President Droupadi Murmu has urged the executive, judiciary and legislature to evolve an effective dispute resolution mechanism to mitigate people’s plight. In her valedictory address at the Constitution Day celebrations organised by the Supreme Court last week President said that it would go a long way in making citizens effective stakeholders in the dispensation of justice. She also recalled her days as political activist in Odisha to highlight that the excessive cost of litigation was a major impediment in delivery of justice. While there is a huge backlog of pending cases in courts from the district level to the apex court, various studies have also revealed that legal system is too expensive for most litigants. Both Judiciary and Govt has taken several initiatives to deal with these issues.
Status of pendency in Indian Judiciary:
- As per the National Judicial Data Grid (NJDG, 93 crore cases are pending in the subordinate courts, 49 lakhs in High Courts and 57,987 cases in Supreme Court.
- In the Supreme Court, more than 30% of pending cases are more than five years old while in the Allahabad High Court, 15% of the appeals have been pending since 1980s.
- A Law Commission report in 2009 had quoted that it would require 464 years to clear the arrears with the present strength of judges
- Most cases in India, because of delays at both the police and judiciary level take far longer.
- In the High Courts, the pendency is even higher: half of all the 8 million cases in the High Courts have been pending for more than three years.
Reasons for pendency of Cases:
- Shortage of judges: around 35% of posts are lying empty in the subordinate courts. It leads to poor Judges to Population Ratio, as India has only 17 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.
- Low budgetary allocation leading to poor infrastructure
- Judges Vacation: Supreme Court’s works on average for 188 days a year, while apex court rules specify minimum of 225 days of work.
Impacts of Judicial Pendency
- Denial of ‘timely justice’ amounts to denial of ‘justice’ itself: 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”.
- Improving infrastructure for quality justice: The Parliamentary Standing Committee which presented its report on Infrastructure Development and Strengthening of Subordinate Courts, suggested:
- States should provide suitable land for construction of court buildings etc. It should undertake vertical construction in light of shortage of land.
- Timeline set out for computerisation of all the courts, as a necessary step towards setting up of e- courts.
- All India Judicial Service, which would benefit the subordinate judiciary by increasing quality of judges and help reduce the pendency.
- Electronic filing of cases: e-Courts are a welcome step in this direction, as they give case status and case history of all the pending cases across High courts and Subordinate courts bringing ease of access to information.
- Alternate dispute resolution (ADR): As stated in the Conference on National Initiative to Reduce Pendency and Delay in Judicial System- Legal Services Authorities should undertake pre-litigation mediation so that the inflow of cases into courts can be regulated.
- The Lok Adalat should be organized regularly for settling civil and family matters.
- Gram Nyayalayas, as an effective way to manage small claim disputes from rural areas which will help in decreasing the workload of the judicial institution.
- Village Legal Care & Support Centre can also be established by the High Courts to work at grass root level to make the State litigation friendly.
- The fundamental requirement of a good judicial administration is accessibility, affordability and speedy justice, which will not be realized until and unless the justice delivery system is made within the reach of the individual in a time bound manner and within a reasonable cost.
- Therefore, continuous formative assessment is the key to strengthen and reinforce the justice delivery system in India.