Thursday, May 28, 2009

Justice slow - Supreme Court has 50,000 plus pending cases

There is a universal phrase that 'justice delayed is justice denied'. But the fact remains that in India, the pace of the judicial system is extremely slow; typical cases can take more than a decade to move through the judicial system and this is just for the first judgment. With the appeal system allowing many cases to approach the Supreme Court, the multi-layered appeal courts can mean cases can go beyond the lifetime of many of the litigants of cases.
There are numerous cases (and many of them highly significant) where the process of the cases show the slow speed - the case involving the corruption of Sukh Ram, the Mumbai Bomb blasts case (of 1993), the case involving the person who was blown up by a grenade in a love triangle case, the Jessica Lal case, and numerous other cases. Even in cases where a quick judgment is need, such as when the case involves actions by speakers or governors in constitutional cases, the judgments have come long after the need for the case has evaporated, setting a precedent, but not helping the particular case.
An example that shows starkly the increasing load on the judiciary is the number of cases piled up at the Supreme Court (link to article):

In a blow to the concept of "speedy justice", the Supreme Court has for the first time in a decade run up a backlog of more than 50,000 cases. The unholy mark was crossed by the end of March 2009 when the number of pending cases stood at 50,163. The pendency has steadily crept northwards since 2006, when it stood at 34,649. In January 2007, it had become 39,780 with the pendency jumping up by more than 5,000 cases. Justice K G Balakrishnan took over as the Chief Justice of India at this time and tried to put in place mechanisms to arrest the trend of spiralling pendency.
A similar trend was seen at the level of high courts and trial courts. The 21 high courts, working with a strength of 635 judges as against a sanctioned strength of 886, reported a pendency of 38.7 lakh cases as of January 1, 2009, against 37.4 lakh cases on January 1, 2008. Trial courts, having a judge strength of 13,556 against a sanctioned strength of 16,685, were burdened with an additional pendency of nearly 10 lakh cases by January 2009, when the pendency figure was 2.64 crore. It stood at 2.54 crore cases in January 2008.

This huge backlog of cases has lead to a situation where people get locked up for long times, where a person would spend only a bit of time in jail after sentencing (since they have been in jail for long periods as an undertrial), people prefer to settle cases their own way rather than depending on a judgment, make compromises rather than spend the 10 years or more, and so on.
There are no easy solutions, with a backlog of vacancies only increasing the problem. We applaud when there are special fast track courts, or when somebody sets up evening courts, but those are just patches, not a solution.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 11:23 AM