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This article has been written by Shreya Singh.

Abstract

India has been experiencing docket explosion and the problem of huge arrears of pending cases for long decades. A large number of pending cases has crippled the efficient working of the judiciary and has adversely affected the right of the citizen to timely delivery of justice. This article is an attempt to critically examine the issues of the huge backlog of cases in Indian courts and suggest some reforms.

Introduction

There is one very famous legal phrase “Justice delayed is justice denied’’ which has a perfect application in the judiciary administrative system. Timely disposal of cases is essential for maintaining the rule of law and providing access to justice which is a guaranteed fundamental right. 

The Arrears of cases refers to a situation where there is an unwarranted delay in the system for longer than the normal time at its disposal.

The Backlog of cases refers to a situation in which a court’s caseload is so overburdened that it is unable to hear or try cases in a timely manner.

The need of the hour is to expeditiously and effectively resolve cases otherwise in the near future, it is going to completely demolish the whole edifice of the judicial system.

The rationale behind the arrears and backlog of cases

Inadequate judges strength

A large factor could merely be the chronic shortage of judges against the sanctioned strength because of the lack of the appointment of new judicial officers to fill up the vacant position. More than half of the posts remain vacant.

Time limits

In India, cases were not settled on time because of multiple reasons, out of which some of them are:

  • There is a serious problem of case management in procedure law in India as many times procedural conducts are not being followed by the court, like granting unnecessary adjournments, etc.
  • Lack of punctuality among the judges.
  • The absence of a time frame to dispose of cases.

This leads to the pendency of cases.

Infrastructure problem

There is a lack of adequate infrastructure because of the low budget allocation towards the judicial infrastructure due to which the Judges are unable to deliver quality judgments in efficient time.

Administrative problem

Capacity constraints are the main reasons for high levels of pendency. The subordinate judiciary has not been provided with a sufficient number of courtrooms, support staff and residential accommodation for judges, which leads to a severe shortage of resources required to dispose of a case within a reasonable period of time.

Long customary vacations and holidays

In India, there are long yawning vacations and holidays routinely enjoyed by the judges that badly disturb the impetus of judicial work.

Obsolete technology

Old technology used in administration and the slow change is a heavy loss on adaptation and a hindrance to the efficiency of courts.

Poor judicial quality

The quality of judges in lower courts is miserable. The judgments given by them are not up to the mark which again increases the number of appealing cases in the various high courts. Due to this reason, nearly 87.5% of all pending cases in India come from the lower courts.

Legal implications

There are more than 3 crore cases pending in different courts of India. Many of these cases are pending or under trial for more than 10 yrs. Below are the data, showing the number of pending cases in India in the Supreme Court, high courts and district & subordinate courts:

Pending dashboard (current data)

COURTS

CIVIL

CRIMINAL

DISTRICT COURTS

10177724

27595064

HIGH COURTS

4101834

1602824

SUPREME COURT

66072

There is an exorbitant delay in the disposal of cases in the Indian courts and this is getting exacerbated by the day, leading to dilution of the Constitutional guarantee of access to timely justice and erosion of the rule of law, because of which people are rapidly losing faith in the judiciary as the cases drag on, often for decades. Judges are not the sole authority to be blamed for not disposing of cases expeditiously but there are many who are responsible for the delay, like trials held up due to paucity of public prosecutors, witness absent on the date of trial, service of summons delayed due to the laxity of the police, etc.

The fundamental rights of the prisoners, convicts, accused, victims and other concerned people are badly affected due to the unnecessary delay in disposal of cases:

  1. The delay in the execution of death row convicts coupled with long years of solitary confinement leads to psychological trauma and is against the canons of justice.
  2. Deprivation of liberty even for a single day is one day too many in spite of this, the court rejects the bail application of people jailed for years without trials and sometimes even for something that a man didn’t even do.
  3. Huge injustice is caused to the families of the “under trial prisoners” languishing in prisons for long years.

The SC, in Hussainara Khatoon Vs. the state of Bihar, held that speedy trial is of essence to criminal justice and the delay in trial by itself constitutes denial of justice.

The SC, in Kartar Singh Vs. the State of Punjab, observed that speedy trial is covered under Article 21 of the Constitution that is an essential part of the fundamental right to life and liberty.

But even after these judgments, there is a continuous violation of fundamental rights and no radical steps have been taken so far.

Suggested reforms

The credibility of constitutional governance gets steadily eroded over a period of time, if the reforms are not sought radically.

Judicial intervention

  • As per the 13th Finance Commission report, professionals should be appointed to assist the judges.
  • The number of working days in courts should be increased and there is a need to shorten the long vacations and holidays of the judges.
  • Strict regulation regarding adjournment of cases to be followed.

Legislative intervention

  • The Constitution has given the power to the SC under Article 136 to intervene in exceptional cases. But nowadays, all kinds of cases are entertained under this Article, even if some of which never deserved to be entertained. So, there is a need to revisit the scope of Article 136.
  • Alternate dispute resolution mechanism, lok adalats and gram nyayalayas need to be further entrenched or create additional courts for speedy clearance.

Executive intervention

  • Setting quality judicial infrastructure.

Information technology intervention

  • Deployment of technology to improve the efficiency of courts.
  • Increasing the pace of the e-court Mission Mode Project.

Educational intervention

  • As per the 245 reports of LCI, a practical assessment approach to be implemented that involves teaching the pattern of current filing, disposal, etc 

Time limitations

  • As per 245 reports of LCI, normative assessment approach to be implemented means fixing time standards for the disposal of cases.

Proper management

  • Need of an hour is to take an initiative for proper management of filing of cases, court management, evidence management, etc.

The professional ethics of an advocate should be maintained

  • Advocate’s savagery is a major issue due to which this profession is getting exploited day by day and people are losing faith in the judiciary.

Miscellaneous

  1. The advocates should be timely tested to scrutinise whether they are just bumming around and filing cases to fill their pockets or they are buckling down and burning their midnight oil. For that, after every 3 or 5 years, there shall be an exam for advocates to prove their efficiency and on the basis of the exam, their license should be renewed.
  2. The advocates shall be severely penalised by suspending their license for filing excessive infructuous cases.
  3. The tribunals shall be delegated more authority in cases of non-compliance of its award or shall be declared equivalent to contempt of court. 
  4. The court should take suo moto action related to malicious prosecution.
  5. The requisites for filing of cases shall be more stern so that the court’s precious time can be saved from inutile cases.
  6. The policemen shall be devolved more power in manoeuvring trivial affairs.
  7. There shall be more arbitration and conciliation centres to reduce the burden on courts. 
  8. Strict disciplinary action shall be taken against the judicial employees regarding malpractices in terms of allocation and hearing of cases.
  9. In my views, Part II, Section 36 to 74 and Order 21 of the C.P.C 1908 shall be repealed as there shall be no provision of execution proceedings because as soon as the judgement is announced, it shall spontaneously be complied since already the trial proceedings take forever to conclude, and then the time lag of execution proceedings sucks all the remaining blood of the aggrieved party.

Conclusion

The progress or development of any nation depends on a strong judicial system. In India, there is a huge backlog of cases that amounts to denial and derailment of justice. So, there is an urgent need to expeditiously resolve this problem as speedy justice is not just a fundamental right but also a prerequisite of maintaining rule of law and delivering good governance. Therefore, it is imperative that the vicious cycle of arrears and delays should be brought to a fruitful conclusion.


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