Justice Sharad Arvind Bobde
File image of Justice Sharad Arvind Bobde, the Chief Justice of India | PTI photo
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New Delhi: Chief Justice of India Sharad Arvind Bobde stressed on the importance of artificial intelligence Tuesday as he addressed a gathering headed by President Ram Nath Kovind on the occasion of Constitution Day.

Stating that such AI will be helpful in getting rid of non-judicial repetitive functions, the CJI stated that translation of language will help common people understand court procedures better.

“Artificial intelligence powered law focussed translation engine will aid timely and quality translation and thereby can help improve the efficiency of the judicial delivery system. While translating judgements is useful, it pales in comparison to the value added to countless litigants and lawyers whose access to timely justice will no longer be limited by the restraints of language,” said the CJI.

The registry of the top court launched SUVAS (Supreme Court Vidhik Anuvaad Software), software trained by Artificial Intelligence, especially designed for Judicial Domain and can translate English Judicial documents, including Orders and Judgments, into nine vernacular languages.

Here is the full text of the CJI’s speech:

Hon’ble The President of India, Shri Ram Nath Kovind

Hon’ble Minister for Law and Justice, Shri Ravi Shankar Prasad.

Hon’ble Mr. Justice N.V. Ramana

Hon’ble Mr. Justice Arun Mishra 

Hon’ble Attorney General for India 

Sh. Rakesh Khanna, President SCBA

My brother Judges of the Supreme Court

Hon’ble Former Judges of Supreme Court

Chief Justice of Delhi High Court

Judges of the High court

Officers bearers of SCBA and SCORA

Sr. Advocates and Members of the Bar

Secretary and other officers of the Govt. of India

Officers from NIC and Experts of Artificial Intelligence Team

Members of the Registry

Ladies and Gentlemen

India made its ‘tryst with destiny’ on 15th August, 1947. The shape and form of this destiny was entrenched in We, the people, on 26th November 1949. Today, we celebrate 70 years of this constitutional moment. 

As tempting as it may seem to start the speech by quoting the stalwarts of the constituent assembly, such as the likes of Dr. Ambedkar, Alladi Krishnaswamy Ayyar, Sardar Patel, it must be resisted. Not least because they have been quoted in plenty by many before me.  I would therefore like to begin this speech by reminding ourselves of what Dakshani Velayudhan from Kerala, a young Dalit woman member, in the constituent assembly said of the Constitution,

“A Constituent Assembly not only frames a constitution, but also gives the people a new framework of life. To frame a constitution is an easy job, because there are many models for us to imitate. But to renew a people on a new foundation requires the synthetic vision of a planner. The Independent Sovereign Republic of India plans a free society. … In the Indian Republic of tomorrow, the power will come from the people.”

The constituent assembly members knew, they were shaping lives, livelihoods and the culture of every single citizen of India. It is therefore important for us to remember that this document is not a legal framework to conduct the affairs of our nation but indeed a ‘framework of life for all the citizens of the nation. To use the words of Justice Vivian Bose, “it’s a way of life”. The Constitution does not belong to individuals in black robes, i.e., lawyers or judges, or individuals who have been duly elected, or even the government, but belongs to each and every individual of this country. 

The revolutionary recognition of universal adult franchise in 1949 was a solemn affirmation of vesting constitutionalism and constitutional culture with the people of India. 

When the concept of universal suffrage was first formulated, the village folk as well as certain intellectual public were skeptical about the practicality of elections, to which Dr. Rajender Prasad, the President of the Constituent Assembly replied as thus- 

“in my opinion our people possess intelligence and common sense. They also have a culture which the sophisticated people of today may not appreciate, but which is solid”

And then went on to say-

“I have, therefore, no doubt in my mind that if things are explained to them, they will not only be able to pick up the technique of election, but will be able to cast their votes in an intelligent manner and I have, therefore, no misgivings about the future, on their account.”


Also read: As Chief Justice, SA Bobde must make sure no government can bend Indian judiciary’s spine


 

I can confidently say that the citizens of this country have not betrayed this faith that Dr. Rajendra Prasad reposed in them. We have seen testing times where the constitution processes were challenged, the democratic roots were subverted, and yet we are here today celebrating 70 years of this document. What we celebrate today is not merely a text of the constitution or the voluminous judgments telling us what the constitution is, but in fact, the constitutional culture that has survived 70 years. 

If indeed the constitution belongs to the people, it is on this day that we reflect on the ways to make the constitution more accessible to the people. Not merely in the sense of ‘access to justice’ but in a larger sense of a constitutional culture where citizens, in their activities with each other and the state, imbibe the ‘constitutional spirit’. No doubt, the Constitution is meant to be an effective check on the state’s power i.e. The legislature, Executive and the Judiciary but in the larger constitutional sense, it is also meant to weave out the manner in which citizens interact and treat one another. This must necessarily mean not only an awareness of their rights but also an awareness of their duties. As it is said, “Rights that do not flow from duty well performed are not worth having”. 

Much ink has been spent and many a speech delivered about the institutional role of the judiciary and the necessity to maintain its independence. I do not wish to repeat these cherished principles on this occasion. However, as the head of the judiciary, fresh from the constitutional oath that I have taken, I must mention that our nation stands on the cusp of a new decade. A new decade brings with it new hope and new opportunities. But to truly embrace the promise of this new decade, we must deal with several challenges from decades past. The issues relating to pendency. This august gathering needs no explanation of the aphorism that justice delayed is justice denied. 

The rule of law is dependent on not just the settling of disputes but also the settlement of disputes in an efficient and speedy manner. And while we will continue to add more judges to deal with both the backlog of cases and the flow of new cases to our courts, we need something that is transformational to the cause of delivering timely justice to India’s citizens. We do not have the luxury of dealing with the backlog of cases in isolation from the flow of new cases to our courts – the demands of justice mean that we will have to deal with both. Together. 

What is of vital importance to remember is that the role of the judge is paramount and that while technology may aid a judge, it is not a substitute for one. The real opportunity that lies before us is to free up time and mind space for judges to adjudicate increasingly complex cases that require greater time for consideration and application of mind. 

At the turn of this new decade we also have the good fortune of building on the work of many who have gone before us. While technology has enabled us to go paperless in many courts and go digital, if not all the way then substantially, in many courts, we now have the benefit of modern artificial intelligence tools that will assist in improving the efficiency of our justice system through sophisticated and contextual automation of existing repetitive non-judicial tasks and functions to reduce pendency, expedite judicial adjudication and create more time for judges to resolve complex cases. 

We recognise that machine are not substitutes for the knowledge and wisdom of judges and that the law functions in a uniquely complex environment that lawyers and judges are best placed to navigate. Our new mission seeks to free up more time for lawyers and judges to focus on the delivery and dispensation of justice to all.  

It is in this pursuit of diversity, inclusivity and efficiency that an artificial intelligence powered law focussed translation engine will aid timely and quality translation and thereby can help improve the efficiency of the judicial delivery system. While translating judgements is useful, it pales in comparison to the value added to countless litigants and lawyers whose access to timely justice will no longer be limited by the restraints of language. We will continue to use human translators to validate and correct output of the artificial intelligence-based translation tools. This will be our first endeavour that we launch today. 

Another equally important thing to focus on is our Subordinate judiciary as the judges of the subordinate judiciary form the backbone of our system. While constitutional courts may decide larger questions of law, the subordinate judiciary interacts at a much deeper level with the citizenry of the country. They decide the daily disputes of parties and reinforce the faith of the citizens in us, the judiciary. In this context, we are alarmed by the state of infrastructure and finances provided to the subordinate judiciary. It’s unfortunate that in today’s age and time, the judiciary is still facing issues such as- 

  • Lack of proper facilities for litigant public especially women, senior citizens and differently abled persons. 
  • Lack of abundant courtrooms and facilities to accommodate judges of the subordinate judiciary. 
  • The problems caused to both litigants and lawyers by not having a display board to show the cases’ progress 

This is just to name a few. We intend on providing deeper attention and reflection on the issues ailing the subordinate judiciary. 

Today as we celebrate Constitution Day, we must also reflect on the challenges that lie ahead. For as long as justice – social, political and economic – remains out of reach of even a single individual, our job remains unfinished. Recalling the poignant words of Mahatma Gandhi, whose 150th birth anniversary we celebrated this year, said “The difference between what we do and what we are capable of doing would suffice to solve most of the world’s problems.” Let us ensure that we continue to work tirelessly in securing justice for the very last person in the remotest corner of the nation. 

Thank you, Jai hind.


Also read: In pictures: CJI-designate SA Bobde, a dog-lover and photography-enthusiast


 

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