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Stop addressing trial courts as ‘lower courts’: Supreme Court

The Supreme Court has asked its registry to stop referring to trial courts as “lower courts”. “It will be appropriate if the Registry of this court stops referring to the Trial Courts as ‘Lower Courts’. Even the record of the trial court should not be referred to as Lower Court Record (LCR). Instead, it should be referred as the Trial Court Record (TCR),” a bench of justices AS Oka and Ujjal Bhuyan said in an order passed on February 8.

The Supreme Court of India (File)

The Court was hearing an appeal by two murder convicts challenging an order of the Allahabad high court passed in October 2018 upholding their conviction and life sentence for an incident in 1981. Posting the matter for hearing in August, the court asked the Registrar (Judicial) to take note of this order for future compliance. The bench further directed the registry to supply soft copies of the trial court record to the lawyers appearing for the convict and the state of Uttar Pradesh.

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This is perhaps the first time by a judicial order the registry has been asked to stop the practice of referring to trial courts as “lower courts”. In the recent past, Chief Justice of India Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud and other judges of the Supreme Court have categorically expressed their displeasure over addressing trial courts as lower courts or subordinate courts and trying to dispel the impression that district court judges are somewhat inferior to judges of high courts or Supreme Court.

Last month, justice Oka, one of the judges who passed this order, while giving a memorial lecture, expressed his angst over disrespect shown to trial courts. Speaking on the topic “Access to Justice in the context of 75 years of Indian Constitution”, justice Oka said that the judiciary has failed to meet the expectations of common man over the past seven decades.

“One reason for not fulfilling expectation of common man is that we neglected our trial and district courts which are the primary court in our system,” he said, adding, “For years together we used to describe these courts as lower courts or subordinate courts. There can’t be a lower court. Every court is a court.”

He further stated that the real place where common man gets justice is the district courts. “For a common man who cannot afford to have multiple litigation for social, economic reasons, perhaps, these are the courts which are the final courts,” the judge remarked.

Soon after taking over as CJI in November 2022, CJI Chandrachud said, “We should move towards a modern and an equal judiciary,” seeking to inculcate a sense of self-worth in the district judiciary. CJI said, “We have fostered a culture of subordination….A great deal has to be done not only in terms of infrastructure of our district judiciary which is extremely important for which we have to lay the foundation stones today. But we must have to also change our mindset as superior court judges of SC and high courts of how we look at our district judiciary and how we perceive of them.”

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