A maverick and unprejudiced judiciary and a speedy and coherent system are the very ethos of human edification and democracy. However, our judiciary intrinsically has become unwieldy, lumbering, agonizingly slow and extravagant. Huge time delays have led to the misery of those seeking justice, poor getting affected the most being inept to bear the expensive and tedious trials. Our intricate, bountiful laws, their discernment, and adjudication has coaxed prodigious anguish of the litigants. As if this was not enough, the recent crisis in justice delivery system has acquired high visibility, adding an insult to an existing injury. Allegations of corruption on judiciary and impeachment motion against CJI has further shaken the masses’ faith in the judiciary.
This article discusses what’s wrong with the judicial system and the possible solutions to cure the ailing judiciary which is an extremely vital pillar of an Indian democracy.
Often the dissent of public is regarding the congestion, cost, and delay faced during the trials. Judicial reforms in order to conduct quick, inexpensive and just trials are foremost to address these grievances of litigants.
To start with let’s have a look at the below data that elucidates the wretched condition of Indian judiciary and also hints towards the obvious and paramount measures needed to be taken to revitalize the judicial system.
(All the data in this article has been taken from the official site of ‘Department of Justice’ and ‘National Judicial Data Grid’ as on April 2018)
Pending Cases in Indian Courts
Vacancies of Judges in Supreme Court and High Court
No Wonder, Indian courts have a huge number of pending cases and tardy justice delivery system owing to a number of unfilled vacancies for the position of judges and tremendous workload in the courts along with long appellate process, as made clear as bell by above data.
Over and above these cardinal root causes, there are multifarious other reasons at the bottom of an indolent and extravagant system which have contributed to the present malaise of justice delivery setup. These reasons too will have a mention in the subsequent parts of an article where an attempt has been made to exhort remedial measures.
Remedial Actions on the workload of the judges
Filling the judicial vacancies in the courts:
Below is the excerpt from the accredited site of ‘Department of Justice’:
“It is noted that despite the gradual increase in the sanctioned strength, there still remain a large number of vacancies in subordinate courts. As of 31st December 2015, there were 4432 vacancies in the posts of judicial officers, representing about 22 percent of the sanctioned strength. In case of the High Courts, 458 of the 1079 posts, representing 42 percent of the sanctioned strength, were vacant as of June 2016.”
The immediate measure to address this crunch would be to work towards filling these vacancies to its sanctioned strength. This will capacitate the system to take up more number of cases for proceedings at a time.
Decentralization of justice system
As recommended by Law commission in its 123rd report, the extant monolithic justice system needs to be decentralized. This can be achieved by means of fast-track courts, Gram Nyayalayas, Nyaya Mitra, Family Courts, etc.
The Gram Nyayalayas Act, 2008 has been enacted to provide for the endowment of the Gram Nyayalayas at the grassroots level with an intention to provide access to justice at the doorsteps of people. Gram Nyayalayas provide easy access and speedy trials due to the simplistic litigation procedures. ‘The Fast Track Courts’ were established to expeditiously dispose of long pending cases in the Sessions Courts and long pending cases of under trial prisoners.
Irrespective of this assistance Gram Nyayalayas and fast-track courts provide in doing away with the piles of cases, we haven’t been able to make use of these acts to the fullest as the number of fast-track courts and Gram Nyayalayas remains vastly low, despite the huge funds released by the department of justice every year.
Speedy delivery and cost-effectiveness of the justice system
E-Court project needs to be given a boost as it provides ‘information and communication (ICT) enablement’ to the courts to make justice delivery system affordable by limiting paper filings. E-courts can prove to be a benison aiding in these cases related to spat in overpowering numbers which are a real bane for the justice system. The project needs to be exhilarated all over India since presently there is only one e-court set up which is the Hyderabad High Court though the project was established in 2005.
‘Court Adjournments’ and ‘strict trial completion timeframes’
Granting adjournment unnecessarily delays the trial proceedings. Finite elbow room should be given to judges to adjourn the cases, and capacity to stay trial indefinitely needs to be eradicated. Furthermore, if the strict timelines for the completion of the trials depending on the character and the severity of the trials are procured, the repugnant delays can be considerably avoided.
Performance assessment of the Indian Judiciary
The current process of assessment of judges’ performance is through ‘Annual Confidential Reports’ (ACRs). These are prepared by the senior-most judges of the lower courts and reviewed by the State High Court. But, ACRs are neither filled up regularly nor is the evaluation process transparent. On contrary, In the European Union, the European Commission for the Efficiency of Justice conducts a periodic performance review of court systems of different member states. This country-wise study collects data annually, on varied parameters, including the efficiency of courts in justice delivery, the costs per case, and the budget of courts. Implementing such a lucid and customary appraisal system that acts as a watchdog for a judiciary, making it accountable and hence enhancing the efficiency of the judiciary will certainly be a welcome reform in India.
Doing Away with the archaic laws to reduce the judicial burden
As already discussed in one of the previous article ‘Adultery, many archaic laws still exist in India. Below are few examples of such laws:
Law against homosexuality: Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code dating back to 1861, introduced during British Rule of India criminalizes sexual activities “against the order of nature”, arguably including sexual activities. This section was decriminalized with respect to sex between consenting adults by the High court of Delhi on July 2009. That judgment was overturned by the Apex court on 11 December 2013.
Indian Sarais Act, 1887: If you get ill while living at a hotel in India, the establishment has to report it to a police station under this act!!
Law against adultery: This law punishes the adulterous man (Only!) as per section 497 of Indian Penal Code.
As is axiomatic from the portraiture of the laws mentioned above and many congruent ones, these are clearly antiquated, not in sync with the modern times and even absurd sometimes as few of these appear to be too invasive of the privacy of citizens. E.g. Laws against homosexuality as well as adultery. By getting rid of such bygone laws, vital time of courts can be devoted to importunate cases demanding earnest attention.
Restoring Faith in the Judiciary
The judiciary is one of the most trusted organs of Indian state bestowed upon people by the sacrosanct constitution and the people trust the judiciary to keep the other two organs, legislature, and executive under check by means of judicial review and judicial activism. The present crisis in the judiciary created by the press conference held by four Supreme Court judges in open rebellion against the Chief Justice and moreover, the impeachment motion against the chief justice of India has caused the turmoil in Indian Judiciary. These issues need to be sorted in a constitutional way at the earliest and all the measures needed should be taken to restore and retain peoples’ faith in the judiciary. As the democracy cannot stand tall with a broken judicial pillar!