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Pending Cases a failure of Indian Judicial Mechanism!

Introduction

Judiciary is the only mechanism that can check up on the other two organs of the government but what if the supervisory apparatus starts needing supervision for its lethargic attitude? Indian Judiciary has been dwindling with an overload of pending cases.

The cases have been piling up for many years and there seems no end to them. This rising backlog has crippled our judicial system.

Over three years ago, in January 2018, four senior judges of the honourable Supreme Court had held a press conference. It was held so that they can publicly voice their serious dissatisfaction and concern on the lethargic and dwindling atmosphere of the institution of the Indian Judiciary.

They also noted that if the pending cases are not cleared as soon as possible, then the common masses o this nation will start having second thoughts about going to the Courts for resolving their issues. “The administration of the Supreme Court is not in order,” they had declared.

On accessing a statistical report from National Judicial Data Grid (NJDG), the information available is that around 5.75 million cases are pending in the High Court of various states across the country, and 38.15 million cases are pending in the district courts.

The total is an overwhelming 43.90 million cases. These statistics are a perfect example of the legal maxim ‘Qui iustitiam moratur iustitiam negat’ or as we commonly know it Justice delayed is justice denied. The oldest of these cases date back to 1951 and almost 2000 of them have been untouched for the last 50 years.

Another report from The Times of India, dated February 16, 2021, also mentioned that due to the advent of the Covid – 19 pandemic, there has been a rise in backlog of 30-year-old cases by 61% over the last two years.

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The recorded number of 2018 was 65,695 which has now accentuated to 1, 05,560 in January 2021. Do note that this is just a record of the last 30 years and not before that.

Even though the courts resumed emergency hearings on digital platforms after the lockdown restrictions were imposed last year, it was not of much help in lightening the burden of pending cases. Instead, more than 70 Lakh cases were added to the pendency list, making the number 4.4 Crore in April 2021.

According to a strategy paper, ‘New India @75’ by NITI Aayog in 2018, if the judiciary keeps working at the same pace, it will take more than 324 years to dispose of the backlog.

How much patience should be expected from our citizens? Crores of people have been denied justice just because of the slow functioning and lack of able judges in the Courtrooms.

Only death was able to give justice…

A 108-year-old man from Maharashtra died waiting for the hearing of his case for more than 27 years. 27 years he waited and then found solace in the arms of death. His death claimed him away a few days before his appeal in a land dispute case was admitted by the Supreme Court.

This case had been pursued since 1968 and had remained pending in Bombay High Court for 27 years, before being dismissed in 2015.

“Unfortunately, the man, who pursued his case right from the trial court to Supreme Court was not alive to hear that his matter has been agreed to be heard. He had expired before the court took up the matter on July 12 but the information about his demise from a rural area came just after the hearing. He will now be represented by his legal heirs,” his counsel Viraj Kadam said.

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Solutions for Clearing the Backlog of Cases

Some solutions for the speedy resolving of pending court cases can be:

Lok Adalat

This is an alternative dispute resolution mechanism for the amicable settlement of conflicts at the pre-litigation stage.

The concept of Lok Adalat was given statutory status under the Legal Services Authority Act, 1987. Justice V. Ramaswamy noted, “Lok Adalats can not only help in resolving the disputes at a lower litigation charge but it also saves time of the parties, and their witnesses and thus, provides an inexpensive and prompt remedy to the satisfaction of both the parties.” 

In the case of Punjab National Bank v. Lakshmichand Rai (AIR 2000), it was held that Lok Adalats are conducted under an independent enactment and the rewards passed by it are binding and cannot be appealed against. Hence, they can ensure speedy trials and thus reduce the burden of higher courts.

Alternative Dispute Resolution

Also known as External Dispute Resolution, this means settling disputes outside the court. It is the process through which the concerned parties with/without the help of the third party reach an agreement for resolving the dispute.

The main methods of ADR involve Arbitration, Mediation, Negotiation, and Conciliation. It mainly finds its use in family law, environmental disputes, workplace disputes etc.

Plea Bargain

This refers to the concept of negotiation between the prosecution and the defence where the defendant pleads guilty in exchange for lenient punishment.

This was enacted in 2006 by the 142nd and 154th law commission report. These recommendations were made due to the pendency of criminal cases before the judiciary of India.

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In the case of Murlidhar Megharaj Loya v. State of Maharashtra (AIR 1976), the Supreme Court decided that the state must enforce law and order and the same cannot be bartered with the accused of a lesser sentence.

Some other recommendations include ad – hoc judges being appointed to both High Courts as well as Supreme Court under Article 128 and 224A of the Constitution. However, it should also be noted that there are several vacancies in the regular appointment.

According to data provided by the Department of Justice, the High Courts across the nation are short of 38.8% judges as of March 2021. Against the sanctioned strength of 1080 judges, there are only 661 judges in high courts. 

Conclusion

The functioning of the lowermost courts often escape unchecked, however, no one can deny the fact that most Indians approach them when they seek justice. The clear indication of such reports and statistics is that we need more judges who can function more ably.

There should also be an improvement in the management of hearings and witnesses. Only when these two efforts will be conflated, then can we achieve a properly functioning judicial system of India.

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