For ‘judicial accountability’, Madras HC judge releases self-appraisal card

Justice GR Swaminathan released a self-critical performance card after having completed two years as judge at the Madras High Court.
For ‘judicial accountability’, Madras HC judge releases self-appraisal card
For ‘judicial accountability’, Madras HC judge releases self-appraisal card
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It is uncommon for judges to self-reflect, much less criticise themselves in India. However, in an unexpected move on Friday, Justice GR Swaminathan released a self-critical 'performance card', where he laid down points he wished to improve upon, two years after he became a judge at the Madras High Court.

Addressing members of the Bar, he wrote, "I took oath as a Judge on 28.06.2017 and I complete two years today. I believe in judicial accountability and I therefore present the performance card below. It reflects the final disposal of the main cases alone."

As per the note, the judge, who currently sits at the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court, has disposed of 21,478 cases of which he held a single bench in 18,944 cases and 2,534 cases were dealt with sitting in division bench.

All judgements in open court

Justice GR Swaminathan said that he was releasing almost 75 cases from his board, where he had reserved judgement. "I had reserved a number of matters and I find it difficult to prepare the orders without the benefit of rehearing. But then, I am not supposed to retain the bundles once the cycle is over. Therefore, with heavy heart I am releasing almost 75 cases from my board. I, with folded hands convey my apologies to the counsel and to the concerned litigants for not giving disposal to those cases." (sic)

He vowed to dictate all judgements in open court henceforth to avoid such a situation in the future. 

‘My orders too cryptic’

In a surprisingly candid confession, Justice GR Swaminathan said, “I have introspected and I wonder if things could have been a little different and far better. My conscience says ‘yes’. I have been impatient, sometimes even rude. I hope to put on better behaviour henceforth. Many of my orders have been too cryptic.”

Further, he requested members of the Bar to appreciate that he was 'bent on disposals' since pendency was heavy. He stated that he could not write long orders. "But then, the essential facts ought to have been stated. There is no excuse for skipping them over," he pointed out. He also cited his difficulty in correcting draft orders as the reason for the undue delay in dispatching order copies. He wrote, “I hope to evolve a mechanism to overcome the shortcomings. When I enter the third year from tomorrow, I do hope to turn a new leaf.” 

Landmark cases 

Justice GR Swaminathan drew attention to a few cases, stating, “You may be aware that atleast 4 of my decisions rendered during these two years (Cartoon case, Transgender Judgment, decision on the privacy rights of prisoners and the Sri Lankan Refugees' case) have attracted wide spread attention and notice.” 

The landmark cases included rulings where the court upheld the right of a cartoonist to be able to work without any inhibition, the right of transgender persons to marry, the right of prisoners and their spouses to have unmonitored conversations. In June this year, Justice GR Swaminathan issued directives to the Centre on granting citizenship to 65 Sri Lankan Tamils who had fled to India after the Black July riots of 1983. “The camp conditions are hellish. One must read Pathinathan who is associated with the literary magazine 'Kalachuvadu' in this regard. Even if one's heart is made of stone, it would still melt under the searing heat of reality.” the court had observed.

‘Bad advocacy breeds bad judgements’

Seeking the cooperation of members of the Bar, the judge asked advocates to reflect on how best they could assist him. Offering up some practical tips, he wrote, “Once my roster is announced, you can immediately be ready by contacting your clients. You need not wait for the case to be listed and then tell me in the court that you want adjournment. You have to get ready with instructions from your clients. You can prepare proper synopsis with dates and events and relevant citations and pass on to the court officer a day in advance. You should not take more than one adjournment. I believe I can write a good judgment only if your advocacy is good. Bad advocacy will breed only bad judgment.”

Seeking suggestions on how he could serve the institution and the cause of justice better, Justice GR Swaminathan asked members of the Bar to make written submissions to the court officer. “I am critically dependent on you. I can touch my conscience and tell you that I have been very happy with the way each and every one of you have conducted yourselves before me. My Pranams to one and all.” he added.

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