Overcoming delays

Overcoming delays

The Law Commission of India’s recent recommendation to set up a time frame for disposal of cases in courts is meant to address the problem of long delays which have marked the functioning of the judiciary.

The panel has also proposed increasing the number of judges in high courts and subordinate courts and an increase in the retirement age of judges of the lower courts. These are among the many ideas which have been proposed and debated in the country for a long time. Recently, Chief Justice of India R M Lodha suggested that courts can work all the year round by giving judges their choice of holidays. At present, there is a long mandatory shutdown, which is a colonial legacy.  But the proposal did not find favour with some sections, mainly lawyers. 

The extremely bad situation of pendency of cases is well known. There are over 3.2 crore cases pending now, with about 65,000 in the Supreme Court and about 45 lakh in the high courts. A former judge observed some time ago that at the present pace of disposals, it will take 466 years to clear the backlog in the Delhi high court! Delhi is among the better courts in clearing cases. All courts are short of judges and moves to increase the number of judges have not found results. At the high court level, there is a 32 per cent shortfall in the number of judges and 21 per cent at the district level. The proposal for time-bound clearance of cases will not work without increasing the number of judges at all levels. Filling up the vacancies is also not enough. India has only 11 judges for every million people. In some countries where there is a reasonably efficient judicial system, the judges’ strength is 100 per one million citizens. The Law Commission had itself suggested an increase in the number of judges some time ago.

The infrastructure needed for courts and the procedures adopted by them also need vast improvement. Many subordinate courts do not even have proper buildings. Some districts do not have family courts, consumer courts and administrative tribunals. Computerisation is still not complete. The proposals to introduce the practice of written arguments instead of long oral arguments and to minimise adjournments have not been implemented effectively. Without progress in all these areas, time-bound and speedy disposal of cases is not possible. 

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