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India
18 Nov 2016

Sluggish Indian Judiciary: Over 27 million court cases pending

Over 27 million backlog of court cases, mostly involving poor litigants, reportedly lies at India's District and Subordinate Courts.

Out of the 27 million cases, 23 million are currently pending in District courts of which over 15 million are criminal cases and over seven million civil cases.

The situation poses a massive challenge for the judiciary having only 16,856 judges to try the cases.

In context

The ailing judiciary of India

The pending court cases

About 43% of the pending court cases are less than two years old while over 28% of them are two to five years old. Another 10% of the cases are those that haven't seen closure for more than a decade after being initiated.

Speedy trial, a fundamental right of the accused

Undertrials

Speedy trial, a fundamental right of the accused

According to National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), 2,82,076 undertrials have been lodged in various jails, accounting for 67.2% of India's prison population, by the end of 2015.

Of these undertrials, 3,599 were detained in prisons for five or more years while 11,451 for three to five years.

The Supreme Court, in the 1979 Hussainara Khatoon case, ruled speedy trial as the accused's fundamental right.

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Malimath Committee

Enormous delays, especially in trial courts

Over 13 years ago, Justice VS Malimath-led committee examined the criminal judiciary to address enormous delays, especially in trial courts.

It found very less number of cases are tried summarily as maximum punishment awarded after the trial is three months.

It suggested immediately trying cases in which the sentence is three months or below and increasing the punishment from three months to three years.

Court Vacations

The Supreme Court works only for 193 days

The Malimath Committee suggested giving summary powers to all Judicial Magistrates First Class; the procedure is currently prescribed for petty offences with the fine not exceeding Rs.1000.

It also suggested the Supreme Court and high courts increase their working days to 206 days and 231 days respectively.

Currently, the SC has only 193 working days, high courts' 210 days, and trial courts' 245 days.

Adjournments

Frequent adjournment, one of the primary reasons for delays

Frequent adjournment of courts is one of the primary reasons for delays in criminal cases.

Amendments requiring expeditious proceedings in criminal cases, on a day-to-day basis, have been passed.

Former Bar Council of Delhi Chairman KC Mittal said there is a necessity for pruning of the list of cases sent for hearing in a court as unnecessary applications result in wasting judicial time.

Lok Adalats

A less known alternative mechanism to resolve disputes - Lok Adalat - has reportedly done well in bringing down the backlog. Between Feb'15 and Sep'16, Lok Adalats have disposed nearly 2.16 crore cases across India.

Pre-trial hearings and limiting oral arguments

Other Strategies

Pre-trial hearings and limiting oral arguments

One of the strategies for a timely dispensation of justice is pre-trial hearing.

It helps litigants' and advocates' schedule to identify the issues in the dispute; it is common in several countries like the US, the UK and Singapore.

Specialization of judges in a kind of case also could help reduce the time.

Reducing the length of oral arguments could save the court's time.

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