This article is written by Vidisha Verma, student at Damodaram Sanjivayya National Law University, Visakhapatnam.
In terms of impartiality, efficiency, and independence, the Indian judiciary, an integrated federal hierarchy with federal, state, and district courts established under the Constitution, outperforms the legislative and executive aspects of the Indian government in both unique and comparable dimensions. As a result, it is critical to recognise and comprehend that, a functioning legal system that delivers justice to the ordinary man is a pre-requisite and foundation of a democratic society. Despite decades of experiments to enhance the justice delivery system, the ordinary man continues to be denied the most fundamental right to justice. The most often debated problems in judicial reform are delays in justice delivery, the resulting pendency, and the growing backlog in courts. Inadequate research on delays is a sign of a larger problem, and an in-depth empirical study of India’s judicial systems is still in its infancy.
As a result, anecdotal information, rough estimates, and occasionally misreported data are used to guide public opinion and legislative choices concerning the courts. Empirically-based reform is especially important in the context of India’s courts, because justice is denied if it is delayed. According to estimates from 2016, judicial delays cost India about 0.5 percent of its GDP each year. Though a variety of causes contribute to the delay, such as law enforcement organisations’ sluggish and ineffective investigations, the major cause is a lack of judicial infrastructure, which includes vacancies in the number of judges, insufficient operational financial allocations, and physical infrastructure. Consequently, the nation is in the dire need for the changes that transform India’s dysfunctional judicial system into an institution that would uphold the fundamental rights of citizens by providing timely justice.
Concerns to be addressed
The endemic delay in Indian courts is one of the most widely discussed topics in judicial reform. On this front, there have been significant attempts to enhance judicial institutions’ performance. However, due to a lack of data-driven research, judicial policy is still based on obsolete or incorrect techniques and estimations. The judiciary’s efforts to enhance its performance and respond to the changing requirements of the litigating public are significantly hampered as a result. Therefore, the following are some of the concerns that can be addressed and their corresponding solutions that can be implemented:
Pendency of cases
Issue: The pendency of cases has been alarmingly high in last few years. Across the country, almost 5.75 million cases are pending in the high courts (HCs), and 38.15 million cases are pending in the district courts (DCs). A whopping 43.90 million cases have been reported. Even the Supreme Court had over 65,000 pending cases as on January 1, 2021, according to ‘National Judicial Data Grid’ official report.
This excludes cases that are pending before multiple tribunals and for which no authentic and up-to-date information appears to be accessible or available. The outcome is an over-burdened and sub-optimal judicial system. Because of the large number of pending criminal cases, many of which may be minor or involve technical violations, those who should be punished for serious violations do not receive the punishment that is due to them in a timely manner, and those who are wrongfully accused must wait years, if at all, to be exonerated. In this context, tribunals were supposed to be a game-changer, addressing economic and other specialised topics that had traditionally been handled by courts. Unfortunately, they haven’t been able to do plentiful.
Suggestion: A comprehensive strategy for data collection and analysis at courts, tribunals, and investigative agencies needs to be developed. This can be done using a set of consistent and agreed-upon parameters, such as those based on the nature of the cases, the length of the pending case, and the stage of the case. This can help in evaluating the impact of various efforts. Additionally, measures to accelerate, promote openness and concentration in investigations, as well as imposing time limitations for the resolution of problems, are critical. Prosecution and punishment should be swift and proportionate, with a focus on the most key offenders. Another solution could be to introduce, publicise, and promote settlement and mediation processes under various legislation, including approaches like deferred prosecution agreements.
Finally, steps to enhance and accelerate justice delivery and case disposition at the tribunal level must be implemented, including timely appointments, appropriate infrastructure, and frequent monitoring of case-load ageing at such tribunals. As a result, the long-standing problem of backlog and delayed cases in the Indian judicial system necessitates a multi-pronged strategy that should involve, among other things, measures to increase court efficiency in resolving cases.
Shortage of judges
Issue: The subject of pendency cannot be addressed unless the problem of the shortage in the appointment of the Judicial officers is dealt with. Out of 1,080 sanctioned posts for judges in higher courts as well as the Supreme Court, as many as 419 are lying vacant. Only 661 posts are being occupied, shows data provided by then Minister of ‘Law & Justice, Communications and Electronics & Information and Technology’ Ravi Shankar Prasad in the Lok Sabha. When it comes to lower courts, as many as 24,247 posts have been sanctioned but 4,928 are lying vacant. It is evident that the Judiciary lacks in the number of the Judicial officers and that is not compensated with the number of new appointments that are being done but a new framework is essential to deal with the condition. This backlog results in large pendency of cases, which eventually violates the spirit of Article 14 (right to equality before law) and Article 21 of the Constitution (right to life and liberty) that too by the protectors of the constitution.
Suggestion: The solution to this has also been endorsed by Justice BN Srikrishna, Justice RC Chavan and 100 Indian Institutes of Technology alumni, which clearly proved that even if we assume no reduction in the number of judicial hours for cases, just ensuring about 15% more judges was adequate. The best way to appoint new judges in the higher court is to have an ideal number of judges chosen through a democratic and transparent process that can manage the backlog of cases in a highly efficient and effective manner.
Furthermore, as a performance-based incentive for states, the government might consider adding efforts and success achieved in reducing pendency in the lower judiciary. The recruiting process should be given greater attention since it has the potential to become a desirable job opportunity for bright and talented young law graduates. The individuals ultimately selected into the judiciary would be of proven competence and ability. Simultaneously, the quality of adjudication and the administration of justice would undergo transformative changes across the judicial system, from the lowest to the highest levels.
Information technology intervention
Information technology is now a tool essential for modernisation of the judicial system. Judicial Administration can play a chief role in making justice more accessible and transparent with the assistance of IT tools. Development and upgradation of the old technology can boost effectiveness and efficiency of courts in the following ways:
- E-filing in all courts: The detailed standard operating procedures on how petitions, affidavits, and fee payment may all be completed online without the need for attorneys or litigants to visit the courts. IT changes will lead to more reliable data gathering, better categorization of cases based on their urgency and importance, and case tracking and monitoring, all of which will improve the judicial process. Many High Courts have mandated that petition be filed by email first, followed by the submission of physical copies. Lawyers and litigants would save a lot of time and money on travel and expenses. It would also free up a lot of room in the courts, making them cleaner and more sophisticated.
- Virtual hearings: Virtual hearings have been held by courts for around two decades in a few cases. But this has been done as an exception. The need for virtual hearings arose as a result of the Covid-19 crisis. We don’t know when the Covid-19 catastrophe will end, but it looks that by 2022, we’ll have a backlog of more than 5 crore cases. By that time, the Indian judicial system would be utterly shattered. As a result, the courts must instantly convert to virtual mode and begin disposing of cases at the usual rate. To protect their exorbitant salaries, some prominent lawyers are fighting virtual courts. Even once the Covid-19 issue has passed, continuing hybrid courts will be extremely useful. It should be up to the attorneys and plaintiffs to decide whether to present virtually or physically. Courts will be less crowded as a result of this and save a lot of wasted time and cost.
Issue: Infrastructure is the elementary prerequisite for anybody to work to the best of its ability. Courts have established dedicated stakes for court administrators in order to improve court operations and increase case flow for more productive judicial time. However, some courts have taken up such positions, while others have yet to occupy the allocated stakes. The employment of outdated technology in administration, as well as the slow pace of development, has resulted in a significant loss of adaptability and an impediment to court efficiency. Low budget allocation to judicial infrastructure has resulted in a depleted structure of buildings that is pathetically dismal, preventing Judges from delivering quality judgments in a timely manner.
Suggestion: A quality infrastructure can help a person complete assigned work in the most effective and efficient manner possible. Similarly, in the judicial system, infrastructure is critical to improving service delivery. In terms of infrastructure, there are several options. Land for infrastructure is essential, and it is the state’s responsibility to provide suitable land for the creation of the Court Premises. Because there is a scarcity of ground, the infrastructure should be built vertically. As a result, there will be a more efficient use of space on the designated property. Furthermore, a change in the low budget allocation to judicial infrastructure must be implemented, as a consequence of which the depleted structure of buildings, which is horribly dismal and preventing Judges from delivering excellent judgements in the shortest possible period, may be eradicated.
Responsibilities of the Court Managers
It is an undoubted fact that Court Managers can have a huge positive impact on the judicial system. Their managerial abilities and experience may usher in waves of change in the judiciary, benefiting not just judges but also litigants, attorneys, government agencies, and other stakeholders. Their job was designed to make a positive difference in the system. However, Court Managers have had a tough decade, as they have dealt with and continue to deal with a variety of difficulties in their daily operations. They’ve been operating in an environment that hasn’t recognised their significance and hasn’t been able to completely integrate them into the system.
Court Managers have not been utilised to their full potential as a result of these difficulties. The government, the Supreme Court, and the high courts have all indicated that judges should be permitted to spend more time on case adjudication and less time on administrative tasks. As a result, the next step is to formalise the role of Court Managers in the system and implement long-awaited reforms. Change in the legal system can only come from inside the system, not from the outside. Judges will have to accept them into the system and maximise their powers in order for them to work optimally. While Court Managers have been functioning in different capacities in various district courts and high courts, their role needs to be expanded and clarified. The Supreme Court can also lead from the front by creating a post of Court Managers in its own establishment and entrust them with various administrative duties. The Supreme Court in its 2018 judgment had stated that Court Managers can improve the efficiency of the system and their position needs to be regularized, it, however, did not explore the possibility of creating this post in Supreme Court itself.
Perhaps, the apex court can implement the post to set an example for courts in the country to follow. After all, even in the Supreme Court, there are many administrative tasks that can be automated. As India enters a new decade, one can only hope that Court Managers be given the respect they deserve inside the system. The problems that Court Managers confront will endure until the government take the required steps to make them an essential part of the judiciary. These reforms are long overdue and must be implemented as soon as possible. With a view to ensure timely and qualitative justice by the courts, to strengthen the judicial administration, and cope up with the dynamic & advanced technological environment, keeping the above challenges and recommendations/suggestions in consideration, it is vital that the post of Court Manager be regularized within the appropriate cadre.
Judicial delay is a hydra-headed monster and needs to be tackled at multiple levels, instead of a single-pronged approach of merely looking at appointments. It necessitates coordination and collaboration among the government, judiciary, bar, and general public. Each individual is a stakeholder who is also accountable for guaranteeing the system’s functionality. As a result, all vacancies in the different courts must be filled, judicial infrastructure, including court halls and technical support, must be improved, and administrative work must be accelerated. Furthermore, it is critical to expedite the reforms suggested by the different law commissions. Criminal cases must be prioritised and disposed within a deadline in order to reduce caseloads by 2025. For civil matters, a separate remedy process should be established. However, there may be a greater allocation in the budgets, both by the Union and by the states, to begin with.
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