Judicial Reforms

India’s judiciary and the slackening cog of trust


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Paper 2- Judicial corruption and pendency


Departures from substantive and procedural justice need deep scrutiny as the fallout could severely imperil governance.

Judicial corruption in India in lower judiciary

  • According to Transparency International (TI 2011), 45% of people who had come in contact with the judiciary between July 2009 and July 2010 had paid a bribe to the judiciary.
  • The most common reason for paying the bribes was to “speed things up”.
  • The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) (April 2013) estimates that for every ₹2 in official court fees, at least ₹ 1,000 is spent in bribes in bringing a petition to the court.
  • Freedom House’s ‘Freedom in the World 2016 report for India’ states that “the lower levels of the judiciary in particular have been rife with corruption” (Freedom House 2016).
  • Allegations of corruption against High Court judges abound.
  • Worse, there are glaring examples of anti-Muslim bias, often followed by extra-judicial killings by the police.
  • Anti-Muslim bias alone may not result in erosion of trust but if combined with unprovoked and brutal violence against them (e.g., lynching of innocent cattle traders) is bound to.

Forms of judicial corruption

  • Pressure and bribery: Judicial corruption takes two forms: political interference in the judicial process by the legislative or executive branch, and bribery.
  • Despite the accumulation of evidence on corrupt practices, the pressure to rule in favour of political interests remains intense.
  • Court officials coax bribes for free services, and lawyers charge additional “fees” to expedite or delay cases.

Case pendency

  • According to the National Judicial Data Grid, as of April 12, 2017, there are 24,186,566 pending cases in India’s district courts, of which 2,317,448 (9.58%) have been pending for over 10 years, and 3,975,717 (16.44%) have been pending for between five and 10 years.
  • Vacancies: As of December 31, 2015, there were 4,432 vacancies in the posts of [subordinate court] judicial officers, representing about 22% of the sanctioned strength.
  • In the case of the High Courts, 458 of the 1,079 posts, representing 42% of the sanctioned strength, were vacant as of June 2016.
  • Thus, severe backlogging and understaffing persisted, as also archaic and complex procedures of delivery of justice.

Understanding the substantive and procedural justice

  • Substantive justice is associated with whether the statutes, case law and unwritten legal principles are morally justified e.g., freedom to pursue any religion,
  • Procedural justice is associated with fair and impartial decision procedures.
  • Outdated laws: Many outdated/dysfunctional laws or statutes have not been repealed because of the tardiness of legal reform both at the Union and State government levels.
  • Worse, there have been blatant violations of constitutional provisions.
  • The Citizenship (Amendment) Act (December 2019) provides citizenship to — except Muslims — Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jains, Parsis and Christians who came to India from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan on or before December 31, 2014.
  • But this goes against secularism and is thus a violation of substantive justice.
  • Alongside procedural delays, endemic corruption and mounting shares of under-trial inmates with durations of three to five years point to stark failures of procedural justice and to some extent of substantive justice.


Exercise of extra-constitutional authority by the central and State governments, weakening of accountability mechanisms, widespread corruption in the lower judiciary and the police, with likely collusion between them, the perverted beliefs of the latter towards Muslims, other minorities and lower caste Hindus, a proclivity to deliver instant justice, extra-judicial killings, filing FIRs against innocent victims of mob lynching have left deep scars on the national psyche.

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