Bhopal: It’s Sunday, but justice Bilal Nazki, a judge of the Bombay high court, isn’t spending it the way he usually spends his weekends—catching up with the family and writing judgements.
Instead, he is 787km away, in the sylvan, 63-acre campus of the National Judicial Academy, or NJA, the only finishing school for judges in the country. In its annual “academic” calendar to June (from last July), are 10 national conferences for high court judges such as Nazki on issues such as cyber law, intellectual property rights, environment, sustainable development, and the impact of international law on Indian courts.
The themes, as evident from their names, are relevant in contemporary India, especially one that sees itself as part of the emerging world order.
There are 20 other judicial academies at the state-level in the country, but opinion on whether judges need to be taught has changed since the 1980s. That was when, Nazki recalls, justice Mohammad Hidayatullah, a former chief justice of the Supreme Court, had, while inaugurating a state judicial academy in Andhra Pradesh, wondered whether it was such a good idea to have schools for judges that could possibly influence their perception, and consequently, their judgements.
Legal view: The National Judicial Academy is slowly repositioning itself as more than a school. It sees itself as a think tank on matters and issues judicial. (Mujeeb Faruqui / Hindustan Times)
“There was a time when people thought judges should not be taught once they become judges,” says Nazki. “Today, judges must get influenced by developments taking place in other fields of human activity. If I have completed my degree in law 35 years ago, the issues that are confronting us now, the laws that are affecting us now were not there at that time. It, therefore, becomes necessary for us to update ourselves,” he adds, referring specifically to cyber law.
Nazki, 61, became a lawyer in 1973. The personal computing revolution happened in the US in the 1980s, and in India in the 1990s. He says India has seen a “technological, scientific, economic and politico-social revolution,” in the past 15 years that has made judicial education relevant. And NJA was born exactly 15 years ago.
Judges and education
NJA was established in 1993 under the Societies Registration Act, 1960, as an independent society funded by the government. It was conceived as a joint venture among the bar, academia and the government to strengthen the administration of justice through judicial education, research and policy development. It took almost as long for the institute to get off the ground as some cases through the Indian judicial system, and the campus was ready only by 2002 (it cost around Rs80 crore).
In September 2006, the national judicial education strategy was developed with the backing of Chief Justice of India K.G. Balakrishnan, who is also the chairman of NJA, and was then a senior judge of the Supreme Court. Apart from creating a system for educating judges, this gave NJA a reason to exist. That was the year the institute scaled up its programmes.
According to Mohan Gopal, director, NJA, in two years and 81 programmes ending this July, the institute would have trained around 25% of the 12,000 judges in the country.
Judges in India need all the help they can get in understanding new businesses. In recent times, judges in various courts have ruled on issues such as genetically modified crops, patents, allocation of radio waves, or spectrum, and cross-border transactions. As a result, like Nazki, other judges are more than willing to participate in NJA’s programmes.
Apart from these, NJA has also organized a retreat for Supreme Court judges with a judge of the US Supreme Court as a special invitee; 100 programmes, over the last two years, for district judges; and orientation programmes for new judges. Gopal says the state judicial academies have now started modelling themselves on NJA and adopting its teaching methods.
NJA, it turns out, doesn’t do any teaching.
Learning without teaching
NJA says it will do no “teaching”, “preaching”, and that it has no “teachers” and “students”. Saikrishna Rajagopal, 39, a specialist in intellectual property law, has talked on the subject at NJA. He sees the institute as a platform for “judicial interaction, not judicial education”. Interestingly, he has encountered situations where he has argued before judges who have been among the audience at NJA. Such discussions and interactions are central to NJA’s programmes.
And every programme ensures that opposing points of view are taken into account. At a recent conference on intellectual property law that Rajagopal attended, speakers included policemen and officials from the customs department as well as the Copy Left, activists who do not believe in intellectual property.
Rajagopal says he has found judges to be receptive to various, sometimes opposing, schools of thought. “There is a need for judges to be receptive to learning,” says justice Sanjib Banerjee of the Calcutta high court, a regular at NJA. “No judge is shy of learning because even while dealing with matters we are constantly learning the complexities of evolving areas in intellectual property rights, contracts, technology, crime and human conduct.”
Banerjee admits that while there may have initially been some apprehensions about how NJA would “teach” judges, the school’s method of instruction has put such fears to rest.
According to Banerjee, NJA also provides an opportunity for judges to network with peers whom they might otherwise not even encounter. “So, a civil judge from Kanyakumari discusses a problem with civil judge from Jorghat and one might offer the other a solution that the other thought was not possible.”
Acquainting judges with contemporary developments in various areas is only one of NJA’s and Gopal’s objectives. A more significant and critical one in a country where, by some estimates, around 25.2 million cases (as on September 2007) are stuck in lower or subordinate courts, is judicial reform. “Our subordinate courts have remained pretty much frozen in time. A major challenge of the judicial system today is to be able to help the evolution of the role of subordinate courts where 90% of litigation is,” explains Gopal.
In its 2007-08 calendar, NJA has organized 10 national workshops and an equal number of regional ones on managing courts and case loads and curbing unnecessary litigation. It has also organized 16 seminars on topics such as challenges in family and personal laws, cyber law, intellectual property rights, environment protection and alternative dispute resolution mechanisms.
This Sunday at NJA, additional district sessions Judge D.K. Tripathi from Bhadrak district in Orissa is chatting with his counterparts from other states over lunch. He is here to attend a three-day workshop on “techniques and tool for enhancing timely justice” that has just ended. The conversation veers to how judges in Gujarat are ruling on cases in special night courts that have been set up to dispose pending cases.
“The resources are less and work is more. But here, we learn how to reconcile the situation,” Tripathi says. Another judge from Orissa, Chintamani Panda, says he finds the teaching techniques at NJA “refreshing” and very different from when he “was completing my LLb (law) course” where “teachers taught as if they were doing a job.”
As the judges disperse, it is clear NJA has done at least part of what it wants to do. “...if people are given timely justice in lower courts, the burden of the higher courts will be less,” says Pramod Kumar, a judge from Madhya Pradesh.
NJA is also slowly repositioning itself as more than a school. It sees itself as a think tank on matters and issues judicial. Data compiled by NJA formed the basis for discussions on speeding up the judicial process at a recent meeting in New Delhi of chief justices from across India.
“Many cases we are fighting are dead causes since they are very old. Judges are not management experts, we need some help with sorting out of our cases and understanding the load before us. This is where NJA can step in,” says Nazki. That is exactly what NJA wants and hopes to do.