Topic: General Studies 2:
- Structure, organization and functioning of the Judiciary
In News: Vice President M. Venkaiah Naidu has recently said that inordinate delay, cost of legal processes and inaccessibility are impeding the effective delivery of justice to the common man. The judicial system needs to be made more accessible, affordable and understandable for the common man.
Inadequacies of Justice Delivery System
- Spending on judiciary
- The issue of spending on judiciary is equated with a call for increasing the salaries of judges and providing better court infrastructure. Such perceptions are unfortunate.
- India has one of the most comprehensive legal aid programmes in the world, the Legal Services Authority Act of 1987. Under this law, all women, irrespective of their financial status, SCs, STs and children are entitled to free legal aid.
- This means that a significant proportion of the population falls — or is supposed to fall — under a free legal aid regime. However, in reality, this law is a dead letter.
- There has been little effort on the part of successive governments to provide a task force of carefully selected, well-trained and reasonably paid advocates to provide these services.
- In comparison, the system of legal aid in the U.K. identifies and funds several independent solicitor offices to provide such services. If support is withdrawn, many solicitor offices that provide these invaluable services would collapse and with that, the rule of law. India is yet to put in place anything similar to this.
- Poor Judge Population Ratio
- The U.S. has about 100 judges per million population. Canada has about 75 and the U.K. has about 50.
- On the other hand, India has only 19 judges per million population. Of these, at any given point, at least one-fourth is always vacant.
- While vacancies to the Supreme Court and the High Courts is hotly debated, hardly any attention is focused on this gaping inadequacy in lower courts which is where the common man first comes into contact with the justice delivery system.
- In All India Judges Association v. Union of India (2001), the Supreme Court had directed the Government of India to increase the judge-population ratio to at least 50 per million population within five years from the date of the judgment. This has not been implemented.
- Access to Justice
- Though ‘access to justice’ has not been specifically spelt out as a fundamental right in the Constitution, it has always been treated as such by Indian courts.
- In Anita Kushwaha v. Pushpa Sadan (2016), the Supreme Court held unambiguously that “life” implies not only life in the physical sense but a bundle of rights that also means right to access justice
- Further, the court pointed out four important components of access to justice. It pointed out the need for adjudicatory mechanisms. It said that the mechanism must be conveniently accessible in terms of distance and that the process of adjudication must be speedy and affordable to the disputants.
- Other Issues
- A disproportionate amount of attention that is given to the functioning of the Supreme Court, important as it is, distracts from above and similar issues.
- Government is yet to draw out a national policy and road map for clearing backlogs and making judicial delivery smooth and efficient
- Increasing tribunalisation of the justice delivery process
- The extortionate court fees payable to access justice in civil suits in some States;
- The poor integration of technology into the system
The Way Forward
- Enhancing productivity:
- Establishment of Indian Courts and Tribunal Services to focus on the administrative aspects of the legal system, technology use in courts through projects like e-courts MMP and National judicial data grid for quick disposal of cases.
- In 230th Law Commission in its report “Reform in Judiciary” in 2009 recommended that there must be full utilization of the court working hours and Grant of adjournment must be guided strictly by the provisions of Order 17 of the Civil Procedure Code.
- Indian Judicial Services: The proposal for an All India exam along the lines of Civil Services has been mooted many a time, the first instance being 1960. Setting standards of judicial recruitment examinations to improve the quality of district judges.
- Vacations in the higher judiciary must be curtailed by at least 10 to 15 days and the court working hours should be extended by at least half-an hour.
- Case and court management: National Service and Tracking of Electronic Processes (NSTEP), Computerization and Automation (e.g. Virtual Court in Delhi), Professional Court Managers as suggested by the 13th Finance Commission are some of the measures that needs to be taken for expedited disposal of cases.
- Setting up of Tribunals, Fast Track Courts and Special Courts to dispense important cases at the earliest. Virtual court is the need of the hour.
- Mechanisms such as ADR (Alternate Dispute Resolution), Lok Adalat, Gram Nyayalayas should be effectively utilized.
- The high courts have to fast track cases pending more than 10 yrs. Also, the chief justices of high court have additional responsibility to expedite the appointment process of lower judiciary.
- Additional benches of Supreme Court have to be established in different parts of India which would reduce the pendency of cases in supreme court by expedited proceedings of cases.
- Implementing recommendations of Malimath committee which suggested reforms in criminal justice system which helps in expedited judicial process.
- Amending the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and the Indian Evidence Act to accommodate the changing nature of crimes and address provisions which are delaying judicial proceedings.
- Working days of the Supreme Court be raised to 206 days.
- Working days of the High Courts be raised to 231 days.
Justice delayed is justice denied. Speedy Justice is not only a fundamental right but also a prerequisite of maintaining the rule of law and delivering good governance. Hence, reforms as suggested above needs to be taken in order to have a robust justice system ensuring timely justice.
Connecting the dots:
- Judicial Vacancies in India – Its impact and challenges
- Need for digitisation of Judicial process as a part of Judicial reform
- National Judicial Data Grid