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Days after the Supreme Court of India’s landmark ruling against legalizing same-sex marriages, Chief Justice Dhananjaya Y. Chandrachud sat down with Harvard Law Professor David B. Wilkins ’77 to discuss the role of the judiciary in modern society at a Harvard Law School event.
During the talk, hosted Saturday evening by the Harvard Law School Center on the Legal Profession, Chandrachud discussed expanding access to legal professions, advancing national legal literacy, and upholding a robust judiciary in India. He addressed questions and concerns from an audience of Harvard affiliates from various schools.
When asked about the Supreme Court of India’s recent refusal to legalize same-sex marriage and the role of courts in creating a more inclusive society, Chandrachud pointed out that courts’ decisions are reflective of temporary moments in time.
“All social transformation takes place on a continuum. In much of the work that we do as judges, you cannot regard what you see as the last word in the subject, or the end of the process of evolution,” he said.
In light of the recent ruling, Chandrachud said it was important to view courts not as lawmakers but as a forum for discussion between citizens and governments.
“Dialogue is vital to the sustenance of democracy and the rule of law,” he said. “By fostering that dialogue we created, we create spaces in society for citizens to take that dialogue forward.”
Stressing the difficulty of maintaining a judiciary in India, Chandrachud emphasized the “huge volume” of cases — more than 50,000 — brought before India’s Supreme Court.
“I don’t think any other Supreme Court in the world has to deal with that kind of volume of work,” he said.
Fielding questions on the growing role of technology in the legal space, Chandrachud sympathized with concerns about the potential influence of social media on the judiciary.
“I certainly am trained to keep my reasoning as a judge distinct from what is expressed in the media,” he said. “And I’m not sure that’s so with the prevalence of the electronic media.”
Chandrachud also discussed the enormous potential new technologies have to offer in the legal field. As chairperson of the “e-Committee” of the Supreme Court of India, he highlighted initiatives he has led, including livestreaming court proceedings, using AI to translate judgments from English to other Indian languages, and allowing citizens to file cases on the internet.
When thinking about the law within a broader context, Chandrachud suggested giving students a broad understanding of how law intersects with other fields, saying there is a “fundamental connect” between access to justice and the law.
Chandrachud emphasized the influence of legal education in expanding diversity of the courts, especially regarding women. He said ensuring inclusivity in the student body of law schools and democratizing access to legal education are “the key” to social transformation.
“I was at Harvard Law School 40 years ago. So I’m now helping the Indian judiciary 40 years later,” he said. “The groundwork which we lay down today, in terms of legal education, will ultimately determine the course of our societies — not 40 years down the line, that’s too long a period — but certainly 20 years down the line.”
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