What are the reasons for Judicial Pendency & What are the reforms needed?

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In April 2016, there were more than 20 million cases pending in the Indian districts courts; two-thirds were criminal cases. 1 in 10 have been pending for more than 10 years. That means 10% cases have > 10 years of backlog!

Shortage of judges in the judicial system is not the only reason for mounting pendency of cases in India. Law Commission of India Chairman and former Supreme Court judge Justice Balbir Singh Chauhan said that the approved strength of judges are enough to end backlog.

In fact, the law ministry was found saying that the judge-population ratio was a poor substitute for sound scientific analysis to arrive at the real reasons behind huge pendency.

Here are the other important reasons for Judicial Pendency: 

#1. Lack of IT prowess: Lack of proper court management systems and inadequate administrative staff

#2. Human Resource Issues: Quality of lawyers being produced en masse by barely regulated law schools, civil procedure rules that still date back to the first decade of the 20th century

#3. Increasing awareness in Public: Workload has increased because of an increase in awareness among the public and education. There has been an expansion of liberty and courts are bound by the public’s faith in the judiciary

#4. Void of Technical Expertise: In the increasingly complex field of law, specialised knowledge has become indispensable. But very often company and patent cases are listed before judges who have been familiar with criminal cases, and the latter class presented before judges who are adept in civil cases. There is an urgent need of creating specialized benches.

#5. Proliferation through Special Leave Petitions (SLPs): A lot of cases are entertained under article 136, which would otherwise not fall in the criminal/appellate/advisory jurisdictions.

Article 136 deals with extraordinary power of the apex court to grant special leave in cases. The Supreme Court may, in its discretion, grant special leave to appeal from any judgment, decree, determination, sentence or order in any cause or matter passed or made by any court or tribunal in the territory of India.

#6. Attitudinal Issues: Frequent transfers of judges takes the interest out of them to hear the cases that their successor may give judgement to

10 Point reform agenda

The 245th Law Commission Report on “Arrears and Backlogs: Creating Additional Judicial (W)omanpower has recommended the following measures

1. Calculating Adequate Judge Strength through a more scientific analysis of data – In this context, the Commission has negated a simplistic method like Judge-Population ratio (Number of judges required per million people) in favour of a Rate of Disposal Method.

In the Rate of Disposal Method, one looks at the current rate at which judges dispose of cases. Then, given that the institutions and disposal rate remain the same, the Courts would need how many more additional judges to keep pace with the new filings in Court so that the newly instituted cases do not add to the existing backlog.

2. Judges to be appointed on a Priority basis: India currently has 1/5th of the number of judges it needs and thus, the Judges need to be appointed on a priority basis.

3. Increasing the age of retirement for Subordinate Court Judges to 62 years.

4. Creation of Special Courts for traffic/police challan cases: They constitute about 37.4% of the existing pendency before the subordinate courts.

5. Provision for staff and infrastructure

6. Periodic Needs Assessment by High Courts: Monitoring the rate of institution and disposal of cases and revising the adequate strength of Judges since a High Court is equipped with all the information relating to the subordinate courts in the State. The Malimath Committee had recommended setting up of Vigilance Cells in each district by the High Court to monitor the performance of subordinate judicial officers.

7. Uniform data collection and data management methods: to bring in greater transparency.

8. Need for a system-wide reform: The Commission has recommended the following:

● Greater encouragement to Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) and Lok Adalats <Can you tell us the difference among various types of ADRs, mediation, arbitration and conciliation? Answer in comments>

● Setting up non-mandatory time frames and performance benchmarks for resolution of different types of cases based on rational criteria.

9. Use of Technology : Has been recommended by the 230th Law Commission Report and the Malimath Committee Report to

(a) Club cases filed on similar points of law, which can be decided on the basis of a single judgment.
(b) Track old cases, which have become infructuous and dispose them off quickly
(c) Setting up E-Courts and ushering in E-filing. Has received a major boost under the e-Courts Integrated Mission Mode Project.

10. Creation of All-India Judicial Service: Provided for under Article 312 of the Indian Constitution. The idea has been mooted by various bodies including the First Judicial Pay Commission and accepted by the Supreme Court. Art 2012 proposal regarding creation of this service has not received responses from all States and this proposal continues to be hanging in the air <can you tell us the procedure of creation of new all India service? Answer in comments>

Way ahead

Many steps are currently being taken by the Government and the Courts to address this problem.

Monthly National Lok Adalats are carried out for expeditious disposal of claims.

In March 2016, the Monthly Lok Adalat disposed of about 1.5 lakh cases and settled claims worth Rs. 100 crores <Where can one appeal against the decision of Lok Adalats. Also tell us about the jurisdiction of Lok Adalats. Answer in comments>

In criminal cases, the setting-up of fast-track Courts and “plea bargaining” have further expedited matters <Can you tell us what’s plea bargaining? Answer in comments>

The e-courts project, aimed at providing better Court management and a database of all pending cases with easier filing of important documents is underway.

Moreover, the National Litigation Policy 2015 is awaiting ministerial approval and seeks to reverse the trend of Government being the biggest litigant <Did you know one of the argument for rejecting NJAC was that govt was the biggest litigant, therefore can have no role in appointment of judges>.

However, in view of the burgeoning backlog and urgency of reducing backlog, the efforts need to be severely expedited.

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