Pendency: issuesto be addressed

Pendency: issuesto be addressed

Standing firm by his resolution to reduce pendency, Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi has unfolded one aspect of his scheme to reduce pendency. He has ordered that judges should not take leave on working days, unless in case of an emergency. He has asked the chief justices of the high courts to withdraw judicial work from those judges failing to comply with his scheme.

In fact, his brother judge Justice N V Ramana has responded positively to his call by turning down an invitation of the Commonwealth Judicial Education Institution to attend a conference in Spain.

The CJI has taken this step to reduce the time spent in seminars and functions during working hours which otherwise would have been utilised in preparing cases scheduled for hearing the next day. His step must be appreciated but pendency is too high to be suitably addressed by this step alone. In this behalf, vacancies of judicial officers at subordinate court and judges at high courts and the Supreme Court must be filled.

The CJI should also take into consideration the recommendations of the National Commission on review of the Constitution (NCRWC) to direct the Centre and the state governments to reduce litigation which is unnecessary. Appointment of efficient court managers and constant upgradation of syllabus at judicial academy would go a long way.

A total 3.3 crore cases are pending out of which 2.84 crore are pending before subordinate courts, 43 lakh before high courts and 58,000 before the Supreme Court. It has been widely accepted that major cause of this problem is large number of vacancies in the judicial appointment.

This has been reaffirmed by the Law Commission in its various reports, 245th report in 2014 being the most recent one. Even various CJIs have asserted this fact, former CJI T S Thakur even went emotional on this issue in a public gathering in the presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

As per the data of the Union Department of Justice, last updated on October 1, 2018, while 434 posts of judges in high courts are lying vacant, seven judges position lie vacant in the Supreme Court. It is the constitutional duty of the collegium comprising the CJI to recommend candidates for judgeship.

Another important facet of reducing pendency is filling vacancies at the level of subordinate judiciary. Our subordinate courts are functioning with a strength of 16, 726 - a shortage of 5,748 judicial officers when the sanctioned strength is 22, 474.

This is largely because the high courts do not regularly hold competitive examination for recruitment of judges. CJI Gogoi should also look into this aspect and direct the high courts to fulfil their task. In the light of similar judgements by the SC in the past, it is important that compliance of this directive is regularly monitored. This would go a long way in securing constitutional aspiration of speedy justice to every individual.

The CJI should ensure, as suggested in the report of the NCRWC, the basic infrastructure needed in all courts and arrange to ensure that courts are not crippled for want of infrastructural facilities. It is also necessary to have continuing education for the presiding officers. A proper monitoring is recommended for systematic assessment of training needs of judicial personnel at different levels so that work can be disposed more effectively and efficiently.

Striking feature

Another striking feature is that the government is the largest litigant — 46% of the cases have the administration as the litigant. In this backdrop, there is an urgent need for the government to act in accordance with the recommendations of the NCRWC and constitute at the Centre and in the states, committee of secretaries to review government litigation with a view to avoid adjudication, wherever possible, give priority in filling of written statements, wherever required, and instruct government advocates to seek early decision on government litigation.

The CJI should also look into this and direct the government to follow the recommendations of NCRWC. The curriculum of judicial academies should also be subjected to frequent review for improving the efficiency and productivity of the judiciary and speedy delivery of justice.

The apex court expressed in All India Judges’ Association v Union of India (2002) that the court managers should be appointed to identify weaknesses in the management systems and recommend workable steps under the supervision of their respective judges for rectifying the same. It has been observed in the same case that it is the constitutional duty of the Supreme Court to ensure that the backlog of cases is reduced and efforts are made to increase the disposal of cases. The right to speedy justice is guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution.

However, justice delayed is justice denied. Because of backlog of cases, a situation is created where citizens have no recourse but to wait for a delayed delivery of justice. It is duty of the judiciary to ensure that this right is not infringed upon and, in this light, CJI Gogoi should take into account that these reformative measures are introduced for expeditious and efficient dispensation of justice so that the people’s faith is maintained in the judiciary.

(The writers are students of the National Law School of India University, Bengaluru)