In the midst of a raging controversy over corruption in judiciary, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Thursday said the time has come for "introspection" on judicial appointments.
He also said that personal record and reputation of judges has a bearing on the public perception of the judicial system.
The prime minister's remarks come close on the heels of the government preparing to move an impeachment motion against Calcutta high court Judge Soumitra Sen who has been accused of financial misconduct as a lawyer, before being elevated.
Releasing a book Judicial Reflections of Justice Bhagwati, Dr Singh said time has come for introspection to ensure that judicial appointments at all levels live up to exacting standards associated with the former chief justice of India.
"There is no doubt that the personal record and reputation of those who sit in judgment does shape our view of the judicial system," he said.
"People judge an institution by what it does and how it impacts their life. Perceptions are formed about efficiency, about fairness, about honesty and integrity and about competence and compassion," he said.
These perceptions cannot be willed. They are shaped by experience, by hearsay and by public debate and discourse, he said.
On the issue of providing access to justice, he said, "Steps have been taken to promote legal empowerment and judicial reform. In the past four years we have taken several initiatives to strengthen the judiciary at various levels, and reduce the backlog of pending cases."
But we have a large unfinished agenda to reduce the cost of litigation, the magnitude of long pending cases in our courts and to ensure accessibility of the justice system to the poor, he said.
Praising Justice Bhagwati for his contribution to the idea of public interest litigation, the prime minister said, "This instrument of legal empowerment has left a deep imprint on our legal process and on the processes of social change and political empowerment in our country."
Many would argue that like in so many things in public life, in PILs too we may have gone too far. Perhaps a corrective measure was required and we have had some balance restored in recent times, he added.
Referring to arrears of cases, the prime minister said the government has asked state governments to increase the numbers of judicial officers at district and subordinate levels.
"I recognise that apart from increasing the number of judicial functionaries, we must also upgrade the existing infrastructure," he said.
Many court buildings and complexes have not seen any expansion since the time they were originally built. I also urge those responsible for maintenance of court premises to take steps that restore to the judiciary the majesty we would like our people to associate with it, he said.
Later, the Chief Justice of India K G Balakrishnan said, "I am concerned with the increasing instances of corruption in judiciary."
At the book release function, others who talked about Justice P N Bhagwati's contributions included Home Minister Shivraj Patil, Law Minister H R Bhardwaj and Finance Minister P Chidambaram.
The book released at the function was titled Judicial Reflections of Justice Bhagwati and its authors are Ram Kishore Choudhury and Tapash Gan Choudhury.