“Justice delayed is justice denied” is a very famous legal maxim. It means that delay in providing relief to the aggrieved party is equivalent to not providing any relief at all.
In the biggest democracy in the world, India, the major impediment to the delivery of justice is the delay in the disposal of cases.
The Preamble to the Constitution of India provides “….to secure to all its citizens: JUSTICE, social, economic and political….” Thus, even the Preamble to the Constitution lays down the importance of securing justice to its citizens.
The Supreme Court of India has been conferred the status of ‘Guardian of the Constitution’, which means that the Courts must ensure that all provisions of the Constitution are being properly implemented and to make sure that justice is delivered. However, at all three levels, i.e., Supreme Court, High Court, and the District Courts, fewer cases are being disposed of than are filed. The number of pending cases keeps growing and litigants face even dimmer prospects of their cases being disposed of quickly. It leads to a decline in faith in the judiciary. This becomes especially problematic in a country like ours, where the judiciary plays an indispensable role in the delivery of justice to its citizens.
Reasons for Delay
According to the National Judicial Data Grid, there are currently 3,40,38,113 pending before various Courts in India, out of which 85,864 are more than 30 years old. Also, as per the statistics of the Supreme Court, there are 60,444 matters pending before it as on 01.07.2020.
These shocking numbers show that the judicial system is unable to deliver timely justice because of the huge backlog of cases. Some of the main reasons behind this could be:
One of the major reasons for the pendency of cases is the frequent adjournments granted in cases. Delay tactics are used by the parties which cause obstructions in the timely disposal of cases. More often than not, adjournments are prayed for on reasons like the file is missing, the council did not appear on time or one of the parties couldn’t make it, etc. Sometimes, even the lawyers cause inordinate delay by asking for adjournments as they benefit in terms of pre-hearing fees. Therefore, there must be strict rules regarding the culture of adjournments and it should be granted only when necessary.
· Low Strength of Judges
Another issue that leads to delay in the disposal of cases is an inadequate number of judges in the Indian judiciary. According to the law ministry data of 2018, there are 19 judges per 10 lakh people on an average. Even after increasing the number of sanctioned judges, the number of cases pending before the Courts have surged. One of the reasons for this might be because the full working strength has not been achieved in High Courts and District Courts, there is still a shortage of judges. Not only the judges, but there is also a need for more Court staff, who ensure the efficient functioning of the Court.
Corruption is another menace plaguing the Indian judicial system. The parties in cooperation with the judicial officers sometimes stretch the cases to force the other party to withdraw or lose interest. This not only leads to the dragging of the cases in Courts for a long time but also shakes the faith of the public in the judicial process.
Effect of the Pandemic
Ever since the onset of the Pandemic, most of the activities have been brought to a standstill. It has adversely affected the already over-burdened judicial system. The number of cases that were piling up along with the present build-up will now lead to a huge backlog of cases. The Supreme Court suspended physical hearings from 23rd March 2020 and notified that it will only be hearing urgent matters via video conferencing. With only a few cases being listed for online hearings, there has been a rapid increase in the cases pending before courts across the country. The matters which were scheduled for hearing in the first few months of the pandemic will be re-scheduled. To clear this backlog, more judges will have to be appointed which would take a lot of time, which means this accumulation is going to stay for a long time, thus keeping the system under pressure.
With unlock guidelines coming in play, some of the courts will resume physical hearings on a limited and experimental basis, while the remaining courts shall continue virtually. The Supreme court also issued the SOP for the same. Thus, with the gradual opening up of the Courts, the judiciary will come back with a strong commitment towards efficient and timely disposal of justice.
· Fast track Courts
Fast track Courts are Special Courts for speedy trials. The need of the hour is that Fast Track Special Courts (FTSCs) should be established across the country for the efficient disposal of cases. The Eleventh Finance Commission also recommended a scheme for the creation of 1734 Fast Track Courts (FTCs) in the country for disposal of long pending Sessions and other cases. Also, a Scheme on Fast Track Special Courts (FTSCs) For Expeditious Disposal of Cases of Rape and Protection of Children Against Sexual Offences (POSCO) Act was implemented in 2019, under which a total of 1023 Fast Track Special Courts were to be set up all over the country, and it was provided that “in each district of the country if there are more than 100 cases under the POCSO Act, an exclusive/designated special court will be set up which will try no other offense except those under the POCSO Act.”
· Appointment of more number of Judges:
There is an urgent need to take measures to increase the working strength of judges so that justice is duly and timely served. According to the Law Commission’s 245th Report, “The system requires a massive influx of judicial resources to dispose of the backlog and keep pace with current filings.” It would also ease the pressure on the current judges and enable them to deliver their best. The report of the Commission also suggested that the age of retirement of Subordinate Judges be raised to 62.
· Use of Alternate Dispute Resolution (ADR)
Another method to tackle the problem of delay is to encourage the parties to resort to ADR Processes. For instance, Section 89 of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 enables the Court to refer the parties to mediation, arbitration, conciliation, or judicial settlements. Also, Order X of CPC contains certain provisions in this regard. Apart from that, the amendment made to the Commercial Courts Act, 2015 specifically provides that unless the plaintiff is seeking urgent reliefs, he has to compulsorily go for pre institution mediation and settlement. All these measures have been taken given the increasing backlog of cases before the Courts.
· Digitization of Courts
To keep up with modern technology, the E-Courts Project was launched in 2005. It was implemented in 2 phases. The first phase focused on the implementation of ICT (Information and Communication Technology) in the judicial system, whereas the Second Phase provided with facilities such as e-filing, e-payments, and use of mobile applications, to name a few. Also, now the traffic Challan can be paid online through the ‘E-Challan – Digital Traffic/Transport Enforcement Solution.’ These initiatives taken by the Judiciary will hopefully prove to be fruitful. Moreover, the use of Virtual Courts should be encouraged even after the pandemic is over.
A large number of pending cases has crippled the efficiency of the Courts and slowed down the delivery of justice. Apart from several prerequisites, ‘Access to Justice’ and ‘Quick Dispense of Justice constitutes a principal characteristic of a vibrant democracy. As long as justice is delayed, it not only prevents access to the system but remains at the forefront to set a psychedelic mindset of people both within and outside the country.
Due to the backlog of cases, access to justice and enjoyment of rights are being curtailed.
As the Law Commission rightly pointed out in its 245th report of July 2014, “the system is not being able to keep pace with the new cases being instituted and is not being able to dispose of a comparable number of cases. The already severe problem of backlogs is, therefore, getting exacerbated by the day, leading to a dilution of the Constitutional guarantee of access to timely justice and erosion of the rule of law.”
 “ACCESS TO JUSTICE AND JUDICIAL PENDENCY: CONFLUENCE OF JURISTIC CRISIS”, Dr. T.S.N. Sastry, Prof of Law and Coordinator, Human Rights Education program, Dept of Law, Savitribai Phule Pune University. Published in M.K. Nambiar SAARC LAW Journal Volume IV & V June 2016-17 (83-188) ISSN No. 2346-8646.