Mounting pendency of cases from the Supreme Court to the lower courts has Vice President M. Venkaiah Naidu worried as he expressed concern on the issue. Naidu also urged the government and the judiciary to ensure faster justice. He was addressing the Platinum Jubilee meet of Dr B.R. Ambedkar College of Law, Andhra University on the occasion of its 76th Foundation Day. Naidu underscored the need to make delivery of justice speedier and affordable. Citing adjournment of cases over long periods, he observed that justice was becoming costly and referred to the well-known proverb “justice delayed is justice denied”. In a significant statement, the Vice President remarked that Public Interest Litigations (PILs) should not become private interest litigations for personal, pecuniary and political interests.
Topic Relevancy in UPSC
Existing hurdles in Indian Judiciary
The role of efficient judiciary
Advantages of virtual courts
EDITED EXCERPTS FROM THE DEBATE
Current situation in the country
The judiciary has come under immense pressure to innovate during this pandemic so as to balance public health concerns with access to justice.
The justice delivery is slow, the appointment of judges is mired in controversy, and disciplinary mechanisms scarcely work.
Despite the independence of the judiciary from the executive and legislative bodies, the Indian judicial system faces a lot of problems.
The major issues that the system faces are:
The pendency of cases.
Lack of transparency (particularly in the appointment of judges).
Under trials of the accused.
Lack of information and interaction among people and courts.
Pendency of cases
In the High Courts, over 8.3 lakh cases have been pending for over 10 years. This constitutes 19% of all pending High Court cases.
Similarly, in the subordinate courts, over 24 lakh cases (8%) have been pending for over 10 years. There are 3.1 crore cases clogging India’s district courts.
Overall, Allahabad High Court had the highest pendency, with over seven lakh cases pending.
The Supreme Court began to shutdown physical operations, to prevent the spread of corona virus. This partial shutdown corresponded with the largest increase in pendency in 2020 till now.
Between March and April, the number of pending cases increased by 673 cases. In other words, nearly 50% of the increase in pendency occurred between 1 March and 1 April.
Apart from the cost to the litigant, these delays imply that judges, particularly those in the superior courts are hearing older cases rather than dealing with current pressing issues. Such delays also favour the illegal actions of one party, while prolonging the violation of the rights of the other.
Virtual court is a concept aimed at eliminating the presence of litigants or lawyers in the court and adjudication of cases online.
A virtual court means a location in which matters of law are adjudicated upon, in the presence of qualified judges and which has a well developed technical infrastructure.
It aims to automate the process to provide transparency and accountability of information to its stakeholders and to enhance judicial productivity both quantitatively and qualitatively, to make the court system affordable accessible and cost-effective.
The virtual system of functioning has not been adopted by all judicial and quasi-judicial institutions across the country.
Institutions which have adopted this system have only been employing it for select matters i.e. to hear and dispose of urgent/extremely urgent matters.
Benefits of Virtual courts
It will ensure easy access to justice, an affordable court for all sections of society.
The productivity of court will increase substantially and long wait at the courtroom will become an exception than a norm.
The experience of an e-court will be much more personalised and private as opposed to theatrics involving public-speech based system.
It will make the service delivery mechanism transparent and cost-efficient.
If these facilities are extended to civil cases the efficiency might become double.
Challenges with Virtual courts
The staff is not well equipped and trained to effectively handle document or record evidence, and make them readily accessible to the litigant, to the council as well as to the court.
It involves the litigant’s lack of confidence in the process due to lack of proximity.
Insufficient infrastructure and non-availability of electricity and internet connectivity in most of the Talukas/villages.
E-Courts will also prove to be cost-intensive as setting up state of the art e-courts will require the deployment of new-age technology.
Hacking and cyber security will be huge concern.
Impacts of Judicial pendency
Denial of ‘timely justice’ amounts to denial of ‘justice’ itself.
A weak judiciary has a negative effect on social development, which leads to lower per capita income; higher poverty rates; poorer public infrastructure; and, higher crime rates.
The budget allocated to the judiciary is between 0.08 and 0.09 per cent of the GDP which will certainly cause the problem of pendency of cases in India.
Overcrowding of prisons, already infrastructure deficient, in some cases beyond 150% of the capacity, results in “violation of human rights”.
It was estimated that judicial delays cost India around 1.5% of its Gross Domestic Product annually.
Suggestions related to reform in the judicial system
Increased number of working days.
Establishment of Indian Courts and Tribunal Services to focus on the administrative aspects of the legal system.
Deployment of technology to improve efficiency of the courts.
Computerisation and Automation to make justice delivery more responsive to the needs of litigants.
Court managers or equivalent professionals are the need of the hour and justice delivery can improve only if the courts accept and adopt professional help in their administration.
Tribunals, Fast Track Courts and Special Courts to dispense important cases at the earliest.
ADR (Alternate Dispute Resolution), Lok Adalats, Gram Nyayalayas should be effectively utilised.
Having a definite time frame to dispose the cases by setting annual targets and action plans for the subordinate judiciary and the High Courts.
Strict regulation of adjournments and imposition of exemplary costs for seeking it on flimsy grounds.
E-Courts are a welcome step in this direction, as they give case status and case history of all the pending cases across High courts and Subordinate courts bringing ease of access to information.
Village Legal Care & Support Centre can also be established by the High Courts to work at grass root level to make the State litigation friendly.
The first and foremost step is to draw up a policy for encouraging the setting up of e-courts.
Another important step is the need to upgrade the present state of infrastructure.
Deployment of a robust security system that provides secure access to case information for appropriate parties.
The government must make dedicated efforts in the training of personnel to maintain all the e-data.
There should be wide introspection through extensive discussions, debates and consultations to identify the root causes of delays in our justice delivery system.
Speedy Justice is not only a fundamental right but also a prerequisite of maintaining the rule of law and delivering good governance.