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Asian Tribune is published by E-LANKA MEDIA(PVT)Ltd. Vol. 20 No. 111

Judicial Activism

By Tukoji R. Pandit - Syndicate Features

Judicial activism in the country evokes strong reactions: some support it vehemently while some others, notably politicians, oppose it equally strongly. But the rising tide of judicial activism has also seen the judiciary come under closer scrutiny. While criticism of the lower rungs of the judicial system has been common for a long time, public gaze has also turned towards the higher judiciary.

For the first time in the history of the nation a former chief justice has come under attack from not only politicians and eminent citizens but also at least five distinguished former CJIs. The ex-CJI under attack has, of course, denied the charges being hurled at him. It may well be that the controversy over him dies down after some time. But what will not die down is the increasing disappointment, if not frustration and anger, over the pace of justice. It is not just about ‘justice delayed is justice denied’ but the less optimistic are actually wondering how long before the unending delays in courts actually kill the system of justice in the country.

Over 3.5 crore cases are said to be pending in Indian courts, the majority of them in lower courts at the districts and tehsils/taluks--and for years. The number keeps mounting as more fresh cases reach the courts each day than disposed of in a day. In this context it looks incredulous that there was actually a year when disposal of cases had overtaken the cases filed in the district and subordinate courts. The exceptional year was 1999. That exception cannot prove the rule, which is dismal and disappointing. It is not uncommon in India to see court cases dragging on for decades and sometime even generations, something that astonishes people outside the country.

A frequently heard remedy for clearing the backlog of court cases is to demand an increase in the number of courts and judges. Both the executive and the judiciary seem to hold this view. Of course, vacancies in courts, from the lowest to the apex level, should not be kept pending for a long time. The courts think that the criticism for delays is unfair when vacancies are not filled in time.

There is perhaps another way of looking at this picture, taking into consideration certain other facts which are quoted by those who think that merely increasing the strength of judges is not the answer. Take the number of serious criminal cases in India per million population, which is about three times lower than the US and five times less than Canada. The figure for civil cases is not very different. But the US has about nine times as many judges as India per million population but at the same time the crime rate per million population is nearly 30 times higher than India.

Compared to India, between five and six times more cases (per judge) are filed in the US but there is not much delay in dispensing justice. Is it because of higher efficiency of US judges? Cannot say, but does it make the number of judges and per million population an important fact in speeding up the conclusion of cases?

On an average less than two cases are disposed of in Indian courts in a day. However, it will be unfair to put the entire blame for this abysmally low figure on the judiciary alone when the laws, procedures and practices have all contributed to making a mockery of the judicial system.

Bollywood actor Sanjay Dutt must count himself lucky that he was able to get a copy of the judgement that sentenced him to a jail term within a matter of few weeks and apply for bail. Copies of vital documents like judgements can take months to move out of the court, though the fault may not be the judge’s.

One of the worst things about the Indian judicial system is the ease and frequency with which adjournments and stays are sought and granted. Perhaps that is the single most important reason for the delays. But faults and delay also lie in serving the summons, condoning the absence of witnesses and counsel. Often, the evidence of not even one witness will be completed in one day. Instead of being strict about it, the courts tend to be lenient at times when the accused does not present himself before the court.

While it may be better if the legal fraternity and the judiciary work out how efficiency in the courts can be improve and investigations methods improved to make prosecution easier and speedier even laymen with some experience of the system of justice in the country can make some observations. For instance, things will surely speed up if more than one witness is called and examined in a day and the case is heard in continuity instead of the usual intermittent hearings spread over months and years.

All this is not to say that there is no case for increasing the number of judges or courts across the country. There also is need for improving the working conditions and the infrastructure in the courts, though many would say that reducing the cost of litigation should be given priority.

What is more important is to find ways—innovative—to improve the image of the system with clearly visible results. The fast eroding faith of the people in the judicial system has to be restored. A beginning, in fact, has already been made with a number of high courts allowing lower courts to function in the evening.

Gujarat’s evening courts have cleared about 35,000 old cases within a period of three or four months. Some of these cases were a decade old. Mobile courts and e-courts could supplement the efforts of evening courts. The courts could also do with fewer holidays and more regular working hours. Why can’t cases be disposed of within a timeframe and adjournments limited to exceptional circumstances?

- Syndicate Features -

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