Speaking at the inauguration of Delhi High Court’s S Block building, Chief Justice Of India D.Y. Chandrachud on Tuesday said India also survives much beyond the capital and the country needs to focus its attention on the district judiciary as it moves forward.
CJI Chandrachud said that an important component of actualising the right to justice is ensuring that the country has adequate judicial infrastructure, including physical and digital infrastructure and personnel strength.
“And where best to begin. I think we have to begin at the grassroots where our district judiciary is situated, because it is really our district judiciary, which has the immediate impact on the lives of common citizens, where people in distress come as a point of first contact, seeking solutions to the problems of their daily life. And I think that is where we are really 70 years down the line deeply and deeply in want. Because if we contemplate of buildings where an accused is led into a dungeon to be waiting for the whole day, with no toilet facilities. I think that really is the true face of the district judiciary, which we need to resolve. Because I always do believe that much as we would like to have the best infrastructure in the capital city. I think India also survives much beyond the capital. I think it is there that we need to focus our attention as we go forward,” said the CJI.
Recalling his childhood, CJI Chandrachud said when the Delhi High Court building was inaugurated and when the transition happened from the small circuit court to the established building for the Delhi High Court, his mother said “what we saw today is not a High Court building as we are used to seeing across the country”. She said “it’s a five star hotel.”
“And I was wondering how we could term this building today. Should we go to a seven star hotel or perhaps something even more significant. But then we have to place all this in the perspective,” he added.
CJI Chandrachud said since 1966, the Delhi High Court has been a witness to some of the most legally challenging and landmark cases in Indian legal history.
“The intellectual rigor of all the brilliant minds at the bar and the bench who have dedicated their lives to the Delhi High Court has helped it truly to become an institution of preeminence, which continues to contribute to India’s legal jurisprudence. The belief held by common citizens that if they approach the Delhi High Court they will secure justice is a testament to this institution’s commitment to the constitutional goals of justice, ensuring that it remains fair, accessible, affordable and quick,” he said.
Speaking regarding the S Block, CJI Chandrachud said the building combines the modern with the democratic.
“The Delhi High Court itself is a whiff of fresh air in the corridors of jurisprudence. It’s a court of equity, and it’s a court of relief for citizens, even in the most difficult of the times. It is in that context, I viewed what the architect said of the three basic parameters which guided this building, in his design – contextual architecture, climate change, resilience, and demographic architecture.”
Justice Chandrachud said the jurisprudence has to be contextual to meet the challenges of the time – climate change and the demographic changes “which are overtaking our times as we increasingly become a young society.”
“The Constitution recognizes right to access to justice, which is embodied in Article 14, Article 21 and Article 39A breathes life into the principle of the rule of law, fairness, equality, efficiency, and impartiality are inherent in our understanding of access to justice. In order to make sure that we are providing equal access to justice, attention must be paid to the design and administration of the judicial setup,” he said.
CJI further said that one of the goals of the e-courts project is to provide qualitative and speedy justice through efficient court management.
“A positive correlation between judicial infrastructure and the quality and speed dispensation of justice, has long been established. The National Mission for Justice Delivery and legal reform states that adequate judicial infrastructure is a precondition for reducing delays. Traditionally, judicial spaces have been used to contribute to the idea of the majesty of the law,” he said.
Justice Chandrachud said that the court complexes built during the colonial times were used to create an imposing effect over the public, restricting the access to an exclusive few.
“The architecture of our buildings was intended to produce a sense of fear and awe and the divide between those who dispense justice and those to whom justice was delivered, was intended to create the sense of fear and awe in the consumers of justice.”
Stating that the understanding of justice system has now drastically changed, Justice Chandrachud said efforts are now concentrated on reaching out to people as opposed to people reaching out to court “in all the work that we do as judges and lawyers.”
“Judicial spaces are considered to be public or civic spaces, and thus, spaces which should be universally accessible. The symbolism of court complexes helps in materializing justice, making it tangible and corporeal for citizens who come from far and wide. The courtroom whether physical or virtual, provides a setting where the search for justice takes place for the citizen,” he said.
Speaking about the S Block, Justice Chandrachud said the magnificent building boasts of over 200 law chambers, a judicial convention center and an auditorium, a place for the Delhi International Arbitration Center, space for administrative offices, parking facilities, common meeting rooms, a cafeteria and open green spaces
“All these will definitely provide an enabling and stress free environment for litigants and lawyers to discuss and collaborate,” he added.
CJI Chandrachud said we must face the fact in reality that court spaces are spaces of stress for common citizens
“They come to places which they would rather not come to because they come to places because they are face to face with dispute. Therefore, these spaces and a dedicated space for the Delhi International Arbitration Center and the S block constitute a step in the right direction for strengthening the practice of ADR in the country. It sends a positive signal to the domestic and international commercial world. A term which has been repeatedly used to describe the newly constructed S Block of the High Court of Delhi is that it personifies democratic architecture with open offices, pedestrian paths, seating space, equity and universal accessibility,” he added.
Justice Chandrachud also said that Louis Sullivan, a prominent American architect, has said that “the spirit of democracy is a function seeking expression in organized social form. Therefore arrange your architecture for democracy, not feudalism”.
“And what better example can you have them this building today of the Delhi High Court, which has replaced the traditional domes with rectangular spaces, so typical of modern functionalism as we see it today. While I’m no expert in the science of architecture, and cannot claim to understand what this phrase means for the architects, I do want to emphasize that our judicial system and courtrooms must be democratic, inclusive, and equally accessible. That design must accommodate people from diverse backgrounds, ensuring meaningful participation,” he added.
Justice Chandrachud further said inaugurating the modern and state-of-the art building of S Block fills him “as a judge and the person who has got very little in life except the commitment to the cause of justice” with immense pride, since it truly symbolizes that the justice delivery system is ready for the future.
“Today truly is a proud moment for all the stakeholders of the High Court. The Delhi High Court’s commitment to justice is exemplified by the newly inaugurated S Block. I do believe it really signifies in a very symbolic way the ability of this court to breed truly as a front runner in dispensing speedy, equitable and fearless justice to our citizens. It’s a high court to which I looked up to when I was a young lawyer. It’s a high court to which I looked up to as a judge of the Delhi High Court, as a judge of the Bombay High Court and then as the Chief Justice of the Allahabad High Court and we look up to the Delhi High Court for its new jurisprudence, which is emerging every now and then,” he said.
At the end of his speech, he said, “Once again, I extend my wholehearted congratulations to the Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court Justice Satish Chandra Sharma, to everyone in the Buildings Committee, and all of you who have collaborated together to produce this architectural marvel. This couldn’t have been possible, except for the dedicated effort of all the labourers who strove to achieve what they have achieved in terms of a modern building for the future.”