Chennai Judicial Exchange on Access to Justice

This report summarises the discussions, key concerns raised, and recommendations made during a dialogue between judges, lawyers and jurists at the Chennai Judicial Exchange on Access to Justice held in Chennai, India from November 5-7, 2004.

The Exchange, hosted by the High Court of Madras, was held at the Tamil Nadu State Judicial Academy, Chennai from November 5-7, 2004. It was the third in the series of South Asia Judicial Colloquium series on Enforcing Human Rights and Access to Justice, facilitated by the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), New Delhi and the International Centre for the Legal Protection of Human Rights (INTERIGHTS), London.

Participants included 34 judges in the cadre of District and Sessions Judge from the Tamil Nadu State Judicial Services; three serving judges from the Madras High Court (who formed the core group for the Exchange); the Chief Justice of Uttaranchal High Court (who was formerly at the Madras High Court and initiated the process for the Exchange); the Vice-President of the International Commission of Jurists; a former Chief Justice of India; a former Judge of the Supreme Court of India; a former Judge of the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka; a former Judge of the Bombay High Court; and seven eminent experts, including academics, lawyers and civil society activists from across India. Representatives of the facilitating organisations i.e CHRI and INTERIGHTS were also part of the Exchange.

Background of the Exchange

The primary focus of the Chennai Judicial Exchange was to create a space for judicial officers at the cutting edge of justice delivery - the District Courts - to deliberate on issues that inhibit access to justice, particularly for the poor, vulnerable and marginalised. The deliberations were premised on the the rights based approach to justice delivery, which considers rights as entitlements owed by the State, as opposed to concessions allowed by it. This report centres on practical initiatives discussed during the Exchange to improve access to justice for the poor and marginalised.

Designed to be a dialogue amongst peers, the Exchange provided a platform for participating judges, jurists and civil society activists to share concerns regarding judicial protection of human rights and in particular discuss access to civil and criminal justice in the context of poverty and disadvantage. The agenda was developed after extensive consultations - both formal and informal - with superior and subordinate court judges, lawyers, social activists, academics and court users both within and outside Tamil Nadu. The concerns that emerged out of these discussions were crystallised into a questionnaire which was sent to one hundred judges stationed in district courts across the state. Their responses indicated the need for greater focus on constitutionalism; the protection and promotion of civil liberties; and enhanced sensitivity to the rights of women and Dalits to inform the judicial decision making process.

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