Saturday, September 29, 2012

Justice Altamas Kabir takes oath as 39th CJI

 Justice Altamas Kabir took oath on Saturday as the 39th Chief Justice of India(CJI) signaling a change of guard that many expect to lower the barriers that hindered interaction among higher judiciary during the 16-month tenure of his predecessor Justice SH Kapadia. 

As CJI, Justice Kabir has less than a year as he retires on July 18, 2013. But many hope that he could utilize the brief tenure to making judiciary more litigant-friendly: perhaps not an unreasonable expectation, considering CJI's amiability. His experience as chairman of National Legal Aid Services Authority, which devises practices to make justice accessible to the poor, could help. 

His amiability helped Justice Kabir deal with situations where the litigants became unruly and went on to berate judiciary for corruption in its ranks. 

His ancestors came from an affluent Bengali Muslim family in Faridpur, now in Bangladesh. Although his father Jehangir Kabir was also influential in Bengal politics, the clan was made famous more by his uncle, Humanyun Kabir, a renowned academic. 

His branch of the clan chose to migrate to India after the partition in 1947. Justice Kabir, who was born on July 19, 1948, is known for his patience: a trait which helps him engage better with lawyers and litigant. 

As a lawyer, he practiced law, beginning 1973, in district courts and, then, in Calcutta High Court. He became a Judge of Calcutta HC on August 6, 1990. 

In March, 2005, Justice Kabir became Chief Justice of  Jharkhand HC. Six months later, he was appointed a Judge of the Supreme Court. Justice Kabir's wife Minna is a child right activist and their two children, too, have studied law. 

But, there are many challenges before the new CJI. Most of the problems are the ones which have accumulated over the years. If a huge pendency of around three crore cases stunts the justice delivery system's efficiency, there are large number of vacancies in the HCs allowing that pendency to grow steadily. The Allahabad HC needs urgent attention as it is functioning with only 50% of the sanctioned judge strength.

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