The judiciary is comprised of the total judicial system in the country, viz. courts, judges and justices and is vested with the power to ensure justice, fairness and the rule of law by deciding cases filed by the people who have been denied some genuine right or privilege.
All the three parts of democratic system are important in their respective way. But the judiciary is considered to be the most important. In the Indian democratic system, the judiciary consists of lower as well as district level courts-whether civil or criminal, the High Courts of the State and the Supreme Court of India. The lower courts decide the small cases of theft, cheating, etc. while the higher courts decide the cases of fraud, crime, assault and betray and murder, in their jurisdiction.
They also have the power to decide on the appeals filed against the decision of the lower court. The respective High Courts of the State have the power to hear the appeals against the decision of the District or Sessions Courts within the State. The Supreme Court is the apex court of the country. The cases which can be filed in the Supreme Court include: (i) appeals against the decisions of any High Court of any State; (ii) cases where an issue of fundamental rights is involved; (iii) disputes between two or more Indian States; (iv) disputes in which there are Centre and one or more States on one side and one or more States on the other. The decision of the Supreme Court of India is final and binding on all the parties involved.
Democracy gives equal rights to all the citizens without any discrimination. But what happens if a citizen is denied some right or is discriminated against? He can immediately go to a court of law and seek justice. The court will consider his case and give decision as per law. If the person has been denied some right, he will get decision in his favour. Democracy thrives on equality of all citizens. Where there is no equality among the citizens there is no democracy. It is only the judiciary which ensures this equality.
India’s Constitution has given the citizens certain fundamental rights such as: right to equality, right to practise any religion, right to adopt any profession and to live in any part of India, right to assemble peacefully and without arms, etc. There is also freedom of speech, travel, get education and prosper in life. Some new rights have been given to the people of India like the Right to Information, which though not a fundamental right has a legal sanction. Under this, a person can ask for any official information from the concerned department or office which is required by him in execution of a function or activity.
These rights-fundamental or otherwise, freedoms and liberties are the lifeline of democracy. If they are not protected, democracy will lose its meaning. In India, the judiciary protects these rights and is, therefore, called the watchdog of democracy. Under certain circumstances some of the rights are temporarily suspended. For example, if the law and order situation worsens in a particular area due to violence, arson, etc. curfew is imposed which means people cannot move out of their home for particular hours.
This does not mean that democracy is in danger. Actually, these measures are taken to save the citizens from being the victims of subversive activities. Similarly, during emergency some rights are suspended. But these are temporary phases and make no difference to the spirit of democracy. Under normal circumstances, all the citizens enjoy the rights given to them by the Constitution.
If any of the rights is encroached by another individual, organisation, body corporate, a group of people or even by the State, the aggrieved person can go to a court of law and seek justice. If his claim is found genuine, that person will get justice, and at times with adequate compensation for damages or harm caused to him by the denial of that right. There are examples of lakhs of cases in India where the people have got fair decisions through the courts.
Under some circumstances, the court has the power to direct the government to take certain action so that the values of democracy are upheld. Sometimes the judiciary directs the state or central government to desist from certain partisan action. It can ask a certain department or even the government to explain the reason of some action which in its eyes was uncalled for. For example, the Supreme Court directed the former ministers to vacate the government allotted residences, after losing the ministership, up to certain date. The apex court has asked some governors to explain their action of dismissing a government or of not calling the majority party to form the government. Such actions can be called to checks and balances of the judiciary on the legislative machinery.
Each citizen also has certain duties to abide by like paying the taxes, respecting the rights of others, obeying the law, etc. These duties are necessary to maintain equality and law and order. The rights can be enjoyed by all the citizens if there is peace, social and economic security. The court has the power to punish those who disobey the law or fail to perform their duties as citizens of the country. Judiciary upholds the values of democracy, but it has several constraints which hinder the efficient performance of the courts.
In the first place there is a shortage of courts and judges which results in the inordinate delays in deciding the cases. Thousands of cases are pending in various courts in India including the Supreme Court. It is often said that justice delayed is justice denied. How can the democracy be said to exist if the justice is denied in this manner? The government has established Fast Track Courts and Lok Adalats to clear the pendency and separate minor cases from the major ones. The Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) are also being given powers to decide a certain type of cases so that the courts are not clogged with a pile of cases. The situation is improving as a result of these measures.
Corruption in the courts, expensive dispensation of justice, malpractices and exploitative attitude of the lawyers, lack of evidence in some cases, frequent changes in the stances of eye¬witnesses and other witnesses, interference of politicians, officials and other powerful persons are maladies from which our judicial system suffers. Media is doing a good job in exposing the cases involving such malpractices. It needs collective efforts from people, officials and those directly engaged in meting out justice to purge the judicial system from these ills so that it can become the true savior of democracy even under trying circumstances.