The Supreme Court has set aside an “incomprehensible” judgment of the Himachal Pradesh High Court and advised judges to maintain lucidity and brevity in their writing.
The bench of Justices D Y Chandrachud and A S Bopanna also touched on aspects of judgment writing, reminding judges that their verdicts “must make sense to those whose lives and affairs are affected by the outcome of the case”.
The bench said it “found it difficult to navigate through the maze of incomprehensible language” in the high court decision. “Incoherent judgments have a serious impact upon the dignity of judicial institutions.”
It added: “A litigant for whom the judgment is primarily meant would be placed in an even more difficult position. Untrained in the law, the litigant is confronted with language which is not heard, written or spoken in contemporary expression”.
Writing for the bench, Justice Chandrachud said: “Language of the kind in a judgment defeats the purpose of judicial writing. Judgment writing of the genre before us in appeal detracts from the efficacy of the judicial process”.
The bench noted that it had to return two other judgments to the Himachal Pradesh High Court earlier and had also faced difficulties with an order of the Allahabad High Court.
“The purpose of judicial writing”, Justice Chandrachud wrote, “is not to confuse or confound the reader behind the veneer of complex language. The judge must write to provide an easy-to-understand analysis of the issues of law and fact which arise for decision. Judgments are primarily meant for those whose cases are decided by judges. Judgments of the High Courts and the Supreme Court also serve as precedents to guide future benches. A judgment must make sense to those whose lives and affairs are affected by the outcome of the case. While a judgment is read by those as well who have training in the law, they do not represent the entire universe of discourse.”
Underlining the importance of the written word, the SC in its August 16 order, said: “Confidence in the judicial process is predicated on the trust which its written word generates. If the meaning of the written word is lost in language, the ability of the adjudicator to retain the trust of the reader is severely eroded”
“Judgment writing”, said Justice Chandrachud ‘is” also “a critical instrument in fostering the rule of law and in curbing rule by the law’.
Pointing to some of the modern problems with writing judgments, the SC said “brevity” had become “an unwitting victim of an overburdened judiciary” and “of the cut-copy-paste convenience afforded by software developers”.
Justice Chandrachud said he himself has been providing headings and sub-headings in his judgments to assist the reader in providing a structured sequence and said it will be useful for judgments to carry paragraph numbers and a Table of Contents.
The verdict also emphasised the need to make rulings accessible to all including people with disability and advised to ensure that watermarks are not improperly placed in uploaded orders as that will make the documents inaccessible for visually disabled who use screen readers.