to the courts for justice and for their protection of rights – whether in their situation or condition, there is any change or it has improved for better that is the moot point. Undoubtedly, ‘delay’ in the legal system is still eroding the well-founded institution of justice – the courts. Legal expenses and professional fees of the advocates are mounting.

Litigant people harassed like anything when they enter into the world of litigation in our Indian Courts. Sometimes the property is mortgaged for the purpose of paying fees of the advocate/s. This is very painful. No doubt, the free legal aid and with the help of Legal Services Authorities across the State, the competent advocates are available now and situation on the ground is improving that is the biggest solace. However, in comparison to advancement of technology, we are far behind. Recent obvious acknowledgement of Bar Council of India while addressing a letter to CJI urging him not to continue the system of e-filings and virtual hearings, post lockdown, as ‘90% advocates and lawyers unaware of technology is really an eye-opener scenario.

Originally, in the beginning the High Court of Gujarat might had thousands of civil and criminal appeals and writ petitions might be lesser in count at the time of its establishment. All the same, within few years of its inception, writ jurisdiction under article-226 of the Constitution of India has been invoked for thousands of matters and then, it started growing with nonstop speed. The question here is: what we have achieved or solved till today in terms of pain, sufferings and agony of the litigants. Whether our trajectory is upward or downward in these sixty years or just flat? Can we say that litigant of 2020 is more happy than litigant of 1961, because now in 2020 s/he gets justice immediately or speedily and effectively and also by more efficient hands? The answer in today’s time or even if this question asked before two months, it was hardly in affirmative.

In Sixty years of journey, the High Court of Gujarat as well as lower courts in the State got good infrastructure with many facilities. The comforts of the Judges and Lawyers have been escalated. Standard of filing – by computerizing is improved. Case data is now available freely on web site. But the speed in loving the case ahead for effective hearing is not peaked up compare to all other maximized facilities. At the same time, High Court has witnessed the deteriorating standard of legal process, which is in the hands of investigation agencies in the criminal matters and other approaches of the quasi-judicial authorities. Despite latest scientific methods available to the investigation officer in almost all police cases; the expected investigation has not become better than earlier. In the same manner, other adjudicative processes in Tribunals, which are subordinate to the High Court, have not much improved in terms of merit. No doubt, like courts, the investigating agencies are also suffering from backlog of too many cases and also investigations to be conducted with mounting pressure, some times political. Moreover, maintenance of law and order consumes much time of police, but this excuse does not believe by most of the people. At the same time, litigant people and they are many, still unable to swallow a fact that in the High Court, if case once admitted, takes years or a decade for a listing of final hearing.

Due to constant shortage of judges since more than ten years (and perhaps earlier too), the final hearing matters move at a snail’s pace. The present covid-19 situation again stalled the entire adjudicatory process since one and half months. The daily board of the judges and advocates has been disrupted badly. For litigants and advocates – this is very much disturbing fact. Most of the advocates are not user friendly with this advance video conferencing-virtual hearing. Besides, at the lowers courts, situation is almost standstill.

Hence, the entire litigation work is hampered. We proudly celebrated Diamond Jubilee of this great institution with social distancing, but actually real litigants are now at much more distance. Their hopes and expectations are distanced from their asserted rights. This is not the haul over the coals, but temporary halt comes in litigation process due to Covid 19 is becoming unbearable. At present, nobody knows that when things would be resumed like earlier. Nevertheless, it is depressing. Even the cancellation of summer vacation would not improve the situation, as during these hot days only virtual hearings would be lasted, which have inherent limitations. It is not accessible to all due to certain type of matters like – bail and urgent petitions for stay and that too mostly the fresh/new matters.

Hence, it is time to rethink the strategy for revival of whole judiciary in its previous mode. Celebration of Diamond Jubilee is a symbol of remembering this great institution with much pride and privilege, which has indeed served the people of the State and came out with its own distinction in the country with all flying colours at it command. However, at the time of completion of sixty years, our responsibility towards the litigants and accountability towards our own system is much more on the increase. Ultimately, this institution – judiciary is for the people, by the people and of the Constitution, whose supreme goal is: Justice – social, economical and political.

Author Mr Kashyap Joshi, Advocate, Gujarat High Court and Visiting Faculty at Institute of Law, Nirma University, Ahmedabad

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