Lower courts need more judges

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Parliament’s approval of a Bill to raise the number of Supreme Court judges from 31 to 34 will go some way towards addressing the problem of a large backlog of cases in the court. The low strength of the judiciary has been cited as one reason for the huge pendency of cases, resulting in long delays in their disposal. The number of judges per 10 million population is less than 20 in India while it is far higher in many other countries. The US has 107 judges per 10 million and the UK 51. The Supreme Court and the Law Commission have in the past sought an increase in the number of judges in the top court to at least 50. Recently, Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi had written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi about his inability to constitute enough number of benches due to the paucity of judges. The increase in strength might give some relief. 

While increasing the court’s strength is welcome, it is necessary to take other steps also to reduce the pendency of cases. Adjournments and the duration of oral arguments and vacations can be reduced. The court should make the best use of its time and the number of judges it has. The Supreme Court is expected to deal with constitutional issues and interpretation of laws. But it is often seen as handling even common complaints relating to infrastructure, traffic and similar matters. The court also sometimes takes up issues that are not strictly in its domain. There have been proposals for restructuring of the higher judiciary so that the court can pay better attention to its main job. One such proposal, made by the Law Commission, for a division of the Supreme Court into a constitutional court located in Delhi, and four cassation courts to be set up in four regions of the country, deserves serious consideration. There are other judicial reforms, too, which can reduce the workload on courts. The government and the Supreme Court also should reach an agreement on judicial appointments which have sometimes been delayed because of differences. 

Pendency of cases in the Supreme Court is only one part of the bigger problem of arrears and judicial delays. The arrears and delays in lower courts affect the common people more because many cases relate to their daily lives. The Supreme Court has given directions for speedy disposal of cases in the lower courts, but the problem cannot be solved without increasing the number of judges in those courts and improving their functioning, infrastructure and facilities. The problem of delays and the resulting denial of justice should be tackled at all levels in the judiciary. 

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