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Gross Denial Of Timely Justice

CHIEF Justice of India T S Thakur on Sunday once again lamented publicly that the heavy backlog of more than 3 crore cases in various courts across the country was amounting to denial of justice to the citizens. According to Justice Thakur, in order to clear the court backlog, the country requires more than 70,000 judges. And we can only sympathize with Justice Thakur as judges’ appointments to the existing posts take an indefinite time. About 170 proposals for appointment of high court judges were now pending with the government. Of about 900 sanctioned posts of judges in different high courts of the country, there are over 450 vacancies. About 30 years ago, the Law Commission of India had suggested appointment of 44,000 judges to effectively tackle the then number of pending cases. There are only 18,000 judges across the country today.
The backlog is making a mockery of the justice system. Justice delayed is justice denied. Justice must be delivered fast. If timely justice is denied it amounts to denial of justice. Speed and justice are integral to each other. Access to justice is a fundamental right guaranteed under the Constitution; delayed justice means denial of this fundamental right. Timely disposal of cases is essential for maintaining the rule of law. Although there is no clear relation between the huge court backlog and rise in violent criminality in the country, random accounts and cases suggest that there is after all a relation. People want to avoid going to court because of backlog and seek extra-judicial means to get what they want – land, money, custody, etc. People who can pay goondas to “recover” money or “seize” a property or “eject” someone from their property commonly do so, because they think they can get it faster whereas in court they might have to wait for twenty or thirty years. The severe problem of backlog is, therefore, leading to serious erosion of the rule of law.
At the end of 2013, there were 3.13 crore cases pending from the lowest courts to the Supreme Court. “If the nation’s judges attacked their backlog nonstop – with no breaks for eating or sleeping – and closed 100 cases every hour, it would take more than 35 years to catch up,” according to Bloomberg calculations. Justice Thakur’s point cannot be thus over-emphasized: India has acute shortage of judges. The country had only 15.5 judges for every million people in 2013. The US had more than 100 judges for every million. The appointment of judges is an issue that has several strands woven in a complex manner. There is the problem of who will finance the new courts and judges – the central government or the state governments. We have the example of fast-track courts. In 2000 the central government approved 1,734 fast-track courts nationwide to speed up the disposal of pending cases. In 2011, the central government cut off the funding of fast-track courts, asking the state governments to bear the financial responsibility for them. The issue of funding is not yet resolved. The state governments have been citing their own financial constraints in not setting up more and more fast-track courts. Setting up fast-track courts is not a priority with the state government, despite the fact that the income from stamp duties is significant. Today the number of fast-track courts has come down from more than 1,700 to less than a 1,000.
There are other reasons for the backlog. A major responsibility for it lies on the bar. Lawyers demand one hearing after another, seek adjournments on frivolous grounds, take too long to go through the evidence presented and the number of documents exhibited in the case and use many pretexts to delay the resolution of the cases in order to keep getting their daily appearance fees.
However, there can be some simple ways to make the justice system efficient and fast. It is shocking to learn that more than one-third of cases in courts involved traffic fines or other routine matters. The 20th Law Commission headed by Justice A P Shah in its report submitted in 2014 recommended creation of special morning and evening courts for dealing with traffic/police challan cases which constituted 38.7% of institutions and 37.4% of all pending cases before the subordinate judicial courts. These courts were to be in addition to the regular courts so that they can reduce the case load of the regular courts. In addition, the Law Commission suggested, facilities be made available for online payment of fines as well as payment of fines at designated counters in the court complex. Recent law graduates might be appointed for short durations, say three years, to preside over these special traffic courts.

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