This article is written by Arundhati Roy
The Indian Justice Delivery System seems to have taken a backseat due to a plethora of factors such as lack of workforce, failure to fill up vacancies in the judiciary, piling up of cases over the years, and the never-ending litigation process itself. Adding to the woes of the people litigating, the Covid-19 pandemic has created severe disruptions in our Justice Delivery System.
The saying “Justice delayed is justice denied” has become the current prevailing scenario of the Indian judiciary. As per various reports, the pendency of cases has crossed 4.4 crores across all courts during the pandemic. This consists of the accumulation of cases across the Supreme Court, High Courts, and 19000 District Courts, and subordinate courts.
Despite the adoption of the Digital platform to conduct urgent hearings soon after the lockdown was lifted, the judicial administration failed to cope up with the pandemic situation. Amidst the surge in the pendency of cases, it is appalling to see that the Supreme Court and the High Courts are enjoying their vacation period without being concerned about the plight of the litigants.
Endeavours were taken by the Law Commission as well as by litigants through various Public Interest Litigations (PILs) to highlight the huge pendency of cases, yet there has been heedlessness on the part of the Indian Judiciary. In the present article, the author has attempted to show the lacunae in the existing justice delivery system and how disillusioned the system is.
Importance of High Courts
The High Courts in India are vested with the supreme powers of the judiciary for each State. The role played by the High Courts is remarkable in delivering justice in its true essence. It is regarded as the second most potent authority after the Supreme Court for ensuring conviction to a criminal and freedom to an innocent person.
Articles 214 to 231 of the Constitution of India deals with the provisions relevant for the High Courts in India. Article 226 of the Constitution of India empowers the High Courts to issue the writs to enforce the fundamental rights that have been violated.
The Constitution of India has entrusted the Supreme Court and the High Courts with the writ jurisdiction in any case of infringement of fundamental rights. As it has been said, with great powers comes great responsibilities, the impugned question is, “the High Courts, whom we consider paramount with regard to Indian Judiciary, is it genuinely functioning in upholding and imparting justice to all?”
Vacation period of High Courts
It is pertinent to note that the duration of vacations in the High Courts is governed by the Rules or Procedures which the concerned High Court itself frames. In general, the High Courts enjoy Christmas and winter holidays as well as summer vacations.
Apart from these three vacations, the High Courts have 20 other holidays in a year which is fixed. The total number of working days of the High Court has not been prescribed; it only says that the number of working days of the High Court generally does not fall below 222 days in a year.
Need to increase the working days of High Courts
Recently in 2018, a writ petition was filed by a petitioner Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay in the Supreme Court of India seeking directions to be issued by the Court to reduce the pendency of cases by filing up the vacancies in the subordinate judiciary. The petition highlighted the need to increase the working days of the Court.
It was prayed in the petition that the working days of courts be increased to 225 working days in a year and 6 hours of working per day.
It is significant to note that the petition emphasized the right to speedy justice while stating that the said right is a Constitutional reality that requires to be given its due respect. It has been correctly stated in the petition that “a guilty person deserves to be punished promptly and an innocent should be released immediately because his protractions in the legal system can be most traumatic.”
There is an urgent need to bring reformation in the present judicial structure. Furthermore, the petitioner pointed out that there has been a constant violation of Right to Speedy trial as enshrined under Article 21 of the Constitution, which imbibes the Right to Life due to the unreasonable delay in the litigation process.
The Supreme Court has time and again clarified that “speedy trial is the essence to criminal justice, and there can be no doubt that the delay in trial by itself constitutes a denial of justice.”
It is nothing but denial of justice when the court of law fails to fulfill its duty of imparting justice to all. The legal regime has been formulated over the years to safeguard the Right to Speedy Trial.
However, the protracted pendency of cases has led to the creation of not just physical suffering but also mental suffering for the litigants and their families. People’s confidence has been shaken in the judiciary caused by the inordinate delay in every step of the litigation due to numerous contributing factors such as adjournments, vacations of courts, inadequate judges, etc.
According to the petition, 320 years would be taken by the Indian Judiciary to unload the burden of pending cases, which comprises 31.28 million pending cases in all the courts in India.
It further mentions the cause of such logjam of cases that deficit in the number of judges appointed. As per the data, the Indian Judiciary has only 13.05 judges per one million people. This manifests the wretched condition of the judicial administration.
Factors contributing to such delays
It is noteworthy to go through the reasons as laid down in the petition for the accumulation of cases over the years. The disposal of cases takes an eternity, but who cares? Indeed, it is the common man, fighting for justice before the court of law, who actually grieves. The factors contributing to the delays in disposal of cases have been stated below:
- Pre-trial delays
- Delay during trial
- delay during appellate proceedings and
- delay during the execution proceedings.
In addition to these factors, there are other elements causing such unreasonable delay. They are as follows:
- Judicial vacancies/delay in appointment of judge,
- Lack of accountability of judges,
- Too many vacations in the courts,
- Misuse of public interest litigation,
- Witnesses turning hostile
- Writ jurisdictions and
- Delay by the judges.
The above-specified causes to name a few, are the common causes contributing to the arrears of cases in India. However, with utter dismay, these causes do not have an end here; they go hand in hand with the other supplementary causes such as the adoption of dilatory tactics by the litigants and their lawyers to delay the proceedings in court, recurrent adjournments for trivial reasons, unskilled judicial staff, etc, lead to overburdening of cases.
What is the need for so many vacations in High Courts?
It has nowhere been clarified that why the High Courts need so many vacations. When the country is in dire need to lower the surge in the piling up of cases, the High Courts are busy enjoying their vacation periods. The litigants had already been traumatized during the Covid-19 lockdown period in March 2020.
The adversity caused by the lockdowns has shattered millions of lives, yet the High courts took no notice of the plight of litigants. With the High Courts taking up only urgent matters, what about the other cases which require attention and need to be resolved.
The High Courts have been established to fulfil the Preamble’s object, which states, “to secure to all its citizens: Justice – social, economic and political.” How can justice be secured to all the citizens when the judiciary is in fact, enjoying vacation.
There should be no doubt that each human being should relish vacations, but there should be an appropriate balance between the duties and the vacations.
The Law Commission has pointed it in several reports presented by it since 1955. All the Reports from the 14th 38th 78th 79th 80th 117th 120th 121st 124th 125th 154th 139th 197th 221st 222nd 229th 230th and 245th reports addressed the issues of delay, pendency, backlogs, and vacations of High Courts.
The Government failed to consider the recommendation made by the Law Commission from time to time. This makes it obvious that the Government has neglected the needs of the citizens and rather focused on making efforts for its own enjoyment.
As the present situation prevails, it has become the need of the hour to cut the vacation period of Judges and subordinate staff. In order to dispose of the pending cases, the judges should dedicate the whole day; this will help relieve the piling up of cases and remove the burden on the judges who will be appointed in the near future.
Our country’s situation demands that courts reduce their long vacation periods, i.e., the summer vacation, winter vacation, Christmas vacation, etc. The petition filed by BJP leader Ashwini Kumar Upadhyaya has rightly said that “Every Court including Apex Court must function at least six hours per day and 225 days per year.”
What does the 221st and 230th Report of the Law Commission say?
The 221st Report of the Law Commission:
The 221st report presented by the Law Commission in April 2009 was titled “The Need for Speedy Justice- Some Suggestions.” The report was formed taking into account the huge arrears of cases, specifically in High Courts and District Courts. It was stated in the report that huge pendency is a cause of great concern not only for the litigants but for the State as well. The report read as “It is a fundamental right of every citizen to get speedy justice and speedy trial which also is the fundamental requirement of good judicial administration.” Accordingly, various suggestions were given in the Report to provide speedy justice and control frivolous, vexatious, and luxurious litigations.
With the presentation of the 221st Report, the Law Commission was confident that if amendments, as stated, are carried out, not only litigants will get speedy and less expensive justice, but the pendency of the cases will be reduced and frivolous litigation will be under observation.
The 230th Report of the Law Commission:
The presentation of the 230th Report of the Law Commission was done in August 2009. The report was titled “Reforms in the judiciary – Some suggestions.” The report suggested that there is a need to bring about radical changes in the formation and functioning of the High Courts in India.
This will enable the citizens to have fair and speedy justice and will increase their faith in the justice delivery system. The report stressed that under our Constitution, the post of judge holds a significant place. The incumbent mustn’t be just fair, independent, and unbiased but also intelligent and diligent.
Further, the committee suggested that the strength of judges be increased and new benches of High Courts should be created.
While suggesting various reformatory measures, the Law Commission took into that account that almost every High Court has a large amount of backlog of cases; on the other hand, the strength of judges does not suffice to deal with such a distressing situation. Moreover, the committee focused on increasing the number of working days and keeping a check on the vacations enjoyed by the High Courts
Contemporary times require the judicial mechanism to adapt to the changing times. It is high time for the judicial administration to understand that a long vacation period won’t do any good to the citizens nor lessen cases’ arrears. Citizens pay taxes which, according to the Government, are directed towards the infrastructural development of the country, in turn benefitting the citizens of the country.
However, when we take a look into the present system of judicial administration, there is no such enhancement for availing the litigants of the simplified procedure in both civil and criminal cases. It is to be stressed that a simplified procedure would help ease the obstacles faced by the litigants in filing complaints and applications.
The delay in the litigation process increases the financial burden on the litigants. The Hon’ble Judges fail to realize what a litigant has to get a date fixed for their matters and how much disturbance is caused in their lives due to the postponement of hearings.
It has become a necessity that the legislatures carry out reformations in the present judicial system as recommended by the Law Commission. The vacation period of the High Courts and the Apex Court needs to be curtailed, filing up the vacancies by appointing judges, using the funds collected from the citizen to build up a strong and efficient judicial system, providing infrastructure to deal with all kinds of problems, only then the objective in the Preamble of the Indian Constitution can be achieved in its true spirit. Citizens should have faith in the judiciary.
Every litigant should be aware of its right of Speedy Justice and Speedy trial; in the absence of both, the citizen will be deprived of his Right to Life as guaranteed by the Constitution. In addition to this, it should not be forgotten that delay in justice frustrates the very purpose of it. As per the existing judicial mechanism, it takes 20-30 years or sometimes even a life span of a litigant to finally dispose of a matter.
Needless to say, that the present attitude of the judicial administration has to be eradicated by taking all the effective steps towards that direction, or else the whole judiciary might collapse.
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