From display monitors attached to computers to live streams from CCTV cameras in lower courts and from an LED projector to video-conferencing, the Gujarat High Court Thursday inaugurated a “war room” to improve administration across the judiciary in the state.
With this project, the HC also plans to rank courts on a monthly basis based on the disposal rate of pending cases.
Of the six screens housed within the war room located on the HC premises, one is solely dedicated to access CCTV footage from any and all courtrooms across the state along with video conferencing facilities.
H D Suthar, Registrar General of the Gujarat HC told The Indian Express, “The CCTV footage for any court room within the state can be accessed immediately which will allow us to keep an eye on our judicial officers across courtrooms. It will also help us monitor the presence of advocates during gearings and police officers who may be required to be present for a case — whether they are present or not and so on.”
“We will monitor and observe what areas particular courts may be lagging in, what difficulties they may be facing. For example, in tribal areas, transportation is an issue. Or say the absence of a stenographer may make it difficult for dictation of judgments. Service of summons may be another issue. We will look carefully at rectifying any such problem areas and will give the courts full opportunity to remedy it.”
The six screens will be monitored by three persons in the war-room, who will also make a daily status report for the administrative wing of the judicial system. Three screens will include monitoring of statistics with respect to subordinate courts’ judicial pendency. One screen will also look at the HC’s pendency and disposal status, case-type-wise and bench-wise.
Another screen is devoted to monitor infrastructure and human resources. Pointing at black, orange and green coloured courts dotting the map of Gujarat on the screen, Suthar said, “For example, there are some court complexes owned by us (black) while some others are rented (green) and some others government-owned (orange). Now say, for courts working within rented premises, it would allow us to effectively keep and track and allocate accordingly our budget for having those complexes operate out of completely owned buildings… We will be monitoring construction work as well by geo-tagging such sites and with support from the public works department.”
According to Suthar, only after sufficient opportunities have been given will the HC recommend what is required. “Periodical review will be placed before the administrative lordship along with the Acting Chief Justice/Chief Justice,” Suthar said when asked if any action will be taken against judicial officers or courts found to be lacking in the parameters that the “war room” under the aegis of the State Court Monitoring System (SCMS) will monitor.
Senior advocate Tushar Hemani believes monitoring the CCTV footage from the lower courts is certainly desirable. “The moment a lower court judge is aware that he/she is being watched, I believe that will make them more vigilant,” he said.
Suthar also explained that monitoring statistics will be translated to rankings. “Court rankings will be revised monthly based on the number of cases disposed. There’s no differentiation with respect to quality of judgment. How do you assess quality of judgments? For every case, there will always be an aggrieved party and one satisfied party and an aggrieved party in all probability will approach a higher forum to address his/her grievances,” he said.
Hemani, however, said that an ideal system of ranking should be an amalgamation of quality of judgments as well as quantity. “Say for 100 cases disposed, 95 can be adjudged as part of the quantity aspect and five can be reviewed on the basis of the quality of judgment. Most cases are routine cases and there isn’t any rocket science involved. In such a case, the number of cases disposed is relevant. But once a month, you have a politically sensitive case where application of the mind is required and the reasoning behind the judgment is relevant. For such cases, the quality should be reviewed and a combination of a court’s performance in those two factors should drive their ranking,” he said.
Amit Nair, a criminal litigation lawyer who practices at the HC and special courts says, “The trial courts have a herculean task of examining the evidence in connection with several cases. The chargesheet is voluminous in nature, especially in cases investigated by special investigation agencies like CBI, ED, NIA etc. Moreover, the onus is on the trial court judge to sift and weigh the evidences and thereafter form an opinion, to either convict or acquit. The quality of the judgments can be inferred, with the depth in which the trial court has weighed the evidence and inculcated the law laid down in the citations, by the higher courts. All this requires quality time spent, the question is how much time? For someone who is efficiently performing his/her tasks would have no qualms as such towards this model. But there comes a pressure on the Judge to deliver as many judgments as he/she could, which poses a threat to the quality of outcome (i.e. judgment). For “a corporate entity” it is all about the bottom line, the profits; but here for a common man, the court becomes the last resort for justice, hence the parameter is that of “justice to be done”.”
Built and developed in-house, six to seven people worked round-the-clock for fifteen days to create the war-room. Suthar said no additional expense was incurred as LCD monitors used in the set-up were already part of the existing inventory and CCTV cameras had already been installed in all 355 court complexes with 1,586 courtrooms and 1,078 working judicial officers across the state, from the state government’s budget.