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Baby & bathwater debate over interns

New Delhi, Jan. 12: The second instance of allegations by a law intern against a judge has prompted calls to scrap the training system, drawing a sharp response from academics.

“I don’t know whether the allegations against the judges are true or if they are victims of any conspiracy by vested interests to frame them. But it is high time that the practice of having interns is scrapped,” said lawyer and civil liberties activist Sanjay Parekh.

Under the system in vogue since 2006, interns — final-year law students — are engaged to help judges of the Supreme Court and high courts for six months for a stipend. The job involves researching earlier verdicts and helping judges draft official communication. The stipend, usually ranging between Rs 10,000 and Rs 15,000, is paid by the respective court administration.

Parekh said the intern system could compromise the confidentiality related to judgments and orders. “After completing their law course, many interns will be employed by corporate firms and houses. So how can you give important research work to such persons? They are also not court employees, they are on contract,” the lawyer said.

After the allegation against former judge Asok Kumar Ganguly became public, some lawyers had questioned the need for continuing with the practice of engaging interns. That view has gained ground now with another intern levelling allegations against a judge who was in service when the alleged incident took place. Both Ganguly and the other former judge have denied the allegations.

Senior counsel Pundit Parmanand Katara echoed the view that the intern system should be done away with.

“Earlier, there was no such practice (of hiring interns), but now it has become a fashion. If students want to learn something, they should start from scratch. Let them first go to munsif courts and trial courts. They should learn the rudiments there. Why should they come to the Supreme Court or high courts directly?” Katara said.

Till the 1980s, Katara added, only advocates with a minimum experience of seven years appeared in the country’s highest court. “But today, we have students fresh from college directly appearing in the Supreme Court. There is no written code that there should be a minimum experience for appearing in higher courts, but there has to be some basic norms to restrict rookies….”

Others have ridiculed such suggestions.

Ruchira Goswami, an assistant professor at the National University of Juridical Sciences (NUJS) in Calcutta, said: “Why are points like ‘law interns starting from scratch’ or ‘threat to important documents getting leaked’ being raised now? Allowing interns to work with judges of the apex court is a global practice. Scrapping this in view of recent complaints would be like throwing the baby out with the bathwater,” she said.

The interns who levelled the allegations against the two former judges are NUJS alumni.

Goswami said the intern system was started so that students could get to work with judicial officials of the highest calibre. “Besides, how can you say that trial courts or lower courts don’t deal with important research documents?”

Subhrangshu Shekhar Chatterji, the dean of law at Calcutta University, echoed Goswami. “Over the past six years, 25 CU students have interned with Supreme Court judges every year. It helps them get hands-on experience, which is crucial for a career in the field. If that practice is scrapped in the wake of one or two stray incidents, it would be unfortunate,” said Chatterji.

Pravin H. Parekh, the president of the Supreme Court Bar Association, said it would be “unfair to disband internship” and that the interns provide “wonderful research material to judges”.

On the allegations, the senior lawyer said: “One does not know whether they are true or not. But if you see that complaints have been filed after two years, the delay has to be explained by the victims.”

A senior judge said all victims must approach police. Delhi police are awaiting a statement from the intern who complained against Ganguly. “According to existing rules, the Supreme Court has no power to act against retired judges. The victim always has the remedy of approaching the police. The law will take its own course,” the senior judge said.


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