Pending Cases: Way Forward
TOPIC: General Studies 2
- Structure, organization and functioning of the Executive and the Judiciary
In News: According to the National Judicial Data Grid, around 23 lakh cases, which are over a decade old, are pending in various subordinate courts of the country.
- These cases constitute 8.29 per cent of the total nearly 2.50 crore cases pending in the lower courts.
- Of these, nearly 6 lakh cases are civil in nature and nearly 17 lakh are criminal in nature.
- According to National Judicial Data Grid (NJDG), the five states which account for the highest pendency are Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, West Bengal, Bihar and Gujarat
- India has only 15 judges per million people, then Chief Justice of India Altamas Kabir said in 2013. That is a far cry from the 50 judges per million population recommended by the Law Commission in 2008 in its 120th report. It also pales in comparison to per capita judge availability in developed countries.
The National Judicial Data Grid
By: The e-Committee of the Supreme Court
Aim: To provide data on cases pending in the district courts across the country
It is a part of the on-going e-Courts Integrated Mission Mode Project, and the NJDG works as a monitoring tool to identify, manage and reduce pendency of cases.
The burden of pending cases
Citizens are poorly served by the state twice over: once when their access to the law exists more in name than in fact, and the second time when they are deprived of the benefits of economic growth that has been hamstrung by clogged courts.
- Not enough Judges: The present judge strength is insufficient to deal with a huge figure of pendency of cases – 4,954 judges’ posts vacant when the sanctioned strength of judicial officers was 21,324
- Archaic laws: The archaic laws that fill up the statute books, faulty or vague drafting of laws and their multiple interpretations by various courts
- An increase in certain crimes such as crimes against women and increase in the reporting of criminal activities, have both contributed to rise in the workload of the judiciary.
- Poor manpower and crumbling infrastructure, coupled with a boom in litigation
- Lack of modernisation and digitisation
- Judges are paid little compared with lawyers, which has led to a steady decline in the calibre of those hearing cases. To add to the burden, lawyers frequently use delaying tactics such as routinely appealing against verdicts, or saying they are sick or failing to show up in court.
- The legal logjam has led to overcrowded prisons, with more than 68% of the prison population still on remand. Some prisons are more than two or three times over capacity.
What could be the possible solutions?
- A framework be put in place whereby each High Court every month takes stock of cases filed and disposed there as well as in subordinate courts.
- The CJI has requested the HC to prepare an action plan with cut-off dates for disposal of 10 and five year-old cases and such plans have to be continuously monitored by the committee at the level of HC and subordinate courts in the light of experience and new ideas.
- At the same time efforts must be made to ensure that at least the overall disposal matches with the overall institution (filing) of cases. The new mechanism must be put in place in addition to the arrears committees set up earlier to formulate steps to reduce pendency at high and district courts.
- Continuing formative assessment is the key to strengthen and reinforce the justice delivery system. It is essential to align a process-oriented approach with a result-oriented approach in an effort to build core processes into strength and achieve the desired goal
- Judicial case management: Here, the court sets a timetable for the case and the judge actively monitors progress. This marks a fundamental shift in the management of cases—the responsibility for which moves from the litigants and their lawyers to the court.
- Strict guidelines for the grant of adjournments, curtailing vacation time in the higher judiciary, reducing the time for oral arguments unless the case involves a complicated question of law, and framing clear and decisive judgements to avoid further litigation
- The courts should also seriously consider incorporating technology into the system; digitizing courts records, leveraging Artificial Intelligence to assist judges and lawyers.
- Better pay and services for the Judges are also important
Unlike a bureaucrat or politician, whose work is primarily to sanction or implement government policy through an army of officers, judicial decision-making is a complex, time-consuming process. It directly affects the rights and livelihoods of persons, which in turn requires hearings on facts, legal precedent and the arguments of lawyers of both parties. Therefore, the problems that judiciary is facing needs to be taken up in an urgent manner.
Civil cases: Usually involves private disputes between persons or organisations
Criminal cases: Involves an action that is considered to be harmful to society as a whole. In criminal trials, the process itself is a punishment. Many under-trial prisoners end up doing their entire sentence without getting a full trial
Connecting the Dots:
- The role of a robust judiciary in a nation’s development is pivotal. Discuss.
- The result of these never-ending cases is a crisis of faith in the legal system. Do you agree? Discuss.
- In the absence of speedy justice, vigilantism thrives. Examine.