Voicing concern over the recent incidents of firing in Delhi courts, the Supreme Court has underlined the need for a security plan, including stationing of permanent Court Security Units (CSU), in each judicial complex across the country.
It said such incidents pose significant risks to the safety of not only judges but lawyers, court staff, litigants and the general public, and issued a raft of directions for strengthening security on court premises.
The apex court said on Friday preserving the sanctity of a court as a space where justice is administered and the rule of law upheld is non-negotiable.
A bench of Justices S Ravindra Bhat and Dipankar Datta said it is critical that judicial institutions take comprehensive steps to safeguard the well-being of all stakeholders.
"Would not hope for the litigants who visit the temples of justice dwindle, if the very halls of justice lack the shield of security? How can the litigants secure justice for them when those entrusted to render justice are themselves insecure?
"It is appalling that court premises in the national capital itself, in the past year or so, have witnessed at least three major incidents of gunfire. Preserving the sanctity of a court as a space where justice is administered and the rule of law upheld being non-negotiable, it is critical that judicial institutions take comprehensive steps to safeguard the well-being of all stakeholders," it said.
Several court complexes in Delhi have witnessed gun violence in recent times. In July this year, a firing incident was reported in Tis Hazari court after heated arguments between two groups of lawyers. An incident of firing occurred in April in the Rohini court complex following an altercation between lawyers and their clients. In the same month, a woman was shot at by a lawyer in the Saket court premises.
Notorious gangster Jitender Gogi was shot dead by two assailants in Rohini court complex in September 2021. His killers were shot dead on the premises by the Delhi police.
The top court said it is conscious of the fact that lapses in court security have often occurred despite having modern security measures in place including CCTV cameras.
"This is indicative of the fact that systemic measures are necessary to maintain the faith of all stakeholders in the judicial system. To our mind, mere installation of CCTV cameras may not be enough and something more is required in public interest to check activities which compromise the safety and security of all stakeholders of the justice delivery system, particularly in court complexes.
"However, this does not undermine the importance of immediate measures that need to be carried out by the relevant authorities to address immediate issues while the wheels of long-term solutions are set in motion," the bench said.
The apex court said there ought to be in place a security plan prepared by the high courts in consultation with the principal secretaries, the home departments of each state government and the directors general of police of states/union territories or the commissioners of police.
"The security plan may include proposal for setting up of permanent Court Security Unit(s) in each complex, indicating the strength and source of drawing of manpower including armed/ unarmed personnel and supervisory officer(s) for each such unit, the minimum term and mode of deployment of such manpower, list of duties and additional financial benefits for such manpower, as may be offered to secure their willingness to serve in such Units," it said.
The apex court said there should be special modules for training and sensitising such personnel in matters of court security.
The schematics of CCTV camera installation will have to be laid down on a district-wise basis where the respective state governments should provide the requisite funds for the execution of such a plan in a timely manner, the bench said.
"We emphasize that the installation of CCTV cameras should be an integral part of the construction project of courts, and therefore should be prioritised.
"Further, upon the finalisation of the security plan, the High Courts may entrust the responsibility of installation and maintenance of the CCTV cameras with the concerned District and Sessions Judges for a more realistic analysis of local requirements," the bench said.
The Supreme Court said adequate personnel be deployed to secure the entry and exit points of court complexes.
"In this regard, the courts may consider putting in place security measures such as deployment of adequate police personnel, security stickers for vehicles, frisking, metal detectors, baggage scanners, court-specific entry passes, and biometric devices to enhance overall security. Other security measures may include regulating the use of court premises as thoroughfares, if necessary, even by way of total prohibition.
"There have been various concerns regarding the operation of various shops and vendors within court premises which may result in potential security lapses. In this regard, the relevant authorities may keep a strict check on the relevant permissions required for their continued operations," it said.
It may be ensured that emergency measures like ambulances, medical facilities and firefighting services are immediately available and modernised within court complexes and unimpeded access of such vehicles to the premises is assured at all times. This includes ensuring unhindered movement and keeping the court complex vicinity free from traffic and parking congestion.
The apex court said it has on multiple occasions, stressed the need for digitisation of judicial infrastructure, particularly at the district level. "We have been apprised that at present, there are many courts which lack facilities to live stream court proceedings as well as facilities to record trials. We desire that these issues are looked into, in the right earnest by the High Courts.
“Initiatives like Audiovisual (AV) technology/ videoconferencing (VC) facility for recording of evidence and testimonies in trial, live-streaming of court proceedings at all levels, establishing e-SEWA Kendras, particularly in remote areas may also be considered accordingly,” it said.
The apex court said while the pandemic caused by COVID-19 has accelerated the penetration of technology in courts, considerable work needs to be yet accomplished, particularly at the district and the taluka levels. It ordered that copies of the order shall be furnished by the registry to the registrar general of each high court for being placed before the respective chief justices. The directions came on a batch of pleas relating to the safety of judges and security measures in courtrooms across the country.
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