Speedy justice

The concern expressed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Chief Justice of India K G Balakrishnan over the long pendency of cases in courts should be followed up by action on the part of both the government and the judiciary. The prime minister promised at the recent meeting of chief ministers and chief justices that the government would not be found wanting in matching every step the judiciary took to reduce judicial delays which have often made a mockery of the process of delivery of justice. Such sentiments and commitments have been expressed before also but the judicial process has been getting slower and slower over the years. The Law Commission’s 230th report also recently made a number of recommendations to improve the situation by speeding up the disposal of cases. These proposals are also not new but they need to be acted upon fast.

Reduction of the duration of court holidays and extension of working hours are some suggestions. Others include prioritisation of cases, time limits for arguments, written presentation of arguments, restraint on adjournments and better use of technology. Providing improved infrastructure for courts is important because they are badly affected by deficiencies in physical, technical and human infrastructure. There is a shortage of judges at every level of the judiciary — about 300 in high courts and many thousands in lower courts. The vacant posts need to be filled up expeditiously. The suggestion that retired judges can be appointed on a contract basis till regular appointments are made may be considered. Alternative methods and forums of dispute settlement should be promoted. Special courts, family courts and gram nyayalayas, to be set up under a law passed earlier this year, can take the load off regular courts. There are social movements, which are active with the help of judiciary in some parts of the country which are trying to reduce litigation. Such experiments need to be encouraged.

Justice Balakrishnan said that there were 3.11 crore cases pending in the country’s courts. And fresh cases are being added every day. At the present rate of disposal, they will take decades to be settled. The chief justice’s proposal that undertrials could be freed on personal bonds if they have served more than half the sentence that would have been awarded to them in case of conviction deserves to be followed up. That will ease the burden on both jails and courts.

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