Chief Justice of India Rajendra Mal Lodha

New Delhi, Aug 15: Chief Justice of India R.M. Lodha Friday said the people in the executive, the legislature and the judiciary need to function within their own assigned spheres without encroaching upon the domain of others.

“I am sure that the people in judiciary, executive and parliament shall have mutual respect for each other and allow them to work unhindered within their own sphere without being influenced by external forces,” Chief Justice Lodha said. He was speaking at a function organised by the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) to celebrate the 68th Independence Day.

Responding to criticism that the legal fraternity was not consulted before the central government rushed with the National Judicial Appointments Commission Bill, Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said: “For me individually, and for the government the sanctity and independence of judiciary is complete and total.”

He said that for him and for the prime minister and Union Ministers Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj, who fought for the restoration of democracy during the dark days of Emergency in mid-1970s, “the sanctity and independence of judiciary is a matter of faith for which we fought”.

Wondering what was the hurry in rushing with the bill, SCBA vice-president V. Shekhar frowned upon the fact that the central government chose not to consult the legal fraternity and lawyers before pushing the judicial appointment bill in parliament. Saying that the bill will have to meet challenge in the court, Shekhar added: “We the stakeholders were never called upon in the framing of the new law on judicial appointment…there is a hue and cry.”

“It is matter of concern the way bill was rushed through. Heavens would not have fallen. Even now it is not late,” he added. Attorney General Mukul Rohtagi sought to play down the issue, saying that we should not “squabble over some legislation being passed or not passed”.

Rohatgi said legal profession was caught up in materialism and he was no exception to it. He said all efforts needed to be made to break free of these shackles of materialism. In his address, the Chief Justice sought to show the mirror to the government on judicial appointments in subordinate judiciary, large number of cases ending in acquittal due to poor investigation, weak evidence and improper prosecution.

He said from the Chief Justice of India to the last muffasil court in the country, there are 20,000 judicial positions, of which the Supreme Court collegium is mandated to pick judges for 960 positions in high courts and 31 in the apex court. Chief Justice Lodha said filling up vacancies in 19,000 positions in subordinate judiciary is the responsibility of the state governments.

He said 266 vacancies exist as of now in the high courts. Chief Justice Lodha said some of the recommendations were pending with the chief ministers, governors and the union law ministry. Expressing concern over dismal rate of conviction which has come down to 32 percent at present from 62 percent in 1972, he said cases of robbery were shown as theft, eloping as kidnapping and rape as molestation or vice versa. As a consequence, evidence from investigation is unable to sustain the case, resulting in acquittal.

This results in a situation where there is no legal evidence to sustain the charge, Justice Lodha said. Investigation, collecting evidence and prosecution is not the job of judiciary, he pointed out. As the head of judiciary, Chief Justice Lodha said he is “pained” at the way criminal justice system has given “suffering, pain, exploitation of human rights, and deprivation of justice to the vulnerable section of the society”.

Chief Justice Lodha said that the trials in two lakh cases are pending for five years and over 40,000 cases are lingering for ten years. He said that as a consequence, in central prisons 50 percent of the inmates are undertrial prisoners and in district jails the figure is 72 percent.

Chief Justice Lodha said that he would not be the head of the judicial family for long but would be happy to see the day when trial in criminal cases is completed within three years. Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has directed him to ensure that if new laws are enacted, obsolete laws must go. He said that already a bill is ready to repeal 38 laws and in a year’s time 200 to 300 archaic laws would exit from the statute book.