Judicial reforms, expeditious and affordable justice still elusive
Never before the need for judicial reforms, expeditious and affordable justice delivery was felt so much as now. Civil and criminal cases continue to languish in the courts for decades even into the 70th year of the country’s Independence. The people of India continue to be exploited by the cumbersome processes, procedures, and expenses of litigation. This is primarily on account of outdated laws, procedures, and non-accountability of various organs in the country. At it all, the continuing nexus between the Bench and the Bar is working as a spanner to expeditious and cost-effective justice delivery.
The seemingly insurmountable problem in the judicial reforms is further compounded with a large number of vacancies in High Courts and Subordinate courts, comprising district and sub-divisional courts, remaining unfilled. According to Department of Justice in the Union Ministry of Law and Justice, against the sanctioned strength of 1,044 judges in different High Courts of the country, there are 443 vacancies, around 42 per cent. Similarly, against a total sanctioned strength of 20,358 judicial officers in the lower judiciary (district and sub-divisional courts), there are 4,998 vacancies, which comes to about 25 percent. These point out that no sincere efforts have been made by the Central Government and the State Governments to fill up the existing vacancies in the High Courts, district and sub-divisional courts. This also indicates that no long-term policy has been formulated or implemented to increase the judge-population ratio in the country.
In this connection, it would be worthwhile to mention that the Law Commission of India, in its 120th Report in July 1987, had recommended that by the year 2000, India should have at least the judge-population ratio of 107 judges per 10-lakh populations that the United States of America had in 1981. Similarly, the Supreme Court of India in 2002, in the All India Judges’ Association case, had directed that there should be 50 judges per 10-lakh populations. India has 17 judges per 10-lakh populations. This is one of the pressing reasons for piling up unsustainable pendency of cases, a gargantuan 3.50 crore cases. This calls for the Union Government and the State Governments to draw lessons from their cumulative experiences, in consultation with the judiciary, to reorient their approach and initiate time-bound measures to fill up the existing vacancies of judges and other judicial officers and also increase the number of judges in various courts of the country.
The Government maintains that time-bound completion of inquiry and trial of offences to liquidate pendency of cases in the Supreme Court, High Courts, and subordinate courts cannot be prescribed as the actual time taken for disposal of a case by a court depended on several factors like category of case, civil and criminal, complexity of the facts involved, nature of evidence, cooperation of stakeholders, bar, investigation agencies, witnesses and litigants as also availability of physical infrastructure, supporting court staff, applicable rules and procedures. Added to this, the Supreme Court, in P.Ramachandra Rao Vs. State of Karnataka, 2002, observed that it was neither possible, nor feasible, nor judicially permissible to draw or prescribe an outer limit for conclusion of all criminal proceedings. In this connection, it is recalled that notwithstanding detailed guidelines relating to adjournments, duly incorporated in the Code of Criminal Procedures, in December 2009, the pendency of cases has not reduced.
However, the stakeholders in the judicial delivery impasse feel it necessary for the executive and judiciary to work in tandem under a standing mechanism to remove bottlenecks coming in the way of timely delivery of justice.
Even the creation of 1734 Fast Track Courts under the award of the 11th Finance Commission during a period of 11 years from 2000-2001 to 2010-1011, disposed of 32.93 lakh cases out of 38.99 lakh cases transferred to it. The Supreme Court, in its judgment in Brij Mohan Lal and others Vs. Union of India and others on April 19, 2012, endorsed the position of the Government of India that continuation of Fast Track Courts was within the domain of the States that they needed to decide either to bring the Fast Track Courts scheme to an end or to continue the same as a permanent feature in the States. Besides, the Supreme Court further directed for the creation of 10 per cent additional posts in the State Judicial Services with a funding requirement on matching basis by the Centre and States. The Centre approved a maximum of Rs.80 crore per annum from the 13th Finance Commission award funds till March 31, 2015. Presently, most of the States are continuing with 1192 Fast Track Courts. Now, with the 14th Finance Commission having increased resources of States, it falls on them to increase investment in the justice sector.
Still, the pendency of cases is not coming down. A proposal is afoot before the Central Government to expand the scope of free legal aid to the poor with an annual income of Rs.3 lakh from the existing Rs.1.5 lakh in order to provide relief to the poor under the Legal Services Act, 1987.
According to the Department of Justice, time bound legislation by the States for delivery of public services, a new litigation policy by the Central and State Governments, making of Fast Track Courts a regular feature, standing mechanism of consultation and consensus between Chief Ministers of States and Chief Justices of High Courts on all round judicial reforms including timely filling of vacancies of judges and judicial officers, a well integrated coordinated approach by all stakeholders are envisaged to expedite justice delivery and reduce pendency of cases!
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