Pendency of cases in the Indian judiciary: Is there a way out?

Reading time: 6-7 minutes.

The territory of the Republic of India as defined under Article 1 of Indian Constitution is witnessing crisis of pendency of cases in the court. The main objective of the judiciary is to deliver affordable and speedy justice which is the demand of people.

Mounting arrears of pending cases is the cause of great distress among the judges. The main reason is the ratio of disposal of cases as comparison to the number of cases arises is low. In the current scenario, there is an augment of pending cases in the lower courts i.e. district courts.

The rebuttal of timely justice is the rebuttal of justice to itself. The timely disposal of cases is the inherent fundamental right of any citizen and indispensable for prolonging rule of law. Because of the current strength of judges in the judiciary, there is huge pendency of cases in the court of law hence, there is no timely justice to the citizens of the nation.

Furthermore, since the judicial system is not able to cope up with old backlog case as a result, the system is not able to pace up with new cases which in turn is enhancing the backlog cases. There is already a backlog of cases which is worsening day by day, leading to dilution of fundamental rights and abrasion of rule of law.

The Preamble of Indian Constitution is the source of justice, equality, liberty and fraternity. These ideas will never be achieved until and unless the door of justice is not reached to the common mass. In the case of Babu Singh v. State of UP, Justice Krishna Iyer said that the Indian judiciary suffers from slow-motion syndrome whereby fair trial is not reached to the common masses. Under Article 21, right to a speedy trial which is foster justice in the society has now made its place.

What is the reason for pendency of cases?

  • The chief reason of pendency of cases is a complex procedure of law for disposition of cases.
  • Taking into account the population of India, the present judge ratio to serve the whole nation is less.
  • The infrastructure of the court is dismaying.
  • Though the Apex Court and High Courts have good infrastructure, the lower courts have no proper physical infrastructure which in turn is leading to more time being taken for disposal of cases.
  • The linguistic barrier is another issue as most of the lawyers are familiar with vernacular languages which are not allowed in the highest Constitutional Courts.
  • The adjournment of cases on unreasonable grounds is the reason for delay in disposal of cases.
  • The courts are having long vacations which are further leading to lower disposal of cases.

What is the present status of disposal of cases?

Former Chief Justice of India Deepak Mishra expressed sorrow over the pendency of cases as it reached an all-time high touching 3.3 crore pending cases. While 2.84 crore cases are pending in the subordinate courts, the backlog of cases in the High Court and Supreme Court are 43 lakh and 57,987 cases, respectively. As indicated by National Judicial Data Grid (NJDG), the five states which record for the most noteworthy pendency of cases are Uttar Pradesh (61.58 lakh), Maharashtra (33.22 lakh), West Bengal (17.59 lakh), Bihar (16.58 lakh) and Gujarat (16.45 lakh) in 2018.

Similarly, President Ram Nath Kovind expressed concerns over the long pendency of cases in the court of law. He said that the Indian legal system is suffering from a long delay of cases, infrastructural issues and considerable vacancies. Out of all pending cases, 60% of cases are 2 years old and 40% are 5 years-old cases. 15% of appeals are pending in Allahabad High Court which is highest in any High Court.

Criminal cases are pending in a greater number as compared to civil cases. Meanwhile, the combined pendency of cases before the lower courts in Punjab and Haryana states has reached around one million. As of December 27, 2018, the pendency is 13,31,244 cases.

The way forward…

Emphasizing on the demand of clearing backlog of cases, the Vice-President of India M. Vankaiah Naidu advocated the setting up of special judicial tribunals and regional bench of Supreme Court in Chennai on trial basis. He said that the door of justice should be closer to the people. He spoke about increasing the number of judges in the court of law and retiring age of judges of the country.

The 230th Law Commission Report (2009) also suggested reforms in the judiciary in this regard. It recommended that the judges and lawyers must be punctual and make full use of court hours. The judges should not grant adjournments unless it is absolutely necessary.

There are many cases in the court which may solve through common legal points of previously decided cases; forthwith such cases can have collaborated with technology so that they can dispose other cases and can lower the arrears.

In the case of Anil Rai v. State of Bihar, it was held by the Supreme Court that the judgments should be delivered at a reasonable time in both civil and criminal cases. The vacancies in the court of law should be filled within a period of 10 to 15.

Also, there is demand for increasing the age of the subordinate judges to 62 years. Adequate provision should be made for the staff and infrastructure required for the working of additional courts. The language of judgments delivered by the court of law should not be vague and ambiguous which in turn can prevent further litigation. In the case of Harish Uppal (Ex-Capt.) v. Union of India, it was held by the Supreme Court that lawyers should not resort to strike and follow the decisions of the Apex Court of India.

Additionally, judicial case management can be another important measure to lower down the arrear of cases. Here, the court can set a timetable for the case and the judge effectively sees advance in the case. This can alter the scenario in the court as the responsibility of the management of cases shifts from lawyers to the court.

Further, the focus should be diverted to Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) which is the modern method of solving disputes. It includes arbitration, mediation, conciliation and different techniques which is quick alternative of formal litigation for resolving disputes. It offers several advantages like faster and speedier justice, and is less expensive and adversarial.

In the case of Punjab & Sind Bank v. Allahabad Bank, it was held by Supreme Court that when the parties itself have option of mediation or conciliation, then there is no requirement of litigation.

In conclusion…

Today, many countries are facing problems in the disposition of cases. India is facing major challenges in the disposition of cases. In the context of justice, delay denotes the time consumed in disposing of the case, exceeding the time within which the court can reasonably be expected to decide a case.

The expected life span of the case is an inherent part of the system in the adjudicatory system, whether inquisitorial or adversarial. No one expects a case to be decided overnight. However, difficulties arise when the actual time taken to dispose of the case exceeds much of what is expected to happen and when we say that the delivery of justice is delayed.

Needless to say, it is not enough merely to create extra courts to reduce the backlog of instances. Only the Court’s technological advancement will tackle the scenario efficiently and ultimately bear fruit in the true aim of creating extra courts. There is a strong need to develop an alternative model for access to justice, which involves the judiciary in the determination of justice, rather than being a spectator, and is pro-active.

The delay is very much serious and happens at every point. The issue of the backlog in the judiciary is very widespread. A scan of the figures would show that the gap between the expected and actual life span of the cases is only widening despite efforts being made at different levels and the substantial increase in the output given by the system.

People are losing their trust in the judiciary due to the pendency of cases. Therefore, it is the need of the hour to address and establish the legal or procedural structure to address the ’causes’ that add to the delay in the disposal of cases.

-This article is brought to you in collaboration with Aayush Akar from National Law University, Odisha.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s