What are the factors that lead to delay in delivery of justice and can they be dealt with?
“I don’t want this court to be a ‘tareekh-pe-tareekh’ court,” was the honourable Chief Justice of India Dr D.Y. Chandrachud’s statement prior to the day’s proceedings on Friday, November 3.
Though in the film Damini, Sunny Deol addressed the judge, pointing out how the judicial system was delaying a crucial case, this time the CJI used this iconic dialogue while pointing out how advocates seek adjournments in freshly filed matters, causing delay in the proceedings.
He furthersaid that between September 1 and November 3 this year, the Supreme Court had received 3,688 petitions for adjournment from lawyers as soon as the cases were scheduled for hearing.
This is a very serious problem that none of us can shy away from. The Indian judiciary has garnered infamy for being inefficient, where we seeheadlines like how a 90-year-old was convicted for a crime that happened 42 years ago.
This is a more complex problem than a blame game between advocates and judges. After all, we must understand that the one who suffers is the litigant.
So let us delve into this problem in detail.
Justice delayed: When time stands still in court
In the brief experience I have had in courts, I have ended each and every application with this simple line: justice delayed is justice denied. But the picture painted by some facts does not correlate with the most cliché analogy about the state of justice.
As per a statement of India’s law minister in Rajya Sabha, overfive crore cases are pending in various courts in the country. Moreover, the 2022 India Justice Report pointed out that nearly 77 percent of the people in jail await the completion of their trial.
The Indian judiciary has garnered infamy for being inefficient, where we see headlines like how a 90-year-old was convicted for a crime that happened 42 years ago.
So why have Indian courts gained a reputation of being a dela-causing machine? In the intricate web of India’s legal system, where justice is meant to be served swiftly, four compelling factors contribute to the glacial pace of the Indian judiciary.
Lack of judges
To begin with, there is a huge shortage of judges. In the 2022 India Justice Report, it was observed that, against a sanctioned strength of 1,108 judges, high courts were operating withjust 778 justices as of December 2022.
With a multitude of tasks but only a handful of hands to manage them, the workload can become a daunting act. For which the above data speaks.
The collegium system and lack of transparency
The second reason for frequent delay in justice is the lack oftransparency in the judge’s appointment in India. The collegium system, under which the CJI and the four senior-most Supreme Court judges convene to decide on judicial nominations and transfers, which are then sent to the Union government who appoint the judges, is, not to put too fine a point on it, inefficient.
This procedure for appointment has been on the radar and has been criticised for delaying the appointment of judges.
The government sits on appointment of judges, thus keeping Benches vacant for a considerable time.
In fact, this has been a major point of friction between the judiciary and the executive. For example, on February 3 this year, a Supreme Court Bench headed by Justice S.K. Kaul, who is part of the collegium, had warned the Union government of “unpalatable consequences” if the collegium’s recommendations to transfer high court judges were not given effect in the next ten days.
The said unpalatable consequences were never inflicted.
This shows how red tape is creating a backlog in the country’s judiciary.
Delay in the announcement of judgments
Another serious concern that leads to delays in courts is the long waiting period for the pronouncement of judgments.
There are basically two types of judgments: extempore judgments, where the decision is immediately announced and the reasoning is provided later, and reserved judgments, which are announced later.
There are 21 judges per million population, which is staggeringly lower than the goal set by the Law Commission in 1987, which was to have at least 50 judges for every million residents.
Lastly, endless amendments to statutes are a major factor for the tareekh pe tareekh syndrome because it requires time to comprehend and explain new legal regulations.
This was also pointed out by India’s veteran advocate, the late Nani Pakhivala. While talking about theIncome Tax Act, 1961 he emphasised that there was uncertainty and inefficiency as a result of the Act’s more than3,300 revisionsenacted in less than thirty years.
The road ahead
In order to make the Indian judiciary more efficient, the CJI has been advocating paperless courts. To make this a reality, the Supreme Court of India is undergoing adigital transformation, going paperless, and offering free Wi-Fi services to judges, lawyers, and litigants. This initiative aims to modernise court proceedings, reduce the use of physical documents, and enhance the efficiency of the judicial system.
Not only the Supreme Court, but very recently, forty more paperless courts were inaugurated, bringing the total number of paperless courts in the country to199.
Endless amendments to statutes are a major factor for the tareekh pe tareekh syndrome because it requires time to comprehend and explain new legal regulations.
Lastly, the Union cabinet has allotted₹7,210 crore to fund Phase 3 of the e-Courts Project. By enhancing access to justice, cutting down on procedural delays, and increasing the use of technology in courts, this project seeks to modernise the Indian judiciary.
The project aims to enhance digital infrastructure, integrate case management, and provide online services to litigants, attorneys, and judges. This enhances transparency, expedites judicial processes and boosts public access to the legal system.
In conclusion, the Indian judicial system, tackling various challenges and complexities, is working towards making this system more efficient and is constantly working towards making this vital pillar of the nation’s democracy stronger than ever.