This article is written by Kritika Garg, from National Law University, Odisha. This is an exhaustive article that focuses on the burden of the backlog of cases on the Indian judiciary and its solutions.
The judiciary of India is one of the most competent judiciaries in the world. However, it has been suffering from the burden of the backlog of cases for years now. As per the recent survey conducted by the Union Government in 2018, there are over 3 crores cases pending in the Indian judiciary at different courts. What was more shocking was that many of these cases have been pending before the courts for more than 10 years now. The report revealed that approximately 60,000 cases are pending before the Supreme Court of India whereas around 42 lakhs cases are pending in various High Courts of India. The highest number of cases are pending before the District Courts and the subordinate courts of India which is somewhere around 2.7 crores of cases. The reason for the backlog is multifold. The average time for completion of a trial is 6 years which can be further extended if the case is dragged to the Supreme Court. Accepting even the petty cases enhances the burden on the judiciary. Vacancy at the judicial posts is one more reason for the backlog.
As per the data of the Law Ministry, the judiciary is facing an overall shortage of more than 6000 judges including a shortage of 5748 judges in the subordinates courts, 406 judges at different High Courts and 6 at the Supreme Court. Further, the judge-population ratio is the lowest in our country. As per the recent data of the Law Ministry, the judge population ratio is 19.49 judges per million people which is much lower as compared to the developed countries. Australia has a ratio of 41.6 per million people whereas it is 75.2 per million people in Canada, the United kingdom has 50.9 per million people while the USA has 107 per million people. Further, in the case of All Indian Judges Association & Ors. v. Union of India (2003), the apex court observed that the strength of the judges must be increased every year by 10 per million people for the next five years so that the desired ratio of 50 per million people could be obtained which was recommended in the 120th report by the Law Commission of India. However, the Government failed to make the desired moves here as well.
Lok Adalat is an alternative dispute resolution mechanism where the disputes are settled amicably at the pre-litigation stage. The concept of Lok Adalat was given statutory status under the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987. They were set up to clear the backlog issue in the courts.
Lok Adalats, as quoted by Justice Ramaswamy, can not only help in resolving the disputes at a lower litigation charge but it also saves time of the parties, and their witnesses and thus, provides an inexpensive and prompt remedy to the satisfaction of both the parties. The decision passed by the Lok Adalats is considered equivalent to the decision of a civil court and is thus final and binding on both parties. In the case of Punjab National Bank v. Lakshmichand Rai, it was observed that Lok Adalats are conducted under an independent enactment and the awards passed by it are final and binding on the parties. Further, Section 21(2) of the Legal Services Authority Act states that no appeal shall lie against an order of the Lok Adalat.
Therefore, the use of Lok Adalat can help in alleviating the burden of backlog on the Indian judiciary by ensuring speedy disposal of the cases at a low price with the satisfaction of both the parties and since the order of the Adalats is final, no appeal is filed in the Appellate Court, thus, reducing the burden of cases.
Alternative Dispute Resolution
Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR), also known as External Dispute Resolution, refers to the means of settling disputes outside the court. It is the process in which the concerned parties with or without the help of the third party reaches upon an agreement for resolving the dispute. ADR can be used to settle disputes pertaining to Family Law, Workplace disputes, Environmental disputes, Business disputes such as acquisition, merger, etc. The main mechanisms of ADR include Arbitration, Mediation, Negotiation, and Conciliation. It is one of the most effective instruments for settling disputes since it is a speedy process that costs less as compared to litigation.
The concept of ADR was first introduced in the Arbitration Act, 1940 which was later replaced by the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996. Section 89(1) of the Code of Civil Procedure also provides for a choice of settling disputes outside the court. The Section states that the court can suggest the settlement of the dispute outside the court via mediation or arbitration if it appears to the court that it can be resolved amicably by both parties.
Promoting the use of ADR can be an effective solution to the backlog issue since it’s a fast process of solving disputes outside the court. In fact, many senior judges and lawyers of our country have promoted the use of ADR for solving minor disputes so that the burden on the judiciary can be eased out and the judiciary can concentrate on more pressing issues.
Central Tribunals as the final resort
The Indian judiciary has been overburdened with cases for years. The pendency of the cases points to the injustice that is being done to the citizens of the country. To resolve this problem, the justice mechanism of the country established tribunals that were meant to overcome delays in the dispensation of justice by regular courts. While the tribunals have been successful in disposing of the cases, however, the orders of the tribunals are further challenged in the courts which further enhances the burden of the judiciary and overlooks the main essence of establishing the tribunals. Therefore, another solution for lightening the burden of the judiciary can be to ensure that the Central Tribunals act as the last resort and their orders are not further challenged in the Supreme Court directly. For instance, the Central Administrative Tribunal must be the final resort for matters pertaining to service conditions without any scope for further appeal. Similarly, the Income Tax Appellate tribunal must be the final resort for tax matters rather than stretching the cases for years in the apex court.
Plea bargain refers to the concept of negotiation between the prosecution and the defence where the defence pleads guilty in exchange for a lenient punishment. This concept was introduced in 2005 and was enacted in 2006 on the recommendations made by the Law Commission of India in its 142nd and 154th law commission report. The recommendations were made due to the pendency of criminal cases before the judiciary of India. However, it took around 14 years to introduce plea bargaining which led to the mass compilation of the criminal cases.
Additionally, the concept was brought in with a lot of restrictions on its implementation such as it was restricted on crimes against women and children, crime with imprisonment of 7 or more than 7 years, crimes punishable with life imprisonment or death sentence, and many more making it impossible to use it.
Further, even in the crimes where plea bargaining could be applied, the courts became a barrier due to their discretion in punishing the offender. In the case of Murlidhar Meghraj Loya v. State of Maharashtra, the Supreme Court held that it is the duty of the state to enforce law and order and the same cannot be bartered with the accused of a lesser sentence.
Due to these issues, the concept of plea bargaining was not successfully implemented in India. However, it can be used as an effective way of lightening the burden of the judiciary if the same is implemented properly on the lines of the recommendations made by the Law Commission.
Certain recommendations that could be used for better implementation of plea Bargaining in India for easing out the backlog of cases are:
- The restrictions on the use of plea bargaining as mentioned under Section 265A of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 must be done away with. Crimes against women and children, crimes with a punishment of 7 years or more must be included in the Plea bargaining as well.
- The accused is mandated to file an application to the court requesting for plea bargaining as per Section 265B of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973. This implies that the accused and the victim should know about plea bargaining even before the trial starts. Thus, the judge must inform the accused and the victim about the provisions.
- As per Section 265E of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, the judge has the discretion to award punishment once the deal is struck down. This provision shall be removed for the reason that it discourages the accused from pleading guilty since the final decision still remains in the hand of the judge.
- Appropriate time should be given to the victims to think about the plea deal so that it can be ensured that it has been agreed upon by their free will, minimising the chances of the plea getting struck down.
Application of plea bargaining will not only ease out the burden on the Indian judiciary but will also ensure that the victims do not suffer in order to get justice by providing a speedy and effective way of case resolution.
Reformation in the Indian judiciary
Apart from implementing other means of solving disputes, what is important is to improve the current scenario of the Indian judiciary. It has become extremely crucial to ensure that the Indian judiciary is not lacking behind because of lack of infrastructure and lack of legal staff. As per the data of the Law Ministry, the Indian judiciary is facing a shortage of judges across all levels which is a major issue. The judge-population ratio of our country is lowest as compared to other developed countries.
Thus, it has become indispensable to increase the staff strength to get rid of the backlog of cases. The 2018-2019 Economic Survey suggests that approximately 2279 judges would be required to clear out all the cases filed in the lower courts in a year. Further, around 8152 additional judges would be required to clear the backlog of the past 5 years.
Further, the infrastructure needs to be improved in order to get rid of the backlog. As per the 2018-2019 Economic Survey, the establishment of special services known as Indian Courts and Tribunal Services(ICTS) for administrative support to the Indian judges could be one possible way of improving the infrastructure. This will ensure that the judges focus on judicial activity while the streamlining process could be handled by the ICTS.
Apart from the above-mentioned suggestions, there are many more reforms that have been recommended by various commissions over years for tackling the issue of backlog comprehensively. In 2005, the 11th Finance Commission recommended the establishment of fast track courts to solve the issue. Further, the 245th Law Commission in 2014, recommended the establishment of special courts for handling trivial cases such as cases relating to traffic offences, etc which can be adjudicated by the recent law graduates. The commission also recommended the raising of the retirement age of judges in the lower courts. While there are plenty of methods available to unclog the expanding docket of the overburdened judiciary, there is a dire need to take drastic steps to implement the same. The government requires to take steps for implementing and promoting the alternatives of the regular courts and most importantly bring a change in the Indian judiciary by improving the infrastructure and enhancing the judge-population ratio.
Further, spreading awareness about the Alternative Dispute Resolution mechanisms, Lok Adalats is the need of the hour. The general public at large is not aware of the alternatives that are not only speedy but also less expensive. As per the Government report, awareness about the mechanisms was below 40%. Therefore, to conclude, it is only through the efforts of the government and the Indian judiciary that the issue of the backlog can be solved and justice can be served at the earliest.
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