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RSTV: THE BIG PICTURE- PENDENCY OF CASE & VIRTUAL COURTS

RSTV


Introduction:

Mounting pendency of cases from the Supreme Court to the lower courts has Vice President M. Venkaiah Naidu worried as he expressed concern on the issue. Naidu also urged the government and the judiciary to ensure faster justice. He was addressing the Platinum Jubilee meet of Dr B.R. Ambedkar College of Law, Andhra University on the occasion of its 76th Foundation Day. Naidu underscored the need to make delivery of justice speedier and affordable. Citing adjournment of cases over long periods, he observed that justice was becoming costly and referred to the well-known proverb “justice delayed is justice denied”. In a significant statement, the Vice President remarked that Public Interest Litigations (PILs) should not become private interest litigations for personal, pecuniary and political interests.

Present Status:

  • Supreme Court continues to be plagued by pending cases inspite of the steps taken to address it.
  • 60,450 pending matters in the Supreme Court.
  • In the high courts, there are 45,12,800 pending cases of which 85% cases are pending since last 1 year.
  • Over 2,89,96000 cases, are pending in various subordinate courts of the country, latest official data shows of which 80% are pending since last one year.
  • The criminal cases are more compared to civil cases.

Reasons:

  • Inordinate delay in filling up the vacancies of judicial officers, around 6000 posts are lying empty in the subordinate courts. It leads to poor Judges to Population Ratio, as India has only 20 judges per million population. Earlier, Law Commission had recommended 50 judges per million.
  • Frequent adjournments: The laid down procedure of allowing a maximum of three adjournments per case is not followed in over 50 per cent of the matters being heard by courts, leading to rising pendency of cases.
  • The Supreme Court’s increased activity is being driven by appeals from lower courts.
  • The special leave petition (SLP) which the Constituent Assembly hoped would be used sparingly, but which now dwarfs the work of the Supreme Court.
  • Increasing number of state and central legislations.
  • In addition to judicial shortages, courts are underfunded.
  • Due to Government Litigation. According to the Ministry of Law and Justice, government departments are a party to around “46 percent” of court cases.
  • Supreme Court’s works on average for 188 days a year, while apex court rules specify minimum of 225 days of work.
  • Courts have created dedicated posts for court managers to help improve court operations, optimise case movement and judicial time. However only few courts have filled up such posts so far.
  • Police are quite often handicapped in undertaking effective investigation for want of modern and scientific tools to collect evidences.
  • With people becoming more aware of their rights and the obligations of the State towards them, they approach the courts more frequently in case of any violation

Impacts of Judicial Pendency

  • Denial of ‘timely justice’ amounts to denial of ‘justice’ itself as pointed out by Vice President: Timely disposal of cases is essential to maintain rule of law and provide access to justice. Speedy trial is a part of right to life and liberty guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution.
  • Erodes social infrastructure: a weak judiciary has a negative effect on social development, which leads to: lower per capita income; higher poverty rates; poorer public infrastructure; and, higher crime rates.
  • Affects human rights: Overcrowding of the prisons, already infrastructure deficient, in some cases beyond 150% of the capacity, results in “violation of human rights”.
  • Affects the economy of the country as it was estimated that judicial delays cost India around 1.5% of its Gross Domestic Product annually.
  • As per the Economic Survey 2017-18 pendency hampers dispute resolution, contract enforcement, discourage investments, stall projects, hamper tax collection and escalate legal costs which leads to Increasing cost of doing business.
  • Due to the backlog, most of India’s prison population are detainees awaiting trial.
  • Courts in Mumbai are clogged with decade-old land disputes, hindering the city’s industrial development.
  • The pursuit of justice has been made more expensive by chronic delays.
  • This exacerbates the discrimination already faced by India’s minority and low-caste groups.
  • Corruption too, is endemic. People would rather bribe a police officer than go through the lengthy hassle of a trial.
  • The impunity that criminals may enjoy because of slow legal system.

 Various efforts:

  • Over the time, the infrastructure has been improved.
  • In- service training and orientation programmes for judges to match and to make them aware of new laws and IT developments.
  • 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.

Judiciary during Lockdown period:

  • As soon as the lockdown was announced, the SC under article 142 made it mandatory to frame guidelines for virtual courts.
  • The judiciary continued its primary work of hearing matters and, undertook the prodigious task of digitising the court system which included virtual court hearings.
  • Virtual courts had mixed response and lawyers have resisted it because of its technical problems but we need to work on it
  • The judiciary, very quickly organised itself to continue to hear urgent matters through video conferencing.
  • Urgent e-filing protocols were swiftly drafted and implemented. Despite the initial glitches, to the judiciary’s credit, the system improved and evolved, quite literally with each passing day.
  • Practice directions and guidelines were drafted, amended and uploaded, the process of bringing trial courts into the fray was initiated, the number and types of matters to be heard began to be identified on the basis of urgency and expanded these, though impressive on their own, are but a few of the many unprecedented measures undertaken in a short period of time.

Concerns:

  • India has 19 judges per 10 lakh people on an average, according to a Law Ministry data which also states that the judiciary faces a shortage of over 7,000 judges, including over 6,000 in the lower courts itself.
  • According to Markandey Katju, a retired Supreme Court justice, judges should have no more than 300 cases pending at any one time, but backlogs for individual judges stretch into the tens of thousands.
  • Because of large caseload of ordinary cases, the Supreme Court is finding it difficult to schedule important constitutional cases that require larger benche

Way Forward:

  • The chief justices of the high courts must fast-track cases that are pending for more than 10 years.
  • Increasing the number of judges or creating additional benches.
  • Chief justices of the high courts must speed up recruitment of judicial officers for the lower judiciary.
  • A long-term goal to Keep courts open 365 days a year.
  • A committee of retired judges should be appointed to find out the problems that lead to the stalling of cases, their remedies and implement them.
  • Supreme Court can have special benches across India so that the poorer citizens can have greater access.
  • Our courts should be fully digitised and technical experts should be brought in to streamline the whole process right from when a person files a case, to updating it, to the final verdict.
  • We have to do a major overhaul of “de-Britishising” of the system i.e. overhaul of archaic laws.
  • Having four to five clerks for each judge to help filter out appeals, write memos, and draft decisions, which is the norm in countries such as South Africa or the United States, could greatly reduce the judges’ workload.
  • Brazil disposes of about 100,000 cases each year with far fewer judges. To take on such a large load, clerks and other staff take a central role in drafting decisions for the many routine matters.
  • Judicial process needs to be streamlined. Lawyers need to be penalised for delaying matters without reason.
  • A multi-pronged approach needs to be adopted to tackle the issue of “government litigation”.
  • The focus is on how to make the virtual courts user friendly. Once it is achieved, more cases in addition to urgent matters can be listed for adjudication.
  • So, it is prudent that more virtual courts are set up so that timely delivery justice is not adversely impacted on account of the pandemic.

Conclusion:

  • 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.