Initiatives to Reduce Pendency and Delays in Judicial System

EXCERPTS OF THE INAUGURAL ADDRESS OF FORMER HON’BLE CHIEF JUSTICE OF INDIA MR. JUSTICE DIPAK MISRA FOR THIS NATIONAL CONFERENCE DATED JULY 27, 2018

About the awareness to the problem of delay
“The problem of pendency and delays has to be accepted but I must inform the members of the Indian judiciary, that we are totally committed to arrive at a solution and bring change in this position. We are consciously investing in innovative strategies to tackle the issue of pendency and delays. The concept of docket explosion is also a sign, which signifies that the Indian citizenry reposes faith in the judicial system of the country, and are approaching the courts in their quest for justice.

It is axiomatic that the right to life and liberty as a facet of Article 21 is one of the most cherished fundamental right guaranteed under our constitution. Pendency of cases of under trials for long periods of time jeopardizes this cherished right and raises serious questions about the efficacy of the Indian judicial system. We must make all efforts to protect the liberty of innocent under trials languishing in jails.”

What is delay?
“It is to be remembered that every delay is not an arrear. Pendency of large number of cases must not be confused with arrears. It is only those cases, which are not disposed of within the stipulated period of time, or within their case life, that ultimately turn into an arrear. Hence, we must not rush to declare every delay as an arrear and get into a state of disturbance by such ill-founded concepts.”

Tackling the problem of delay
“Our concerted efforts to reduce and finally eliminate the five-year-old cases in the subordinate courts are befitting results. Arrears Committees of the High Courts have already been advised to supervise this issue and orchestrate a time bound action plan to curtail the growth of such arrears.

One of the factors intensifying the problem of delay and arrears is the high number of posts lying vacant in the subordinate judiciary. The subordinate courts of the country are working with strength of only 16,900 judicial officers as against the sanctioned strength of 22,200 as on 1st April 2018, leaving about 5,300 posts vacant. These 5,300 vacant posts constitute around 24% of the total sanctioned strength. I may also inform that the High Courts are taking steps to fill up the vacancies.

We must not lose sight of the fact that maximum number of litigants approaching the Indian judicial system have their first experience with the Indian Judiciary at the trial court, and hence, if posts of judicial officers remain vacant at the trial court level, then it would essentially blur our vision for “Access to Justice” for all.

I have requested the Chief Justices of all High Courts to explore the possibility of hearing, Criminal Appeals and Jail Appeals in which Legal Aid Counsel has been provided on Saturdays.

The information, which has been received so far, reflects that around 240 cases have been decided during summer vacation in May-June 2018.

I got further encouraged to make yet another request to the high courts to initiate a “Disposal Review Mechanism, which shall, in particular, concentrate on monitoring the status of institution and disposal of cases and thereby evolve a mechanism to devise new strategies so that new cases which are being instituted, do not end up increasing the arrears.

This in turn prompted me to urge the High Courts to also explore the possibility of hearing on Saturdays, Criminal Appeals which have been pending for more than 10 years after obtaining consent of counsels of both the parties. Without exaggerating much, it has thus proved a step in the right direction.

It is a great move that there will be specific discussion on the role of the ‘Case and Court Management Techniques’ to strengthen the judicial system. Effective case management, which is the heart and soul of the judicial process, enriches the quality of justice dispensation through timely, fair and efficient use of processing methods. Case management system is a highly innovative mechanism, which enables as well as empowers the judges and the court staff in delivering timely and qualitative justice.

The effective case management reforms depend upon establishment of adequate infrastructure to manage judicial data and records in a reliable and objective manner. Such integration of different initiatives and measures will help in developing a holistic mechanism which would help in providing inherent backup to different initiatives for performing better towards a common goal of strengthening the access to justice. Technology can surely do wonders if used wisely as well as appropriately.

I am of the convinced opinion that Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) mechanism is a game-changer in the entire process of handling the challenges of pendency and delays. It is something, which has been part of India’s culture. Every system evolves with time, so has ADR undergone several changes and what we practice today is a legislatively and judicially sanctioned and approved version and technique oriented art of mediation or conciliation and arbitration. People associate with ADR methods quite easily and are quite receptive to its use for settlement of their disputes. Hence, we must seize such opportunities and employ ADR methods through courts as courts are empowered to do so under section 89 of Civil Procedure Code.

We shall not forget that we are dealing with judicial problems in a country which has distinct cultural shades, diverse socio-economic necessity and assorted need of justice depending upon the dominance of local customs and many other distinct patterns of human behavior.

The avalanche of litigation and the docket of pending cases have to be controlled with deft approach. I have certain suggestions:
1. Time Limit to dispose of technical pleas by all courts.

2. Mechanism to monitor progress of cases from filing till disposal, categories cases on the basis of urgency and priority and also grouping of cases.

3. Set annual targets and action plans for subordinate judiciary and High Courts to dispose of old cases and maintain a bi-monthly or quarterly performance review to ensure transparency and accountability.

4. Keep track to bridge the gap between institution and disposal of cases so that there is not much backlog

5. Shortage of Judges is no doubt a factor responsible for pendency but at the same time, it is found that some courts have been functioning and performing better in the same conditions. Adopt such courts as models. This underscores the need to understand that existing capacity has to be better and fully utilized rather than solely concentrating on developing additional capacity.

6.Modernization, computerization and technology – court automation systems, e-courts, digitization of court records, access to information about cases, if possible, could be made available to litigants in a more simpler mode instead to going through multiple web pages, otherwise “access to justice” would remain illusory and we would distance ourselves more from the common man who is the real beneficiary of the justice dispensation system.

7. Strive for more alternative methods of dispute resolution in various forms like arbitration, mediation, pre-litigation mediation, negotiation, lok adalats, well-structured and channelized plea-bargaining, etc.

8. Committees at the high court level have to be pro-active and functional committees. They should meet at least once a fortnight and keep their surveys and reports in digitized format.

9. Frame strict guidelines for grant of adjournments especially at the trial stage, also stricter timelines for cases, not permitting dilution of time frames specified in CPC for procedural steps in the civil proceedings.

10. Explore options of Saturday Courts for cases other than criminal appeals. Every drop counts for it is common place that little drops of water make the mighty ocean. It is small things that add up to produce the huge. It is through persistent efforts and continued application that major accomplishments would finally result.

11. Consider and explore options for setting up fast track courts and fixing time limits or deadlines for certain categories of cases especially in subordinate courts.

12. Multi-pronged approach and momentum required. Lackadaisical attitude and the mindset of delay has to go.

13. Emphasis has to be given to basics and minutest details with meticulous planning since you must have heard the way Benjamin Franklin had described how for want of just a horse-shoe nail, a kingdom was lost.

14. High Courts may form think tanks with Judges and lawyers and academicians to consider and explore other innovative modes and initiatives to reduce delays and pendency.

15. Our motto should be – “Shaping our judicial future: Inspiring change through ‘Timely and Effective Justice”

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