The Delhi High Court is touted as one of the most effective high courts and has produced some of the best judges in the country. However, one major grunt at the Bar, especially in recent times, has been that the Chief Justices who have come from other High Courts have many a time failed to live up to expectations.
Interestingly, in the recent past, the Acting Chief Justices who have donned the task for brief periods during the absence of Chief Justices, have had a positive bearing on the court. Be it the current Acting Chief Justice, Gita Mittal or Justice Badar Durrez Ahmed who had acted as Chief Justice, they had fared considerably better than their permanent counterparts.
Justice Mittal, who is known for her judgments in criminal matters, has also spearheaded the “Vulnerable Witness Deposition Project” in Delhi. Now as the Acting Chief Justice, she has already made an impact within a very short span of time at the helm.
She took over as acting CJ on April 14, 2017, after the retirement of former Chief Justice G Rohini. Justice Mittal’s performance over the one-month period has evoked a very positive response from the Bar.
One important change brought about by Justice Mittal was to change the roster and mark cases according to the expertise of the judges. Apparently, she had even sent a letter to all her brother and sister judges indicating the pendency of different categories of cases.
Above all this, there has been a noticeable change in functioning of the Court of the Chief Justice. There is a proper hearing in all matters and unnecessary adjournments have become a thing of the past. She has issued directions in a wide gamut of cases of public importance. Importantly, Justice Mittal also sits beyond the scheduled work hours many times to dispose of cases.
Speaking on Justice Mittal’s tenure as Acting Chief Justice, Additional Solicitor General Sanjay Jain says,
“Ever since she has taken over, Justice Mittal has infused a fresh breath of air. She has the advantage of knowing other judges and staff. So, she is taking hard decisions on merits and not going by populist sentiments. She knows this court well and this is reflecting in the functioning of the court as well.”
Besides Justice Mittal, another Acting Chief Justice who was widely popular with the members of the Bar was Justice BD Ahmed, which was very evident at the farewell organised for him.
Besides their individual acumen, what seems to work in favour of these Acting Chief Justices is that they seem to understand the pulse of the Bar and the culture of the Court better. They have also been better performers on the judicial side, a fact that could perhaps be attributed to the generally higher quality of the Bench in Delhi.
ASG Jain is also quite vocal about the advantages of having a Chief Justice from the same high court.
“They understand the court better and are able to take quick, effective decisions. Whenever the Delhi High Court has had a Chief Justice from here, decisions have been quick, erring people have been brought to the book and things in general have gained momentum.
But when a Chief Justice is appointed from another High Court, he or she does not have the advantage of knowing the Court well. Thus, he might become prisoner of certain vested interests and this might reflect in their functioning. This has been the case over the past 5 to 6 years.”
As mentioned earlier, there has been general discontent at the Bar that the Delhi High Court has received a raw deal when it comes to Chief Justices. The larger question of having a Chief Justice from outside the state is a subject that has not seen much debate in recent times. However, the performance of judges like Justices Gita Mittal and BD Ahmed would perhaps re-ignite that debate.
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