On a particularly unproductive afternoon, I stumbled across the call for volunteers for the Summer of Data Program hosted by Justice Hub. The Summer of Data was a five-week program aimed at the collection and collation of data profiling all the Judges who have served and are serving at the High Courts of India since the establishment of the Collegium System in 1993. The work included painstaking research into the background of the appointed Justices in order to understand the clarity and transparency of available information in the public domain. This is specifically important as Judges act as the lead of the Justice system. This dataset would be then utilised to analyze the underlying patterns behind the appointment of Judges.
Being a first-generation law pursuant, I had always felt the existence of gaps in my knowledge about the judges of India, when compared to my peers and being a part of Summer of Data seemed like the perfect opportunity to fill it. This Program witnessed the coming together of over fifty law students (including me!) from across the country who were all excited and innervated at the idea of contributing to the open justice data movement in the country. The Onboarding Session introduced us to our mentors, Professor Rangin Pallav Tripathy from the National Law University, Odisha; Gaurav Godhwani, co-founder and director at CivicDataLab; and Apoorv Anand who works with CivicDataLab and is a part of the Justice Hub team.
Professor Tripathy informed us that the dataset we were about to collate is a unique endeavour. Though datasets on the Judges of the Supreme Court are in existence, similar ones on the judges of the High Court are not available. Judges of the Supreme Court of India: 1950–89, a book by George H. Gadbois is the first of its kind that had sought to compile the life and background of Judges in India.
Over the course of five weeks and while circumventing the perils of the pandemic, all of us attempted to compile the requisite data from official sources. Regular check-ins by the coordinator, quick and constant doubt clarification and Saturday Sessions with leading individuals and organisations working in the Open Justice Data Movement in the country, made the workflow harmonious.
While I was compiling my segments of the datasets, my eyes were opened to how deficient the information available on court websites and government archives were. The dearth of representation in our country’s judicial system, be it in relation to gender, caste, or religion was easily ascertainable. While there’s an inherent paucity of female judges appointed by the collegium; religion and caste are mainly derived from the names of the Hon’ble Judges as there is no viable information available on the government websites in this regard. Another pattern that I specifically noticed is the almost total erasure of the Judges’ lives before their respective elevation to the High Courts. In this age of information, it is an astounding feat to achieve. Towards the latter end of the program, one of our mentors, Apoorv Anand, even designed a software that was able to verify and identify inconsistencies in the collected data, thereby leading to a cleaner data collection.
Summer of Data succeeded in bringing together and forming a community of like-minded students from over the country who are excited about the prospect of data aiding the justice delivery system in India. There are also those, like me, who are now awakened to the importance and relevance of data in our legal institution, providing us with life-changing insight and who will definitely look forward to working more in such a direction.
At the end of the day, the Judiciary is the head of our legal system and is its most vital part. It is now high time that the common man has an inkling of who presides over their little disputes, problems, other nitty-gritty of their conflicts and gives them fair treatment. They need to know who keeps them safe and who in case of a breach of such safety, would give them justice. After all, “Accountability breeds response-ability.”~Stephen Covey