The Covid-19 pandemic has had an impact on almost every area of India’s socio-economic-political system, and the judiciary is no exception. Since March 2020, the courts have not worked with a full caseload on the whole. As a result, when the March 2020 lockdown was announced, there were 3.68 crore instances across all levels, which has since increased to 4.42 crore. The delays and inefficiencies caused by overburdened Indian courts have long been a source of worry, and they exemplify the adage that “justice delayed is justice denied.”
- At present, despite good intentions, the nation’s judiciary is hurtling towards a disaster and needs immediate attention.
- More than 40% of cases are decided after three years in India, while in many other countries less than 1% of cases are decided after three years.
- If India does not act decisively and quickly, this percentage will keep increasing.
- The rich, the powerful and the wrongdoers are in an advantageous position by getting their cases expedited or delayed as they wish, while victims continue to suffer.
- The increase in corruption and crime is a direct fallout of the sluggish justice delivery system.
- This severely impacts the poor and marginalised. For them, the judicial process itself becomes a punishment.
- Data show that about 70% of prisoners in India are undertrials and are mostly poor citizens.
WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE?
- Reduce the pendency of cases by filling sanctioned judicial positions:
- The nation needs to add about 20% of judges.
- This is in line with the sanctioned strength and has been endorsed by Justice B.N. Srikrishna, Justice R.C. Chavan and 100 IIT alumni.
- At present the responsibility of selecting judges is largely with the judiciary itself.
- The responsibility of appointments in the subordinate judiciary lies with the State governments and their respective High Courts.
- But, the responsibility of ensuring near-zero vacancies should be with the Chief Justices of the High Courts and the Chief Justice of India and they should be held accountable for the same.
- Improve working with the use of technology:
- The e-Committee of the Supreme Court has been in existence since 2005 and it has made three outstanding recommendations which can be bring into action:
- One, computer algorithms should decide on case listing, case allocation and adjournments with only a 5% override given to judges.
- All rational reasons and limits should be put on adjournments; case listing should give main weightage to ‘first in, first out’; and case allocation should take into account logical criteria.
- This would be a big step in reducing arbitrariness and the unfair advantage that the powerful enjoy.
- Two, the courts should focus on e-filing.
- This if implemented in all seriousness, would have dual benefit i.e. speed up judicial process and also save about three lakh trees annually.
- Three, focussing on virtual hearings.
- COVID-19 prompted the courts to adopt virtual hearings. However, virtual hearings were held only in some cases while physical hearings were held in most.
- In 2020 alone, it increased to an astonishing 51 lakh. It appears that if a hybrid virtual hearing model is not adopted, the backlog of cases could cross 5 crore in 2022. The dysfunctional justice system will be perpetually overwhelmed.
- Therefore, all the courts in the country must switch to a hybrid virtual mode immediately and start disposing cases.
- This will make access to justice easier for litigants, reduce costs, and also give a fair opportunity to young lawyers from small towns.
If all the required changes are done, India’s judicial system can rank among the 10 top countries of the world. These changes would make India the preferred nation for international investments and also fulfil the fundamental right to speedy justice of citizens.
How to structure:
- Start with an introduction about the pendency of cases in the judicial system
- Give the concerns related to this issue
- Propose novel ideas- hence innovative solutions takes up precedence