A Delhi High Court project with the help of a Bengaluru-based NGO found that the National Capital Region requires 43 more judges to clear all the pending cases in one year.
The Delhi High Court worked with Daksh, a Bengaluru-based civil society organisation, to study the functions of the courts without backlogs of cases and prepare an ideal timeline for different kinds of cases.
Fist of this kind project named 'zero pendency court' was monitored by the Justice S Ravindra Bhat-led State Court Management Systems Committee (SCMSC) in select subordinate courts in Delhi between January 2017 and December 2018. For the study, 11 pilot and 11 reference courts were selected in Delhi and the day-to-day work of each was recorded with the help of an application developed by Daksh, which assisted the high court in data analysis and in drafting the report.
"We joined in the project in August 2017 and launched the app called 'Court Log' in December 2017 to streamline the daily recording of the court proceedings. The app helped to track real-time facts and figures. We also incorporated the data collected prior to December 2017 in the app's dashboard," said Arunav Kaul, a research associate in Daksh, who was part of the project.
"Daksh trained the court staff to use the app and also helped the high court to prepare the report by analysing the data collected by the 'Court Log' app," he added.
The project ascertained that an inadequate number of judges at courts is a huge hurdle that prevents a backlog-free court. The report said, "having an adequate number of judges that can handle the incoming case flow is important, failing which the backlog of cases would only increase."
Considering the fresh cases files in each court, the report recommended increasing the number of judges to 186 judges from the current 143 to clear the backlog in a year.
"With lesser number of judges, the workload of an individual judge would increase thus, putting more pressure on judges. It is therefore important to arrive at an optimal judge strength to handle the cases pending in the system," said the report.
The report also found that sessions judges dealing with murder cases took an average of 16 hours to dispose of sessions cases within 6.5 months, while fast track courts dealing with rape cases took on an average of 4.4 hours to dispose of sessions cases within 90 days. The report said that the court should devote more time for the final argument and the final order or judgement.
According to the report, the delay in disposing of a case occurs during the prosecution's evidence stage in criminal cases, while in civil cases, it is the issuing of summons and filing of written statements. Absence of witnesses, frequent adjournments sought by advocates or parties, delays in summons or notices and summoning outstation parties are some of the major reasons for court delays.
The project found that there are more criminal cases than civil cases pending in Delhi courts. As of March 20, 2019, there were 5.5 lakh criminal cases and 1.8 lakh civil cases pending in subordinate courts in Delhi. And more fresh or transferred cases are filed in reference courts than pilot courts. Between January 2017 and December 2018, a total of 13,479 cases were filed in reference courts as compared to 8,523 cases in pilot courts.
"It is important to translate the learnings and findings from this study into policy decisions that can have a positive impact on case life and help in combating delay in courts," stated the report.