“Justice delayed is justice denied” is an age-old legal maxim. It means if someone who’s in need of justice does not get it in a timely manner, then it is as good as no justice at all. Consider the case ofa personwho has been thrown out of his own house and it takes him a whole twenty or more years to get it back. Is this not a text book case of abuse of justice and a serious violation ofhuman rights? Yes, and this is exactly what is happening in India. How much money in terms of legal fees must the person have spent over a period of those 20 long years to get his own house back? Will he get any proportional or realistic compensation from the Courts for having had to endure hardships over his own property? Will any serious punitive action be taken against the trespassers? Such cases have become the norm and are not the exceptions. It is part of a deep malaise which is hitting the Judiciary.
While dealing with such matters, statistics in India point towards a very gloomy picture. There are many illustrations like the above where Courts have taken far too long to deliver justice. In 2014, the Delhi high court granted divorce to an 85-year-old man after a legal battle spanning 32 years that ruined all hopes of resuming a married life. It took 20 years for Bollywood Superstar Salman Khan to be sentenced for killing two blackbucks during a film shoot in 1998. In one day, he managed to get bail in the High Court and who knows how many more years the case will run there. High profile cases like the Babri Masjid, the Sikh riots and so many more are still dragging for years. In several other cases, the legal battles have been so long that at the end of the day, the person who’s suffered may not even be alive to enjoy the fruits of justice.
It goes without saying that the Indian judiciary has become a slow and tardy institution with no internal mechanism to ensure speedy disposal of matters. The Courts have become too overburdened and the backlog of cases have reached alarming proportions. Every five years, Governments have changed but no political party has shown the will or the desire to address this issue with the seriousness that it deserves.Sleeping dogs keep sleeping. The status quo is maintained. Nobody is willing to catch the bull by its horns.
In our parliamentary democracy and federal structure, judiciary is an important pillar. It has a very vital role to play in the progress and the well-being of our Nation. When all other means are lost, citizens look up to this Constitutional Pillar for hope and help. However, the delays which are there in the judicial systems are slowly eroding the faith that people have in this important mechanism of our democracy. One major reason for this is the scarcity of Courts as well as Judges. Take a look at how India compares with a World Super power, the United States of America. India has approximately 13 judges for every million people compared with
around 110 per million for USA. It is estimated that we are several hundred years behind and unless some serious measures are taken to bring the system back on track, the future of justice in India will be bleak.
During his tenure as the Attorney General, noted jurist Soli Sorabjee while delivering a talk on “Fundamental Rights in the Indian Constitution: Rhetoric or Reality?” had said, “Hamlet’s lament about the law’s delays still haunts us in India and the horrendous arrears of cases in courts is a disgraceful blot on our legal system, especially the criminal justice delivery system”.
“The criminal justice system is on the verge of collapse. Because justice is not dispensed speedily, people have come to believe that there is no such thing as justice in courts”.
“This perception has caused many a potential litigant who has been wronged to settle out of court on terms which are unfair to him or to secure justice by taking the law into his own hands or by recourse to a parallel mafia-dominated system of `justice’ that has sprung up in metropolitan centres such as Mumbai”.
“The gravity of this development cannot be underestimated. Justice delayed will not only be justice denied, it will be the Rule of Law destroyed,” he had said in that address, striking several alarming bells.
Some fifteen years have elapsed since this talk but in terms of improvement, the progress made has been very nominal. Sometimes it disappoints to even think why our systems take so long to move. When political parties come out with attractive manifestos and even more exciting slogans, why is it so difficult then to bring the “Acche Din” in our Judiciary?
However, not everything is gloomy. Some positive signs are there. Through a series of concerted efforts, the Supreme Court has managed to bring down its case backlog below 60,000. Needs further improvement but still a good way forward. But in other parts of the Country, the figures are still disturbing.
The number of cases that are pending in various Courts across India are estimated to be around three Crores. This is a staggering figure, much more than the population of so many Countries. If an average case takes 15 to 20 years to be disposed of, then how many years will it take to deal with these huge figures? Some serious changes and radical measures need to be incorporated to bring the huge backlog down. Otherwise, we are not doing justice to the people of this Country. A democracy without justice means nothing.
Where there’s a will, there’s a way. If some of the initiatives suggested in various reports and by the Law Ministry are implemented, then there is hope for the Judicial system in India. Indian Judiciary needs to be brought out of its strain. In resolving these challenges, the following steps can be taken:
- Increase the number of Judges: A report of the National Court Management Systems (NCMS) had said the number of cases reaching courts will touch 15 crore mark in the next decade, requiring at least 75,000 judges. At present, we have less than 20000, and hence the need for more appointments.
- Increase the number of days in which the Courts can function: Courts must function for 365 days in a year as against the 180 or 200 which they do now. This radical measure was suggested by former Chief Justice RM Lodha. “It is feasible and I am quite hopeful of this working out without increasing the existing workload on judges, who are overburdened. Judiciary over the years has become an essential service provider like hospitals and electricity or water department. These departments function 365 days a year. Then why not the judiciary?”, he had opined.
- No frequent adjournments:TaariqpeTaariq, TaariqpeTaariq. The justice system which is being mocked today must not be left to the whims and fancies of Advocates who either come unprepared or deliberately seek adjournments to delay cases at the instance of their clients. Cases must be disposed of in a time-bound manner with not more than 3 adjournments or as prescribed.
- Fast track Courts: Every State needs to set up fast track courts to expeditiously clear the huge pendency of cases, with independent judges to hear and decide such cases. If this is done and simpler cases are decided speedily, then this will be a very healthy step forward and will save the litigants huge money.
- Modernisation of courts& Judicial Accountability – All Court records need to be digitised and modernised. From admission to final arguments and orders, everything needs to be recorded and if at all there is a delay, then the Judge responsible for the same needs to be held accountable.
- Abolishment of archaic laws – During one of his election campaigns, NarendraModi had promised that for every law passed, his government would repeal 10 obsolete ones. Since then, Mr.Modi has stuck to his promise and has weeded out several archaic and redundant laws that were bogging down the Judicial system. A lot more unnecessary laws need to be weeded out or repealed.
- Lokpal and Lokayukta for tackling Corruption Cases – The Modi Government came to power against the backdrop of a very strong anti-corruption movement. However, a strong Lokpal in the centre and equally effective Lokayuktas in States have not yet seen the light of the day. Corruption cases against politicians are dragging in various Courts across the Country. There is no fear of a strong legislation and no deterrent against corruption. A strong ‘Lokpal’ and ‘Lokayukta’ needs to become a reality. Good governance will come with good legislations against corruption.
If India has to become a Superpower, then the Judicial system needs to be completely overhauled. Securing justice for the average citizen must not become a Herculean task. The common man must perceive the court as a means of procuring justice and that too in a time-bound manner.Through a series of dedicated measures, the faith of the people in the judicial system can be restored. It is not a difficult task. The Government must show the will.
(The writer is the Secretary of Goa RTI Forum. He may be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org or Mob: 9326129171. Views expressed are his own).