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Judicial process - Speeding up the system

 

Better court management, efficient work distribution and curb on frivolous PILs can be starters
August 22, 2010 16:55
Tags : Judicial process |Court of India |country |M. N. Venkatchalliah |
 

 Judicial process - Speeding up the systemMSA Siddiqui, 

Former Registrar General of Supreme Court of India

An efficient legal system is the foundation stone of a vibrant democracy. In a country of more than one billion people, the judicial system gets a lot of attention. Whether our country will be successful in facing the challenges of the 20th century largely depends on how our legal system works. 

The huge pendency and backlog of cases are indeed shocking. They are increasing at an alarming rate. Today there is a pendency of more than 2,000 cases on each judge. As a judge, I got an opportunity to observe the legal system from close quarters. When I was the Registrar General of the Supreme Court in 1992, during the tenure of Chief Justice of India M. N. Venkatchalliah, total pendency of cases was 1.51 lakh. The CJI had instructed me to look into the growing pendency. I acted on it by bringing down the pendency to merely 28,000 cases. It was a golden period and Venkatchalliah worked with missionary zeal in order to provide faster justice to the Indian people. CJI J S Verma also actively worked to reduce the backlog of cases. 

I think pendency can be reduced to a great extent through better court management. Work distribution should be proper. If a judge is an expert in handling tax related matters, he should only be given that task. If he is assigned to look into criminal cases, he will obviously take time. He will not be at ease with it. This is happening in our courts. If we want to expedite the process of disposal of cases, we must first recognise which judge is capable of doing exactly what. Thus the role of the listing authority in courts becomes extremely important. 

There was a time when the bar was highly respected and many top leaders joined this profession. This trend is now passe. The first layer of the bar plays no role in the process of delivery of justice. Now, even the second and the third layer of the bar do not play any role. This has an impact on quality. Earlier, talented advocates, after enjoying successful stints as professional lawyers, used to join judicial service. Obviously, a person who has spent decades as a successful lawyer will deliver quick results. The other problem is that only 25 per cent of the judges in high courts work hard and really understand their responsibilities. If a judge understands his or her responsibilities then s/he will dispose of cases quickly. I have seen that judges take more than 2 years in delivering a verdict in high courts. This is ridiculous. If I can recall correctly then in 1993, the Supreme Court had to order a judge to dispose of a case quickly. Court management is a science. There are always vacancies in courts. The pile of the cases is increasing rapidly on the judges. The situation is even more critical in lower courts. I can say that lower court judges put in more hours of work. But it is not helping in addressing the problem. Of late, service-related litigations are increasing. The government is also responsible to a great extent for this situation. Bureaucrats do not deliver as they have inflated egos. If they want, they can solve the problem at their level. Besides, they are not sensitive to the needs of the people. When they don’t solve the problem, it goes to the court. Public money is wasted on litigations. On the other hand, government law officers are not so efficient. 

It is not that our judges are not competent. An average judge in America handles 600 cases every year. Some of our judges dispose of more than 600 cases in just 3 to 4 months. The government should take such steps so that the second layer of bar is attracted towards the justice delivery system. 

Besides, there is an urgent need to curb on frivolous litigation. Many unnecessary PILs are being filed these days. Now, the time has come to impose a check on these PILs. The new CJI has given some tough indications towards curbing the number of PILs and this is a welcome step. Another matter of importance is that higher courts should intervene in only those matters of lower courts which have some merit. Lower court judges are overburdened. They are not paid properly and lack basic amenities. Judges are forced to deliver justice in dark, dingy and cramped rooms of high courts. Obviously, they become frustrated and start taking their work non-seriously. Their pay structure should be improved. Even a senior high court judge does not get Rs 40,000 per month after income tax deduction. The government can enhance the Income Tax rebate limit which will attract many talented individuals to join this profession. 

A judge should be strict while granting adjournments. My experience says that there are bench-seekers advocates, who keep on procrastinating the case. Advocate has the right to convince and confuse the judges.

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017