|Submitted By:||Harpreet Oberoi|
The Judiciary emerged from India's independence as one of the country's most respected institutions, an arbiter to millions of Indians countrywide and a valuable aide to the legislature and executive. However, though the judicial system is still widely regarded as being fair and impartial, it has been plagued by problems like corruption and ineptitude recently. This is demonstrated by the system's abject failure to expeditiously dispose of the multitude of cases before it and has resulted in a massive logjam of cases – whether criminal, civil, statutory or corporate – and is threatening to completely erode the hallowed reputation once enjoyed by the judiciary. The backlog figures submitted by legal experts are indeed startling:
• Over 30 million cases pending in numerous courts across India.
• Only approximately 11 judges per million population compared to the recommended norm of 50 judges per million population set by the Supreme Court.
• At the current rate, analysts say that it could take anywhere between 350 to 400 years to sort out the entire backlog!
So are there any ideas to resolve this impasse? And will they work given the complex nature of our lawmaking, political environment, society and infrastructure? Specialists say it may be possible and strongly advocate the immediate adoption of certain measures to clear the leviathan backlog:
1. Prompt appointment of new judges: The initial solution is down to basic numbers: India simply needs more presiding judges. At present, there are only approximately 15,000 judges in total and that too against the sanctioned number of around 18,000. Thus it is imperative to make up this shortfall and promptly recruit judges to hear the growing number of cases.
2. Overhaul of judicial infrastructure:
a) Establishment of additional courts: Fresh courts need to be constituted to accommodate the new judges together with effective decentralization of the justice system. Specific measures to achieve these ends include setting up new state-monitored courts in every city and town, provincial courts (akin to panchayats) in rural areas, increasing working times of particular judges and special evening courts to help hasten the justice process. As this requires considerable funds, the government should support these initiatives with exclusive grants for the purpose.
b) Simplification of basic procedures: Unfortunately many of today's judicial formalities are beset by intricacies and bureaucratic functioning making them incomprehensible to the public. From the protracted registration of a case to the complicated rules involved in the same, there are many hindrances that ultimately lead to substantial trial holdups. These recondite formalities need to be promptly simplified to smoothen legal proceedings.
c) Another consideration is the proper segregation of judicial duties for criminal, civil, statutory and corporate cases. Specialization and division would create greater efficiency and lead to enhanced control and vigil of local courts by higher courts – hence speedier disposal.
d) Computerization of judicial work: The judiciary would do well to automate their processes and eliminate paperwork to the furthest extent possible. Key steps in this regard could include e-filing of documents, establishment of legal databases, providing judges with laptop computers and internet facilities and development of inter-court networks for enhanced correspondence. These measures would definitely result in quicker adjudication, better coordination and successful time management.
e) Specialized training: Judges, especially from lower and sessions courts, need to be trained about the new mechanized procedures through fast track courses. This would enable them to resolve cases more swiftly and thus clear the backlog.
3. Eradication of Corruption: Graft has, most unfortunately, become firmly entrenched in India's judicial system and the instances are diverse and multitudinous: from unprincipled lawyers deliberately delaying proceedings to favour rich clients to unethical judges purposely quashing cases for the lure of money and from business scions escaping scot-free for sports car homicides to dishonest employers evading legitimate charges made by trade unions. The negative fallout is the inordinate lacuna between the time of offence and sentencing leading to a buildup of cases. Hence the elimination of corruption is crucial to hasten the judicial process.
4. Changing societal mindsets: In India, there is a tendency to litigate at the slightest provocation. This is because in these competitive times, people rarely think twice before treading on others' rights resulting in offences like plagiarism, copyright violation and fraud. The recent 2G scam convictions are a telling case in point. Further exacerbating the problem is the state, which has apparently failed to provide adequate policing and protection. This has led to a huge glut of cases, the alarming trend of which can be arrested only by the society becoming more magnanimous and people having more regard for others' entitlements.
5. Encouragement of 'Out-Of-Court' settlements: This is a pragmatic measure that may be undertaken to achieve success in clearing the backlog. It has been evidenced that impromptu cases are increasingly being registered, particularly relating to family disputes and defamation suits. If the plaintiffs and defendants can be persuaded to settle their disagreements outside the courts, several cases can be terminated almost instantly. For this purpose, it is felt that alternative solutions and compromises be suggested by observers close to the parties concerned.
6. Success of the Lokpal Bill recommendations: Another shot in the arm has been the recent consideration of the Lokpal Bill; experts believe a smooth Lokpal system would lead to the further freeing up of cases before the conventional courts.
Legal watchers hope that the above actions are executed forthwith to clear the gargantuan backlog. After all, as the famous adage goes, justice delayed is justice denied!