Role of A Trial Judge Under Constitution
The expression 'Trial Judge' requires a little bit of conceptual analysis where from its practical implication may be derived. The term 'Judge' has been defined under Section 2(8) of Civil Procedure Code. According to this provision Judge means the Presiding Officer of a Civil Court. It is a circular definition and does not express the connotative implications of the term. Further this definition does not cover the Presiding Officers of other judicial forums which may not necessarily be Civil Courts within the meaning of the term. In ordinary language 'Judge' means a public officer with authority to hear and decide cases in a law Court. Similarly the term 'Trial' has not been defined in any way either in the Code of Civil Procedure or Criminal Procedure or any other Statute. The etymological meaning of the word 'trial' is testing or examination before a Court. If this be so, then almost in each court there is examination of the matters in dispute. The nature and scope of examination may differ in terms of hierarchy but the fact remains that each court tests or examines the matters in dispute before it. Should we then say all judges are trial judges? Should the expression 'Trial Judge' be understood in contradistinction to the judges exercising appellate or revisional or writ jurisdiction. The courts exercising appellate or revisional or writ jurisdiction are no doubt placed high in the hierarchy but the truth is that they are also examining or deciding the matters in dispute before them.
We need not delve ourselves in semantic jurisprudence which is more or less an academic pursuit. The word 'trial' has no fixed or universal meaning, but it is a word which is construed with regard to the particular context in which it is used or with regard to the scheme and purpose of the measure concerned. However, for the purpose in hand we may say that trial implies an endeavour to collect facts and other materials, in order to solve the dispute placed before the Court. To put it in other words trial aims at finding out the abode of the rights and the liabilities on the basis of evidence adduced before the Court and the person who presides over that court may be called 'Trial Judge'. Not to do violence to the common understanding that runs through the civilized society the expression 'trial judge' may for the purpose in hand be understood as those officers engaged in sub-ordinate judiciary to discharge the primary function of the judicial system.
The Constitution of India prescribed the structure of the judicial system. In the structural hierarchy first comes the Supreme Court, next the High Courts of different States and at the bottom of the hierarchy subordinate judiciary has been placed. Subordinate judiciary includes the District Judge, other judicial officers working under his administrative control and judicial officers working in other forums such as Labour Courts, Tribunals, etc. When the Constitution of India came into force on January 26, 1950 there was no separation between the Executive and Judiciary at the State level. Article 50 of the Constitution declares that the State shall take all steps to separate the Judiciary from the Executive in public services of the State. In pursuance of such directive each State took steps to separate the Judiciary from the Executive at the state level. Consequently the subordinate courts have been freed from the executive control and brought under control of the concerned High Court. The disciplinary control over the subordinate courts vests in the High Court. The Supreme Court has sought to ensure that the High Court exercises this jurisdiction properly and according to the principles of natural justice. The Supreme Court has emphasized time and again on the maintenance of independence and integrity of the subordinate
Judiciary which comes in close contact with the people who should have the feeling that Judicial system maintains the rule of law.
The Constitution of India has delineated the area of operation of the Supreme Court and that of the High Courts. But it has not laid down in specific terms the area of operation of the subordinate judiciary. The area of operation of the subordinate judiciary is determined in accordance with the provisions of other statutes which in turn derive their validity from the Constitution. On conjoint reading of the Constitution and other statutes we find that the following limitations have been placed on the subordinate judiciary.
(i) The fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution are not to be enforced before the subordinate courts.
(ii) The subordinate court should not decide the validity of any Act, Ordinance, Regulation or any provision contained therein. Rather they shall make a reference of the matter to the High Court if they doubt the validity thereof.
(iii) Article 228 of the Constitution imposes limitation on the power of the subordinate Courts to decide a substantial question of law that requires the interpretation of the Constitution.
May be the limitations so imposed on the subordinate judiciary is for the purpose of maintaining uniformity in respect of matters having wide range impact on the citizens in general and the nation as a whole. Be that as it may the role of a Trial Judge under the Constitution may be studied under the following heads such as
(i) Constitutional obligations
(ii) Functional obligations.
(i) Constitutional obligations
So far as the Constitutional obligations are concerned the role of the Trial Judge may discussed as follows:
(a) It must honour the Constitutional value of right to equality embodied in Article 14 of the Constitution. Article 14 uses two expressions such as equality before law and equal protection of law. Equality before law is a negative concept which means that everyone is equal before law and no one shall have special privilege and that all classes are equally subjected to the ordinary law of the land. Equal protection of law is a positive concept which means that the courts should not make any discrimination between persons placed alike either in terms of privileges conferred or in terms of liabilities imposed. The value of right to equality which has been guaranteed under the Constitution prompts the Trial Judges to conduct themselves in such a manner in courts that the public who are coming to the Court whether as litigants or as members of the public to witness the Court proceedings should have the impression that equality in treatment is being maintained in the Court not only in a statutory sense but also in a practical sense. That in turn inspires confidence in the citizens on the judicial system as well as the State organization.
(b) The trial judge should make every endeavour to speed up the trial and to conclude it without unreasonable delay that may amount to a denial of justice. The right to speedy trial has not been guaranteed as a fundamental right under the Constitution of India. Article 21 has guaranteed the right to life and liberty which cannot be taken away except by the procedure established by law. The ideal embodied therein has been magnified by the Supreme Court so as to include the right of an accused to get speedy trial. Apart from that constitutional provision if we look at the constitutional provisions embodied under Article 19 and under Article 38 we may infer the ideal of speedy trial there from.
Article 19(1) (a) guarantees the freedom of speech and expressions. Such freedom need not be confined to protest or criticism in public gathering or media. Rather it also includes the freedom of thought that is mental creativity. Litigation be it civil or criminal is an accident in human life. The individuals involved in litigations must be mentally occupied with regard to the outcome of the legal battle. Such mental exercise consumes a lot of energy which could have been otherwise utilized for one's own betterment or of the society. In order to make such freedom meaningful social mechanism ought to be so moulded that the people be relieved of such unworthy matters as early as possible so as to enable them to devote their surplus energy for creativity. To achieve this objective social mechanism is to take into consideration the value of time factor in human life. In this backdrop the ideal of speedy trial may be pursued thereby facilitating and widening the scope of freedom of thought. And a trial judge has a greater role to play herein.
Article 36 intends to promote the welfare of the people by setting up a social order in which justice social, economic and political shall infer all the institutions of national life. Here we may put emphasis on social justice. It is one of the components of social justice that the state mechanism regulating the social order must strive to protect the life and liberties of the public as effectively as possible. Effective protection of life and liberties includes effective enforcement thereof within a reasonable time. The essence of a litigation is the assertion of the right or liberty which has been guaranteed under the law but has been infringed. Then one need not wait for a long period to see that he is remedied for the infringement of his right or liberty. The social order includes the judicial system. The trial judges who occupy an important position in the hierarchy of the system are to see that the constitutional ideals of providing social justice to the people of India are not flouted by a protracted litigation. Speedy trial is not an administrative directive but a dictate of social justice. And the role model of a trial judge is to uphold the sanctity of the aforesaid value.
(c) Article 39(A) intends to give equal opportunity to the individuals involved in legal disputes in fighting out their respective cases. Accordingly it envisages provisions for legal aid to such persons who desire to establish their rights before the court of law but are unable to pursue their legal battles on account of their financial constraints. The value embodied therein is that no person should be deprived of the justice owing to his poverty. Meaning thereby if a poor man is not provided with legal aid to vindicate his right before the Court of law then it amounts to denial of equal opportunity to him. Legal Services Authorities have been established to take care of the matter but the trial Judges are not relieved of primary responsibility to see that the litigant before the Court is not in a disadvantageous position to pursue his case because of his poor economic conditions. A trial Judge is under obligation to give effect to this constitutional value as he has the opportunity to interact with the litigants in the Court in connection with the case.
(d) Some of the ideals behind the administration of Justice are to achieve uniformity and certainty in operation of law in the society. In order to achieve these ideals Article 141 declares that the law declared by the Supreme Court shall be binding on all Courts within the territory of India thereby giving effect to the doctrine of precedent. Therefore, the trial judges should scrupulously follow the law so declared by the Supreme Court while appreciating facts in the light of the legal provisions. It is not out of place to mention here that the law declared by the Supreme Court is not the conclusion drawn by it on the factual foundation of the case but the legal principle involved and decided therein.
(ii) Functional Obligations
The functional obligations of a trial judge may be discussed as follows:
(a) In functional side a trial judge of a Civil Court is required to see if the litigation pending before it can be disposed of in a manner as contemplated under Section 89 of Civil Procedure Code. The trial Judge at the time of first hearing of a suit should devote time to understand the case of the respective parties and to find out if there are elements of settlement or compromise between them. If there are positive elements to that effect the trial judge should follow the procedure laid down under Sec. 89 of Civil Procedure Code. The successful disposal of a case by alternative dispute redressal method has some positive impact on the society. The disposal of a case through ordinary procedure of the Court to a great extent helps flaring up the bitterness between the parties. But if a case is disposed of by way of conciliation or mediation or other like methods, bitterness between the parties may be reduced to the minimum level so that even after disposal of the case the inter-personal relationship between them may not all that be bad from social point of view. Therefore the sincere efforts of the trial judge to find out a case for disposal by alternative dispute redressal method furthers the cause of peaceful co-existence in the society which is one of the main objectives of the constitutional law as well as statehood.
(b) Similarly a trial judge of a criminal court should positively respond to a case wherein the accused intends to make use of the legal tool of plea bargain. The trial judge may not insist on the accused to go for a plea bargain. But if the accused on his own accord resorts to plea bargain, the trial judge should not adopt a pedantic or puritan approach. All accused persons are not born criminals. For some reason or other one commits a crime. Thereby he deviates from the social mainstream, but he is not devoid of conscience. When he is willing to go for plea bargain it implies that it is his conscience that prompts him to repent and to confess. Repentance and confession give mental solace to a wrongdoer who may then transform himself and stay away from the skewed path in the society. The vigil of the trial judge in this context not only helps the early disposal of the case but also reduces the number of wrongdoers by one in the society. Ultimately the efforts of the trial judge will add one more member to the desired social order which is an explicit value of constitutional law.
(c) Neither the Constitution nor any other statute has ever declared that a trial judge presides in a court of fact. But some eminent jurists pronounced to that effect. True it is, legal battles are fought on the basis of the facts. Most of the litigations are initiated in the trial courts. It is then quite obvious that the trial judges will collect facts in order to decide disputes. Does it mean that there is no concern of law for a trial judge? A trial judge is required to collect facts in accordance with law of evidence. He then tries to find out if the facts so collected do fit into the legal provision in question. He looks into the interplay between the facts and rules and gives a decision to determine the dispute at his level. A trial judge then draws the first ever conclusion of a legal dispute. Such conclusion if necessary may be re-shaped by the court having superior jurisdiction. But it is to be admitted that a trial judge at the first instance chants the mantra of rule of law rendering justice to the public.
The clamour for Justice is writ large in the society. Justice is the product of the Rule of law. It is the sovereign function of the State to establish the Rule of law. The State does it through its different organs. The judicial system is one of such organs. The Trial judge is the glittering facade of the judicial edifice which symbolizes the temple of justice. Thus a trial judge discharges the sovereign function of the state by giving effect to the Rule of law. The Hon'ble Supreme Court may profitably be quoted herein, “The Judicial service is not the service in the sense of employment. The judges are not the employees. As members of the judiciary they exercise the sovereign power of the state.”
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