A lackadaisical and limping judiciary has far more serious consequences for society than the harm it inflicts on individual litigants. It is rule of law that distinguishes us from pre-historic barbaric societies. The very foundation of civilised society rests on justice. Today, corrupt elements in government, business, politics flout the law with impunity and without fear of punishment. The authority to punish lies with the judiciary. The police, the CBI and even the much-publicised Lokpal can only accuse a person. Finality and closure in a case comes with the judgment from the court.
The decline in political discourse is evident in the language and imagery used by politicians to belittle their rivals. Judiciary has failed to rein in such people. Defamation cases are filed, but the utterances get the speakers free airtime but no punishment.
In the current system, where almost 30 million cases are pending, it takes anywhere between 12 to 15 years for a judgment. In the meantime, witnesses could die, turn hostile, go missing, or get killed. In many cases, what is being dispensed as justice after so many years of litigation is flawed.
Exonerated wrongdoers boast about it. For them, it is a victory over the rule of law. The same sense of victory is visible on the faces of people who jump the red light or dodge a traffic constable. This false bravado against the rule of law is a threat to any civilised society.
Judicial ineffectiveness is to a great extent responsible for the increase in crimes like rape, murder, looting, cheating and so on. As per the National Judicial Data Grid, released last month, on an average, 23,000 cases were registered daily in India, of which about 17,000 were criminal cases. That is one criminal case every five seconds.
Currently, 50 per cent of India’s population is younger than 25 and more than 65 per cent of the people are below the age of 35. These are young people armed with little to no skills, educated but unemployable, exposed to opportunities of the world but no avenues at home, high aspirations but without the effective tools to achieve them. If the judiciary fails to effectively implement the rule of law, these impressionable minds may get lured to crime and easy money.
Speedy justice is not only our fundamental right but also a prerequisite for maintaining the rule of law and delivering good governance. In its absence, the judicial system ends up serving the interests of the corrupt and the law-breakers. Failed attempts in the past to secure this right have, over the years, led to erosion in people’s faith in the judicial system, signs of which are visible in the growing vigilantism.
Trade, commerce, manufacturing, services, personal safety hinge on the effectiveness of the rule of law. Therefore, judicial reforms should be made the prime development agenda. Judiciary needs comprehensive reforms to deal with its ineffectiveness, and also to restore its waning credibility. The reforms must include making the judicial system accessible and effective for the poor, accountability of judges, transparency in court proceedings and appointments of judges, creation of a transparent, full-time independent judicial complaints commission to investigate complaints against judges, implementation of the RTI, setting up an All India Judicial Services, use of information technology tools for better court/ time management, and making the bar and the bench sensitive and accountable towards issues of social justice. Today, justice needs to be begged for in a format where judges talk down to the litigants. Therefore, a review of architecture of the present system of justice dispensation, which violates human dignity, should also be pursued.
Our Constitution, being the source of every law that governs us, is not a self-executing document. There has to be a mechanism to enforce, in letter and spirit, all that is enshrined in it. In the absence of an effective mechanism, the Constitution is in danger of being reduced to a piece of fiction.
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