Judicial Reforms in India and the Problem of Arrears and Delay

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Judicial Reforms in India

  • In the comity of nations, India’s justice system is appreciated and well received. Despite the problem of numbers, we have not compromised on the quality of justice delivered. We have enlarged the scope of fundamental freedoms and increased the space for democracy. We do have shortcomings and are rightly criticized for it. No institution in a democracy is above criticism. What is important is that criticisms are based on facts and performance. It is my responsibility as head of the judicial system to answer the criticisms, clarify the facts and defend the institution for enabling it to serve the litigant public better.

  • On the occasion of another Law Day, the 58th of the Republic, I am addressing you with an air of expectation and a sense of fulfilment – the expectation at the steady unfolding of results of judicial reforms set in motion during the last few years and fulfilment on accomplishments which the system has achieved since I addressed you on the “State of Justice” last year. Law Day is significant not only to celebrate our journey on the path of Constitutional democracy and rule of law, but also to take stock of the promises which WE, THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, have given unto ourselves almost six decades ago. In the comity of nations, India’s justice system is appreciated and well received. Despite the problem of numbers, we have not compromised on the quality of justice delivered. We have enlarged the scope of fundamental freedoms and increased the space for democracy. We do have shortcomings and are rightly criticized for it. No institution in a democracy is above criticism. What is important is that criticisms are based on facts and performance. It is my responsibility as head of the judicial system to answer the criticisms, clarify the facts and defend the institution for enabling it to serve the litigant public better.

  • Let me reiterate on this occasion the commitment of every member of our judicial establishment to uphold the purity of justice and ensure its timely delivery to the millions who knock at our doors. I see it as a sign of our commitment to rule of law and of our convictions on the ability of courts to give fair and impartial justice. Yes, it might create congestion in courts and cause delay in the delivery of justice. But that is no ground to dissuade people having legitimate claims and grievances from seeking judicial time.

  • The answer lies in improving the efficiency of the court system and expanding the infra-structure to cope with the situation. I am glad to report that efforts in this regard are yielding results which may acquire speed in the days ahead.

  • Let me explain few of the steps taken up in this regard so that you may appreciate the facts and continue to support the judiciary in the performance of its onerous tasks in difficult times.

The Problem of Arrears and Delay

  • Increasingly productivity through improved infrastructure, employment of alternative methods of settlement and adoption of better strategies of management and training have been the key elements of the drive against delay and pendency during the last few years. For any organization, efficiency and productivity are directly linked to the infra-structure it commands. Infrastructure in terms of judiciary includes both human and physical infra-structure. On both fronts, the situation of the subordinate courts which handle 90 percent of litigation continues to be far from satisfactory. This is the responsibility of the State Governments even when the subordinate courts do devote considerable time in adjudicating cases under central laws as well. A committee appointed by the Government of India to study the impact of new legislation on the workload of the courts has recommended that the Union Government has Constitutional obligation under Entry 11 A of the Concurrent List read with Article 247 to provide adequate financial provision for implementation of Central laws through State Courts. The State Governments under the same principle are likewise obliged to meet expenditure of Courts for implementing laws on subjects in the State and Concurrent List.

  • Hopefully, the above recommendations will receive favourable consideration of the Central and State Governments and the infra-structural needs of subordinate courts will be met in the near future. Meanwhile the continuation of the Fast Track Courts which have reduced pendency of nearly 20 lakh criminal cases will accelerate the process to the advantage of litigant public. The Central Government was approached to create more special courts for disposal of corruption cases and family disputes which cannot brook delay without causing greater damage to public interest. In several States at the instance of the respective High Courts, evening courts have been established to clear pending cases requiring priority attention. In Tamilnadu, Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat, such courts have been proved to be quite effective in disposal of cases involving minor offences which are clogging our criminal justice system. Delhi has recently started evening courts initially for cases under Section 138 of Negotiable Instruments Act, involving small amounts.

  • I am confident that other States will follow soon by establishing evening or morning courts to deal with cases involving petty offences. If these efforts of the judiciary are supported by Governments by providing better infra-structural facilities, productivity can be further improved to bring down pendency and delay in the near future.

  • I do not want to burden you with the statistics of cases filed, disposed and pending at each level of the judicial structure. All I want to convey on this occasion is that while the number of fresh cases instituted has been steadily increasing year after year, the number of cases disposed of has also increased substantially as compared to previous years. It indicates that our judges, overworked as they are, have been making every effort to steadily improve productivity even in adverse circumstances. I want to assure the public that judges are conscious of the problem of arrears and are making every effort to contain the rise of pendency of cases at all levels of the judicial system. Timely justice is the right of every litigant and speedy justice is the obligation of every functionary of the judicial system.

Judicial Education and Training

  • I may in this context reflect briefly two significant initiatives undertaken by the Judiciary. Judges, like any other professionals, need continuing education and training to improve professional competence to deal with new challenges thrown up by changes in society, economy, polity and technology. Taking this into account, the Supreme Court had set up the National Judicial Academy five year ago which is now offering regular courses of training designed to cater to the needs of superior court judges. Simultaneously, each High Court has set up judicial academies to train judges newly inducted in the subordinate Courts and to provide continuing education to judges in service. The National Judicial Academy has devised yearlong training plans in consultation with State Academies to ensure that every judge throughout the country has opportunity once in every year to learn and improve court and case management capabilities with support of technology and professionalism.

  • Simultaneously an E-Committee directly under the Supreme Court was set up to devise and implement a National Policy on computerization of judicial administration in order to expedite delivery of justice in civil and criminal cases. The project is being implemented in three phases over a period of five years. At the end of the first phase, reports indicate that a cost and time effective procedure is under way providing greater transparency, expedition and accountability to the system.

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