The wrong metric

Judge-population ratio is not the apt parameter to determine judiciary’s strength.

Written by G. C. Bharuka | Updated: May 26, 2016 12:45:48 am
chief justice of india, paucity of judges, supreme court, high court, number of judges, narendra modi, indian judiciary, indian legal sysytem, pending cases, law commission report, judicial man power planning, judge population ratio, judiciary strength, indian express column The Law Commission had itself, however, admitted that this “judge-population ratio” reasoning it had adopted for the recommendation, was based on “a very poor substitute for sound scientific analysis”.

WITHIN A fortnight of his impassioned appeal to the prime minister on the paucity of judges, the chief justice publicly announced that the Indian legal system currently requires over 70,000 judges to clear the backlog of cases in the country. This figure is based on observations made in a 1987 Law Commission report, “Judicial Man Power Planning”, which had recommended raising the strength of the judiciary to 50 judges per million people.

The Law Commission had itself, however, admitted that this “judge-population ratio” reasoning it had adopted for the recommendation, was based on “a very poor substitute for sound scientific analysis”. The commission had lamented that even after four decades of independence, we had not been able to organise even the minimum level of information, which could be the basis for concrete proposals on judicial manpower planning. The situation, unfortunately, is no different almost three decades later, though present-day technology offers ways to collect real-time data.

It has been repeatedly emphasised that timely disposal of cases is essential for maintaining the rule of law and good governance. It is also true that unless sufficient judicial resources are provided, the system cannot deliver timely justice. However, our policy makers have failed to devise an acceptable method to calculate the location-wise requirement of additional courts.

According to governments at the Centre and in the states, the requirement of additional courts in a particular region should be based on the case-load of the existing courts there. For these reasons, the Supreme Court had in Imtiayaz Ahmad vs State of Uttar Pradesh (2012) directed the Law Commission to undertake another inquiry and submit recommendations regarding the immediate measures for the creation of additional courts.

The commission, while once again expressing helplessness on the data front as it did in 1987, examined six different probable methodologies, including the “judge-population ratio basis”. It found that filing of cases per capita varied across states and was associated with economic and social conditions. It, therefore, concluded that while population might be an appropriate metric to measure the availability of services like healthcare and nutrition, it was not the apt standard to determine requirement of judicial services.

The commission, on the premise that it would be difficult to collect data for the “workload method”, also suggested an ad-hoc mechanism — “rate-of-disposal method” — for a rough and ready calculation, based on current efficiency levels of the subordinate judiciary, to ascertain adequate judge strength. This means a fall in judicial efficiency will create higher demand of judicial resources, which may, however, be counterproductive for the institution.

Ultimately, based on research in European and American courts, it was found that the “weighted caseload method” is the most appropriate measure for the purpose. Simply put, a weighted caseload system is used to convert the court caseload into the workload of the judge.

Cases vary in complexity, and each of them requires different amounts of time and attention from the judges. A mere headcount of cases pending with the judges can offer little help in distributing the workload equitably among them.

Workload in this context refers to the amount of a particular type of work, which a qualified person can handle within a determined time. The commission, though having felt that this is the most scientific method, still did not recommend its adoption on the ground that, “all information required to run this model for Indian courts is not available”.

Undeniably, the system in India does not, at present, have any information about the time required by the judges to resolve each type of case. But with the government having invested over Rs 1,000 crore (with another Rs 1,600 crore in the pipeline) to equip the Indian judiciary with current technology, there cannot be any difficulty in collecting any type of data on a real-time basis.

The author was acting chief justice of the Karnataka High Court and former chairman, E-Committee, government of India

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