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The new notion of Justice is

Justice Delayed is Progress Denied

Securing justice – social, economic and political to all citizens is one of the key essences of the Indian Constitution. This has been explicitly mentioned in Article 39-A of the Constitution that directs the State “to secure equal justice and free legal aid to the citizens”. Even in Sheela Barse’s Case, Court declared speedy trial as a facet of right to life for if the trial of a person goes endlessly, his right to life is itself violated.

The large number of backlog cases and delays in the same are a major issue of discussion. There are actually two separate but inter-related problems being spoken about:

  • Problem of delay
  • Problem of high pendency

Various reasons for this pathetic condition of Indian Judiciary System are: -

1. Poor Judge - Population ratio - Subordinate courts are under tremendous pressure as almost a quarter of the posts remain vacant, due to lack of planning and a poor recruitment policy. The judge-population ratio was 19.66 judges per million people as per the Census 2011 data. However, the ratio had come down to 17.48 judges per million in 2014. But since then the strength of judges and judicial officers have increased. But it’s an irony in itself that the Law Commission and the Supreme Court has recommended that India should have 50 judges per one million people, but the ratio continues to be abysmally low. This ratio is very less as compare to that of France and the USA. So, if a country has one-fifth the number of judges, a case that would have taken one year will take five years.

2. Low Judicial Quality - The Indian Judicial system is unsuccessful in attracting the best brains and the talented students. Quality of judges in lower judiciary are not always satisfactory. This could be evident by the appeals that are filed against the decisions in higher courts, which again increases the number of cases. So, judges lack specialization and they have turned less efficient and lazy

3. Responsibility of Judge - There is one stage where the responsibility for delay can be solely on the judge. When a case is heard in depth and arguments are advanced by both parties, often the judge "reserves judgement" so as to examine the arguments, do research and write the judgement before delivering it. While the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908, applicable to civil courts, states that judgements should be delivered within 30 days of arguments being closed, no such time restriction is found in the context of Section 353 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1974, which prescribes the way a judgement is to be delivered in a criminal case. A judge who takes longer time to deliver her judgement after hearing arguments may forget some of the important arguments or remember them incorrectly to the detriment of the parties. When Subramanian Swamy sought a direction from the court to the then prime minister, Manmohan Singh, to grant sanction to prosecute telecom minister A. Raja in the 2G spectrum case, the court took long 433 days to deliver its judgement after having reserved it. In the Naz Foundation case concerning the validity of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, the judgement was delivered 624 days later, or more than 20 months after being reserved.

4. Failure of Fast-Track Courts- Despite being touted as the solution to clear the mounting backlog of cases in the country, 60 % of the proposed fast track courts are yet to be set up. Declining standards of these courts have defined it as 'fast-track injustice.' These courts are given unrealistic targets of cases to finish. They have been told not to get involved too much in technicality, and that broadly if they feel that a person is guilty, then declare him guilty and if he is innocent, then declare him innocent. But this is not the way how the criminal justice system works. It requires care and attention. Decisions are not based on hunches and guesswork, which is what the fast-track courts are following. Judges cut down on evidence, do not allow full cross-examinations, proceeding in the absence of lawyers in many cases. So, it is not a satisfactory system in many respects.

Impact of Delayed Justice

  • Mental Trauma - Emotional and psychological trauma because of the pending cases shatters the sense of security, making a person feel helpless in a dangerous world. This can also involve a threat to life.
  • Socio-Economic Impact - In many cases, an undertrial prisoner may be the only earning member of the family, and the period for which he/she has been in prison may have a lasting impact on their families, even if the accused is eventually acquitted. Moreover, money spent on proceedings also put a burden.
  • Faith - It erodes the faith in the rule of law and the criminal justice system, which has serious implications on the legitimacy of the Judiciary
  • Compromise - Due to delayed justice, it may happen that the party which is comparatively weaker either compromise on the conditions of the other party or loses all remedies.
  • Chance of escape - Delayed justice will encourage wrongdoer and others to take the chance of escape and will help in taking benefit of their wrongful act.

It is also important to consider the thin line difference between ‘justice delayed is justice denied’ and ‘justice hurried is justice buried’. 

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