Testing judicial reforms
GS Paper II
Topic: Structure, organization and functioning of the Executive and the Judiciary Ministries and Departments of the Government.
Mains: Pendency of cases
What’s the News?
Currently, there are more than 3.5 crore cases pending across the country’s high courts and district courts of India. Many of these cases are pending for more than 10 years.
Filling Vacancies- the solution?
• A large factor could merely be lack of judges against the sanctioned strength of the High Court in question. At present, nearly 40 per cent of seats in the high Courts are vacant and vacancy has never been below 20 per cent in the last decade.
• Caseload per judge and judge to population ratio, which are believed to be the biggest reason behind pendency, are found to be comparable to international jurisdictions studied by the team.
• Albeit, there is a correlation between caseload per judge and pendency; and judge to population ratio and pendency; it is not the single most important factor.
• The data from states that have achieved low pendency and arrears indicates that it is possible to achieve performance even in conditions of high caseload and adverse judge-to-population ratio.
• However, it is possible to achieve performance even in conditions of high caseload and adverse judge-to-population ratio. It masks the deeper systemic flaws in the judicial system that causes such high pendency.
• Judicial inefficiencies: Lower courts suffer from inefficiencies such as absence of judges, overcrowding in listing of cases, paucity of time to hear matters, absence of counsel, unnecessary adjournment etc., which contribute to judicial delays and hampers access to justice.
• Inordinate delays: Inordinate delay in filling up the vacancies of judicial officers- Adjournments are granted too easily and freely, and in the absence of a fixed time table to dispose of cases leads to delays in disposing the case.
• The Supreme Court’s increased activity is being driven by appeals from lower courts.
• Delays due to stay orders: Nearly half of all cases are delayed because of a stay order issued by a high court or the district court itself — which can temporarily stop a judicial proceeding and require responses from the involved parties.
• Legal awareness: It has been noticed that lower court judges lack appropriate knowledge of emerging and more specialised areas of law.
• The special leave petition (SLP) which the Constituent Assembly hoped would be used sparingly, but which now dwarfs the work of the Supreme Court.
• Due to Government Litigation-According to the Ministry of Law and Justice, government departments are a party to around “46 percent” of court cases.
• Resource constraints: Between 2006 and 2017, the number of cases that were initiated in India’s lower courts increased from 15 million to 20 million. But corresponding physical infrastructure, personnel infrastructure and digital infrastructure could not expand proportionately, thus resulting in delays in resolution of disputes.
There is of course no one magic bullet solution which can resolve the long-standing problem of backlog and delayed cases in the Indian judicial system. The magnitude of the problem requires a multi-pronged approach which, among other, should include efforts to improve the efficiency of courts in disposing of cases within a short time frame.
• Right to justice, which is a fundamental right, would stand denied to litigants due to delay in the disposal of cases.
• The impunity that criminals may enjoy because of slow legal system.
• The long-term consequence of such high pendency is an erosion of faith in the institution of the judiciary.
• Justice delivery is the monopoly of the state but delays and the cost of litigation have led to people approaching non-judicial bodies outside the formal court system such as khap panchayats, religious leaders and politicians for dispute resolution. The problem of judicial delay, however, stubbornly persists.
• The e-Committee of the Supreme Court had launched the National Judicial Data Grid (NJDG) to provide data on cases pending in the district courts across the country.
• The NJDG is a part of the on-going e-Courts Integrated Mission Mode Project.
• The NJDG works as a monitoring tool to identify manage and reduce pendency of cases.
• The 229th Law Commission report proposed establishing separate benches to hear appeals and constitutional matters.
• The report also suggested the establishment of regional Supreme Court benches to hear appeals from high courts.
• The Law Commission had also recommended increase in the number of judges to 50 judges per 10 lakh people.
• Creation of a temporary capacity: The objective of this step would be to bring down pendency within a short time of two years. This could be achieved by appointing fixed term judges either from pool of retired judges, or pool of senior lawyers, or from among other professionals and citizens. Such capacity and precedence would also act as buffer during any future spurts of excessive pendency.
• Centralised system of recruitments to lower judiciary: A centralized recruitment system for lower courts along the lines of the Union Public Services Commission must be implemented.
• Creation of Indian Courts and Tribunal Services: Court administration must support the judges in performing their core judicial function efficiently. In this context, there is a need to create a specialized service called Indian Courts and Tribunal Services (ICTS) that focuses on the administrative aspects of the legal system.
• Deployment of technology: Technology can significantly improve the efficiency of courts. Forinstance, eCourts Mission Mode Project that is being rolled out in phases which has led to the creation of the National Judicial Data Grid (NJDG). Digitalization of cases can allow for the stake-holders to keep track of individual cases and their evolving status.
• Increase number of working days: The subordinate courts work for average 244 days in a year. Increasing the number of working days can improve productivity of the lower judiciary even further.
• Capacity building: Training should be imparted on consistent basis to keep pace with the constant developments in different fields of law.
• Acute judicial backlog and arrears in the lower court tend to undermine the magnitude of investments and economic growth. One of the major constraints to ease of doing business in India is now the ability to enforce contracts and resolve disputes. Thus, a coordinated action between government and the judiciary is needed to address the delays and consequently boost economic activity.
• Addressing the backlog is necessary to maintain India’s “constitutional democracy,” to adhere to “the rule of law” and to “guarantee order and stability in society”.
• The country’s progress depends on a strong judicial system which can provide quick justice because justice delayed is justice denied.
1. “Currently, there are more than 3.5 crore cases pending across the country’s high courts and district courts of India and the solution lies in increasing the number of judges”. Critically analyze the given statement w.r.t the issue of pendency of cases in Indian courts and suggest measures to improve the justice delivery system in India.