Justice Michael Kirby


On 18-19 February 2005 I attended a colloquium at the newly established National Judicial Academy of India in Bhopal, India.


I presented to the Council of the Academy, which was meeting at the time of my visit under the presidency of the Chief Justice of India (Chief Justice R C Lahoti) letters of greeting from Chief Justice John Doyle AC (for the National Judicial College of Australia) and Chief Justice J J Spigelman AC (for the Judicial Commission of New South Wales).


I set out below some observations on the Academy, which is keen to establish links with the Australian judiciary and with its counterparts in judicial education in Australia.




1.Judicial support: The Academy has strong support from the judiciary of India. This was evident by the presence of the four most senior Justices of the Supreme Court of India, three of whom serve on the Council of the Academy. It was also evident in the large contingent of judges from the State High Courts of India who were attending the colloquium.


2.Facilities: The Academy is a new institution. Its facilities are outstanding. It has been built on the outskirts of the city of Bhopal in central India. Facilities include a large auditorium (which was inaugurated by the Chief Justice during the colloquium) and several conference/meeting rooms with separate accommodation scattered over a large campus. The physical appearance of the Academy is impressive and pleasing.


3.Language - English: The common language of the Academy, like that of the higher courts in India, is English. The judges come from all parts of India. Many of them speak minority languages as a mother tongue and the medium of communications in the Academy is universally in English.


4.Security: The Academy is well guarded and its distance from the city of Bhopal ensures a quiet, contemplative atmosphere. During my presence, there was a large number of Indian armed forces. However, this was not specifically for security but for the guards of honour which attend the Chief Justice of India wherever he is, out of Delhi. There is no security problem evident or reported in Bhopal or the surrounding State.


5.Connections with the Commonwealth: The Academy has close connections with the Commonwealth Secretariat in London and specifically with Commonwealth bodies engaged in judicial education. I was informed that the next meeting of such bodies is to take place in 2005 at the Academy. Details are to be sent to me and will be passed on.


6.Transport: Bhopal has air connections with the major ports in India. specifically Mumbai and Delhi. Whilst the air connections are not as frequent as in the major centres, they permitted me to arrive in Bhopal on the evening of the day of departure from Sydney and to make a good connection for return to Australia.


7.Accommodation: The living quarters for participants are good if mine (in the VIP section) was any guide. There was a large bedroom, separate bathroom, sitting room and anteroom. The quarters in which I was housed were certainly suitable for an Australian judge and his or her spouse/partner.


8.Hospitality: Dining facilities in the judicial living quarters extend to arrangements for breakfast. There is a larger communal dining room closer to the meeting rooms. Indian food, with emphasis on vegetarian food, was the diet served during my visit.


9.Town connections: The Academy is about 3 kilometres from the city of Bhopal. That city which was devastated by the cyanide event in December 1984, appears to have recovered economically. The city, was formerly in a princely state and does not have the typical British cantonment. However, it has a very large mosque, the former ruler being Islamic and there being still a substantial Islamic minority in Bhopal.


10.Video facilities: During the course of the colloquium that I attended, a video link was established in one of the main meeting rooms to the President's Palace in New Delhi. The President of India addressed the participants in the colloquium. Being himself a nuclear scientist, he participated enthusiastically in a question and answer session. The interactive facilities were excellent and impressive.


11.Interest in Australia: Many of the judicial participants, as well as the members of the Council and Professor Menon, the Director of the Academy, expressed keen interest in establishing closer links with the judiciary in Australia.




1.The Faculty: At present, whilst the physical facilities of the Academy are splendid, the intellectual facilities remain modest. The Academy has not appointed a substantial permanent staff. Short term appointments have been given to some Indian academic lawyers, mostly as research officers at junior level. However, permanent appointments remain to be made. It will, as Professor Menon recognises, be necessary to have a core of permanent faculty members. Unexplained difficulties have arisen in recruiting the faculty. Professor Menon has previously been instrumental in establishing the National Law School University of India at Bangalore and an equivalent National Law School at Kolkata. He is a very significant figure on the legal academic scene in India. He has set high standards for his law schools and, I assume, has set the same standards for establishing the Faculty in Bhopal. But the result is that, at the moment, resource persons have to be brought in for particular sessions, as they were for the colloquium I attended.


2.Professor Menon's departure: It was indicated during my presence in Bhopal that Professor Menon intends to retire from the position of Director of the Academy. This will be sometime within the next twelve months. This will be a very significant loss to the Academy as his ability, and standards, in building legal academic institutions is undoubted. In India, High Court judges retire at age 62 and Supreme Court judges at age 65. I suspect that mandatory early retirement has caught up with Professor Menon. But he will be a great loss.


3.Tourist interest: Bhopal, in the Decan in Central India, is not one of the most attractive cities of India from a tourist point of view. It is established on two lakes. Whilst these have a special beauty, published tourist guides report on problems of malaria which need to be watched. The distance of the Academy from the city and its elevation on hills outside Bhopal, probably protect it from mosquitos. But malaria prophylaxis is obviously desirable.


4.Common areas: The accommodation and meeting rooms have been completed. However, certain common areas remain to be completed in the building of the Academy facility. These include areas for billiards, a tennis court and informal common rooms. Professor Menon said that he was hopeful, before his departure, to complete all of these as he realises that informal meetings, outside the formal lectures, is an important aspect of the success of the Academy.


5.Climate: The best time to visit Central India is from late October to early April. After that date, it becomes extremely hot. The rainy season sets in early June. These dates need to be watched for visits to Bhopal. During my visit in mid-February the days were sunny but not excessively hot and the evenings were cool.


6.Tourism: Judges visiting the Academy might expect to stay for a week or so. It would be desirable to link visits with visits to the Supreme Court of India in action in New Delhi and/or to visit judicial colleagues in the major State High Courts. When they heard of my visit, judges of the Bombay High Court swiftly organised a luncheon in Mumbai and eight of them attended. There is a keen interest in Australia. There is much interest in the judicial system and also in judicial benefits. There were a lot of questions concerning refugee detention and policy towards Aboriginals. But there is obviously a store of goodwill for Australia and its judicial institutions. We have many things in common - much more than we have in common with the judiciary of China. It would be timely to build on those common links. It is understood that the Australian and Indian governments have agreed to devote more energy to building the bilateral relationship. The economy of India is undergoing major growth. It is likely to continue to do so in the foreseeable future. Its institutional underpinnings (democratic legislatures, independent courts, uncorrupted higher courts and an army that keeps out of politics) are great strengths that reinforce the usefulness of links between Australia and India and their respective judiciaries. The commonalities in the law are significant and worth exploring. It is the biggest functioning democracy on earth.


19 February 2005