IDEAS to Remove Backlog of Court Cases

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“Justice delayed is justice denied” is not just a cliché but a reality for the Indian Justice delivery system. A recent reprint of a hundred years old news in the Tribune titled “The Tribune of March 17, 1917” lamented the delay in obtaining justice in a legal suit is a testimony to this observation. 

 

With Pending Matters before the honourable Supreme Court being over 52,000, about 40 lakhs in High courts and almost 2 crores in lower judiciary, it would take years to clear the backlog. In this process it is litigants and poor who suffer the most. The government has made promises, committees focused on shortage of judges and lack of infrastructure were formed. Inspite of good intent not much has changed on the ground.

 

At the outset the author states that he has utmost respect for the judiciary. The purpose of this article is to prove thought.

 

It is time for some disruptive measures to deal with the backlog problem. Here are some ideas.

 

1. Control the inflow of new cases

In the High Courts a lot of time of regular judges is taken up in the admission of cases.  This can be substantially cut down by appointing panels of quasi judicial officers to decide the admission of new cases. This will give the regular judges more time for working on hearing and disposal of cases.  

 

The panel should have the authority to decide whether the case should be admitted or referred to other adjudicating forums like Lok Adalat etc. According to this Times of India report, “The Allahabad High Court has come in for praise for organising Lok Adalats regularly during weekends”.

2. Increase the financial limit of cases that can be admitted in various courts 

The financial value of cases is the basis on which the jurisdiction of the courts is decided and these has been laid down. These limits have not kept pace with inflation because of which more cases go the higher courts. These limits should be periodically revised. Ideally they should be adjusted for inflation annually if not once in two years.

 

The threshold amount for cases admissible in different courts should be raised.

 

3. Restrict the number of appeals and adjournments

Appealing cases up to the highest court on one pretext or the other is a strategy often used by litigants to prolong the case. The appeal should be restricted to two higher levels only.

 

A related problem is the raising of supplementary issues, which do not have a major impact on the main issue, for decision before proceeding with the main case. The number of postponements that can be permitted should be limited and any discretionary powers in this regard should be restricted. Some guidelines already exist in this regard in Order 17 of the Civil Procedure Code. These should be strictly adhered to.

 

4. Increase the working days and hours in courts

Though this move might not we welcome it should be considered keeping in mind the overall good of society. Alternatively, a two shift system can be adopted as has been done in the case of schools.

In 2018 SC was closed for 5 working days each during Holi, Dussehra and Diwali and 11 working days during Christmas & New Year? Summer break was from May 20 to July 1.

Conversely, Government servants have only gazetted holidays and are entitled to say 30 days annual leave.

This suggestion has two parts.

Can SC be open throughout the year with judges taking annual leave just like it happens in the government and corporate worlds?

In view of the huge backlog of pending matters can the number of festival holidays be temporarily reduced to at best two days?

5. Support Staff for Judges

Support staff of judges should be qualified law graduates. They can help out in research or study of case laws and enable judges to focus on key issues. Can also assist judges in secretarial work of writing judgements as some of which are very lengthy.

 

6. Temporary Courts or Tribunals to Dispose Cases Pending More than ten years

Special courts can be temporarily set up with the specific purpose of disposing civil cases that are more than ten years old. Such courts should be specific for different matters and can be vested with summary powers. In order to avoid further litigation decisions by these courts should be final and binding.

 

As a onetime measure in respect of cases more than ten years old, if a concurring decision has been given at the two lower levels that decision can be made final and case disposed of. Such a measure will be in consonance with the principle of substantial justice.

 

7. Some more suggestions

The government is amongst the biggest litigators. It should review the reasons for being so and take immediate steps to resolve matters out of court. Next it should increase the limits for disputes beyond which the case goes to court.

 

Increasing the budgetary allocation of courts would help improve the judicial infrastructure and providing adequate manpower.

 

8. Modernization of courts

Sunil Rajguru wrote in DailyO, “Our courts should be fully digitised and technical experts should be brought in to streamline the whole process right from when a person files a case, to updating it, to the final verdict. We can even have a group of editors to condense all verdicts and not be bogged down by long, rambling final judgments.”

 

Conclusion

In the Indian Shastras and Smritis a lot of emphasis is laid on speedy delivery of justice. In fact this is one tenets of a happy kingdom. In our enthusiasm to ensure that there is no travesty of justice we play safe at the cost of speedy delivery of justice. Whatever be the outcome of the litigation, there will always be equal number of satisfied and unhappy litigants.

 

Therefore, it is better to provide speedy justice which will be an indication of good governance.

 

This requires a combined effort by the government, judiciary, executive, bar councils and litigants. Ultimately the ultimate sufferer of a slow justice delivery system is the litigant.

Author joined the Indian Army after graduating from IIT in 1958. The ideas and suggestions given are based on the author’s own experience as a litigant and discussions held with other litigants and some lawyers. The basic premise is that emphasis should be given on delivering substantial justice.

 

Also read

1 SC backs CJI’s no adjournment plan to clear backlog

2 Ideas to make the Supreme Court restore its glory

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