Judiciary, being the vital organ of the state, acts as a watchdog and custodian of the Constitution. A person who approaches this organ, though aggrieved, is hopeful and positive that his grievances will be addressed and he will get justice.
Why is it that, in developing countries like India, it takes years for a case to be decided? Does it mean that our judicial system is slow, sluggish and about to break in a few years from now? At least, present statistics hint towards the same. Approximately 70% of the present prisoners are yet to have the charges determined against them in court and many have already served more than half the maximum punishment that could be imposed on them, if proved guilty, for their alleged crimes-a threshold that, under Indian law, requires them to be released, but which is rarely followed. More than 53,000 cases are pending with the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India, around 4 million with the High Courts and a staggering 23 million with the lower courts. The cry for speedy justice is going to be shriller in the next three decades as a conservative judicial estimate predicts that case pendency is going to increase five-fold touching 150 million but the judges’ strength will go up only four times to settle at 75,000.
Undoubtedly, India has one of the largest judicial systems in the world, with over 30 million cases and sanctioned strength of 18,871 judges but that does not mean it has the license to take ages to decide a case.
So, why does a case/cause in India take so long to get finally decided? Besides the obvious reason of insufficient resources and proper strength, one major reason for the delay is the ‘procedure’ followed in Indian courts-which unlike US and British courts-takes much longer time. For example, in India, for any triable cause, the party is allowed to produce and examine as many witnesses as it wants. Be it one, 100 or 1000, the list is endless. Thereafter, cross-examination and re-examination of this endless list of witnesses takes place. Instead, a law must be promulgated wherein examination of 7-10 (best) witnesses should be allowed if a cause/case is to be adjudged swiftly and finally and relief is to be given.
Further, the practice of unnecessary adjournments must be abolished. Shorter dates must be given if a matter is adjourned due to absence of counsels or judge. Decision must not be given on technical pleas. Matter must be adjudicated on merits. In fact, costs should be imposed on the wrongdoer to compensate the difficulty caused to the other party and create deterrence for frivolous and unwarranted litigators.
Working hours and days should be increased. For example, our Hon’ble Supreme Court currently works for only 180 days in a year that is less than half a year. This must be reworked and improved. Formality should be reduced and substance must be given importance. For example, huge staff is employed only to oversee that page margins, numbering, font, spacing, format etc. are in place. They keep putting objections of such kinds and further delay the matter from being put up before the appropriate forum for one reason or the other.
Discretion of judges should be reduced as it gives rise to arbitrariness and further litigation. Also, In India, judges from any field of law hear all kinds of cases be it civil, criminal, tax, service, intellectual property, arbitration, etc. They are not given any formal training in that particular field of law before adjudicating such matters. Also, there is no accountability fixed for giving wrong judgments or causing deliberate delay. Only option available to the aggrieved party is to go in appeal and that too if appeal is allowed by the concerned statute. Time frame, if at all, fixed by the statute is only directory in nature.
Though all these measures are not exhaustive but I would conclude this essay by saying that we must ensure that ‘Justice’ is not just a phrase for the university lecture hall. It must be upheld in courtrooms also in letter and spirit else it will lead to incalculable damage to the society and undermine the confidence of the litigants, which will ultimately lead to anarchy in times to come!
By Richa Dhawan,
Advocate, Supreme Court of India