Comparing Courts—India and America

Comparing Courts—India and America
Yoshita Kote

It is vital that the judiciary of every nation play an intrinsic role in society. In recent years, I have seen pressure put on the legislature to reform the Indian judiciary. The Indian people want to be more informed, like American courts. The American courts I have seen are more interactive with citizens than Indian Courts. Consider the following comparisons:

1. Judicial transparency:
In the United States, Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) has made federal-court case files and dockets, publicly available over the Internet since 1997. Accessible case files encourage judicial officers to act lawfully and fairly when deliberating cases. Furthermore, it discourages lawyers from malpractice and misconduct. It popularizes the law by making it accessible to the public. This provides a platform for academics and the media to analyze the law and give an overview to the general public. This is an essential weapon against corruption in the judiciary system.

In India, the best available tool for demanding accountability and transparency from the government is the Right to Information Act; a statutory code for citizens to exercise their right to acquire any information from the government. The judiciary praises this act and expects other bodies of the government to follow it. However, when it comes to the application of the act on the judiciary body, it argues and recommends the judiciary be left out of the act’s reach. This creates the appearance the judiciary is acting above the law at its discretion.

2. Jury:
In the United States, like many countries, common citizens take part in judicial decision-making. In the United States, the jury system has created a sense of judicial responsibility amongst citizens. The Judiciary works alongside the jury while they are both presented evidence in a court of law.

Execution of the jury system in many countries (primarily India) has failed due to problems like corrupt and biased jurors. The Government of India made the decision to abolish the jury system after the K. M. Nanavati v. State of Maharashtra, 1962 AIR 605 1962 SCR Supl. (1) 567.The case was dismissed and retried because of the jury's biased verdict. As a result, the jury system was quickly abandoned. In my experience, the Courtroom resembles a one-man show where citizens barely interact with the judicial system.

3. In court recording system:
In Chandler v. Florida, 449 U.S. 560 (1981), the U.S. Supreme Court held that states may adopt rules permitting cameras and recording equipment in their courts. Since then, all 50 states have adopted the general practice of in-court recordings. This makes judicial proceedings more accessible to the public and media, which results in significant awareness of court proceedings and etiquette. Furthermore, it provides a sense of accountability and transparency of the Courts to the citizens.

In India, despite filing numerous public interest litigation cases to the Supreme Court, the system fails to address the essential need for in-court recordings. This leaves most people unaware of judicial proceedings, court etiquette and functions of the Court. LocalCircles, a citizen engagement platform, conducted a survey that showed: "[o]ver 80 percent of participants said they were willing to pay a retrieval fee for video recordings even if it was a paid service.” It goes on to show, the lack of confidence the citizens have in judiciary system. Because of high public demand, the Supreme Court of India allowed in-court recordings for specific cases in the lower courts, as recent as 2017.

4. Freedom of Press:
The United States gives significant importance to right to Freedom of Speech and Press. This fundamental right has significantly transformed the press and media into huge platforms creating legal awareness in society. Additionally, an open platform like mass media has made the judiciary more accountable to the public. The media even airs programs based on legal court-proceedings such as the People's Court and Judge Judy. Once again, creating an awareness of the laws and judicial proceedings in the homes of the people.

In India, we are taught that while drafting the Indian constitution, India borrowed the famous legal concept of “Fundamental Rights” from the United States’ Bill of Rights. However, they fail to provide many of these rights. Especially the right of freedom of speech & press, which is highly restricted in India. This is one of the main barriers to interaction between citizens and the judiciary. This restriction not only acts as a shield for possible corruption, but also prevents legal awareness among the citizens.

5. Court Clerks and Staff:
The legal and court staff play an important role in the administration of justice in the United States. They are generally friendly, cooperative, and available to the public on so many forums. They oversee pretrial matters, assisting with legal research and drafting, or assuming responsibility for court operations, law clerks, and court managers. This allows judges to focus on the demands of adjudication and thereby facilitates the efficient operation of the judicial system.

The need of judicial officers and staff is felt by the Indian society because of an over-burdensome number of cases. In 2012, The Indian Law Commission Report on Expeditious Investigation and Trial of Criminal Cases Against Influential Public Personalities, acknowledged the inadequate strength in the Courts, inefficient staff, and large number of vacancies in essential posts such as stenographers. It explains how the Court staff’s lack of training acts as a barrier to their efficiently assisting Judges.

In my opinion there is an urgent need to reform the judiciary in India because it is an outdated system, dealing with a modern society. With the above comparisons in mind, the Indian judiciary should open its doors and embrace new successful legal approaches that have worked in the United States—the most powerful nation.

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