Eighteenth meeting of Chief Justices and Chairpersons of the Supreme Courts of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Member States was held here under the Presidency of Chief Justice of India, DY Chandrachud on 10 and 11 March. The aim was to foster effective judicial cooperation among the Member States.
It was a two-day Joint interaction session wherein all SCO member states, two observer states (the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Republic of Belarus), the SCO Regional Anti-Terrorism Structure (RATS) and the SCO Secretariat had taken part physically except Pakistan who joined through video conference.
On March 10, a Joint Interaction Session was held which included a brief description of the Judicial System followed in SCO Member and Observer states, as well as the challenges faced and measures taken during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The speakers included CJI DY Chandrachud, Kazakhastan SC Chairman Aslambek Mergaliyev, Vice President of SC of China Jinghong Gao, Kyrgyz Republic SC Chairman Zamirbek Bazarbekov, Pakistan Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial, Russian Chief Justice Vyacheslav M. Lebedev, Belarus SC Dy Chairman Valery Kalinkovich, Dy Chairman of Judiciary head of Iran Mohammad Mosaddegh Kahnamoee, Deputy Secretary General SCO Secretariat Janesh Kain and Rakesh Kumar Verma, Deputy Director, Executive Committee, RATS, SCO.
Justice DY Chandrachud initiated the joint session by giving a brief overview of India’s Judicial system. He shared the challenges faced by the Judicial institution during the COVID-19 pandemic, CJI focussed on the measures such as the adoption of technology for virtual hearings, live streaming of court proceedings, and e-filing undertaken by the Indian Judiciary to ensure access to justice.
He highlighted that the incorporation of technology in the Indian judicial system has made judicial institutions more accessible for all its citizens. The Heads of Judiciaries attending the Meeting also shared the functioning of their Judicial systems and challenges faced and the innovative measures taken by their Judiciaries to minimize the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
On the second day, 11th March, the discussion moved on to the first topic of discussion on “Smart Courts” and the future of the Judiciary.
CJI, while addressing the delegates, discussed India’s smart court initiatives. CJI stressed that the judicial system must ensure that timely and effective justice is delivered to all citizens, regardless of their location or socio-economic status. He said that technology must be used to bridge the gap between citizens and the justice system. He shared that the “Smart Court” initiatives focused on simplifying procedures and increasing access for citizens to the justice delivery system through digital infrastructure.
He shared the recent endeavours made by the Supreme Court of India such as the launching of the e-version of Supreme Court Reports, AI-based live transcription of court proceedings and translation of judgments in multiple regional languages among others.
Participating in the discussion, Nail Akhmetzakirov, Head of the Court Administration of Kazakhstan highlighted that the introduction of technology in their judicial facilities had made court proceedings easy. He added that Kazakhstan has developed new software post-COVID-19 menace in order to make the electronic system in judicial services more accessible.
Rakhat Karimova, Judge of Kyrgyz Republic informed the delegates that the Judicial system of the Kyrgyz Republic is focused on just and effective measures for the interest of the people at large. He highlighted that the judiciary during and post-COVID-19 pandemic has been transitioning to the electronic system with the digitalization of all enforcement bodies. Believing that AI is the step to the future, Karimova stated that their judiciary is adopting new technologies which will expedite trials, and will also ensure the fulfilment of the duties by the judges by means of easy monitoring mechanisms, ensuring justice in real means.
The second topic of discussion was Facilitating “Access to Justice” (Justice should not be limited to privileged): issues, initiative, and prospects, Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul, Judge Supreme Court of India, highlighted the importance of Access to Justice. He raised concerns regarding overly populated prisons by undertrials. He particularly emphasized that the issue of access to quality legal representation is a critical element in the criminal justice system.
He stressed the several mechanisms adopted by the Courts to resolve the problem of Access to Justice from both ends. First, while empowering citizens to actualize their rights under the Constitution of India and International Human Rights Law and second, by reforming the Criminal Justice machinery to protect the most vulnerable.
Participating in the discussion Xiaochen Qiann, Chief Judge of the case-filing division of the Supreme People’s Court of the People’s Republic of China, added that it was of prime importance for the growth of the judiciary that modern public judicial services are built, featuring inclusiveness, equity, convenience, efficiency, intelligence and accuracy. He stressed that the court work overload and limited judicial resources are a global challenge which needs to be addressed both nationally and collectively as members of SCO.
Vyacheslav M Lebedev, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Russia highlighted that several laws had been created to protect the citizens including the system of claims, which can be filed by the plaintiffs at their own place of residence, allowing remote participation in court sessions, notifications via SMS regarding time and place of trial and availability of information regarding working of the court.
The third topic of discussion “Institutional Challenges facing Judiciary: Delays, Infrastructure, Representation, and Transparency”, Justice K. M. Joseph, Judge Supreme Court of India, highlighted the issue of high pendency of cases and the need for adequate infrastructure facilities as a means to Access to Justice.
Justice Joseph raised concern about the infrastructure gap between the Court halls and Residential Units in the District Judiciary. He also added that additional courts need to be projected to efficiently deal with the pending & freshly instituted cases and concluded by adding that progress is necessary to ensure India has an efficient, open and fair Judicial System. The participant also shared the common institutional challenges faced by the Judiciaries.
The two-day session involved joint interaction sessions, witnessing discussions on various important themes with the Chief Justices/ Chairpersons/ Judges from Member States/ Observer States and members of the SCO Secretariat and SCO RATS, and concluded with the signing of a joint statement.
The intention to strengthen and expand cooperation among the Supreme Courts of the SCO Member States and to promote the use of technology to enhance the efficiency of the judicial system and Access to Justice were deliberated upon during the course of the meeting.
In his closing address, Justice DY Chandrachud stressed upon the need to collectively adopt new mechanisms to make court processes simpler and more accessible. He stressed that the SCO member states should strive for judicial cooperation in order to make the judicial system more approachable to the common people.
He highlighted several challenges facing the judicial systems in the SCO Member States and how this conference allowed all member and observer state to reflect upon the challenges that are common to their jurisdictions.
He emphasized that these issues need to be tackled with mutual cooperation and by sharing experiences and wisdom gathered. Whilst agreeing on a number of shared goals for the future of the judiciary of respective countries at the closure, Uzbekistan has collectively entrusted the presidency for the next meeting of Chief Justices/ Chairmans on the rotation of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization for the year 2024.