Why Justice is delayed?

Indian Judicial System is haunted with delays. The Ease of Doing Business Report of the World Bank for 2018 and 2019 shows that the time taken to decide a case has remained static at 1,445 days. These inordinate delays are hampering socio-economic development of the country.

Forward and Backward Effects of Judicial Delay

The government is the biggest litigant and the problem needs to be tackled from the grassroots. The government adjudicators who perform quasi-judicial functions or taking administrative decisions must improve the quality of their orders. Judgment writing art must be developed by the adjudicating authorities.

Cost of Poor adjudication and Judicial Delays
  • Poorly drafted orders have resulted in contested tax revenues in the region of Rs 7.58 lakh crore as on March 31, 2017, which is equal to 4.7 per cent of the GDP and it is rising. The success rate in government litigation relating to tax was less than 30 per cent and it has gone down to 12 per cent and further in recent times.
  • About Rs 50,000 crores has been locked up installed projects and investments are reducing.

Both these complications which are resultant of injunctions and stay orders granted by the courts primarily are mainly due to poorly drafted and poorly reasoned orders.

Increased number of Judges and Judicial Activism: Delays

  • It has to be noted that about 87.54 per cent of the total pendency of cases is in the district courts where judicial activism does not exist. It is illogical to sob over a mere fraction of public interest litigation out of the remaining 13 per cent pendency.
  • Increasing the number of judges is also not a panacea. The Economic Survey points that in the district courts only 2,279 vacancies need to be filled up to achieve 100 per cent clearance rate and 2,580 posts can be left vacant.
  • In the high courts, 93 vacancies need to be filled up to achieve a 100 per cent clearance rate and 315 positions (roughly 30 per cent) can be left vacant. Earlier experiences suggest that increasing the number of judges has never reduced the pendency of cases.

Increasing the number of judges or criticising judicial activism is not a solution. Of course, if there are no vacancies, the clearance rate will increase dramatically, provided support staff is also provided.

Busting the Myths

Poor Judicial Allocation

The budget allocated to the judiciary is between 0.08 and 0.09 per cent of the GDP. Only four countries viz. Japan, Norway, Australia and Iceland have a lesser budget allocation and they do not have any problem of pendency as India does.

The fact that “How do we define pendency?” also needs to be deliberated upon. A case filed half an hour ago should not be counted in the pendency figures, as at present. For a start, India must arbitrarily decide that only cases pending for more than a specific amount of time (more than a year maybe) will be counted. This will make a substantial and realistic difference and introduce some sense in understanding figures.

More Holiday for Judges

It is often criticised that Judges in India take too many holidays. But it has to be noted that District court judges work the same number of days as government officers .i.e 242 days in a year. The annual average disposal of cases by each judge stands at 746. This is quite good considering that evidence has to be weighed and sifted in every trial.

High court judge’s work for 212 days in a year but their annual average disposal is 2,348 and only 93 more are required to achieve a 100 per cent clearance rate. Cutting down on holidays is not a realistic answer and the key is the better case and court management.

Management in Judiciary

Case and court management are the most important areas. The Ease of Doing Business Report of the World Bank for 2018 and 2019 shows that the time taken to decide a case has remained static at 1,445 days. The quality of the judicial process (out of 18 points) has marginally increased from 10.3 in 2017 to 10.5 in 2018.

This clearly signals that the judicial process in India needs a huge investment to bring about significant improvement. Fast track courts or special courts or increasing the number of judges are more of ad hoc measures and not viable solutions.

In India about 30 per cent of the life of a case is spent in something as simple as service of notice. How will an increase in the number of courts or judges speed up the process?

Initiatives for Better Management
  • Automation

As a solution for expeditious service of notice and summons, the eCommittee of the Supreme Court has launched a mobile application called National Service and Tracking of Electronic Processes (NSTEP). But it is seldom used, if at all.

A number of other tools have been provided to judges and the administrative staff through the eCourts Project of the Supreme Court. The sole aim is to make justice delivery more responsive to the needs of litigants. The latest is the launch of a Virtual Court in Delhi. Unfortunately, computerisation and automation are not being fully and effectively utilised by the high courts and district courts.

  • Court Managers

The 13th Finance Commission had introduced the concept of professional managers and this idea has gained traction in the Economic Survey. However, when court managers were introduced in some of the courts, only a handful of chief justices took their engagement seriously, resulting in the experiment turning out to be a complete flop.

But there is no doubt about the fact that court managers or equivalent professionals are the need of the hour and justice delivery. These managers can improve judicial efficiency only if the courts accept and adopt professional help in their administration in true sense.

Way Forward

Usual suspects such as vacancies, adjournments and vacations are bogies. It is time India shifts its focus from thinking about them and get down to identifying the causes of delays in our justice delivery system and providing meaningful solutions.

If the judicial reforms are taken up with seriousness, expeditious and effective justice can see the light of day and improve India’s standing in the reports of the World Bank and other institutions and organisations that study judicial processes.

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