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Load shedding

The problem of judicial backlog can only be tackled if lawyers, judges and policymakers work together

By: Express News Service |
June 21, 2014 12:09:35 am

Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi’s remarks on reducing pendency in courts, along with observations made by Chief Justice of India R.M. Lodha, could mark the beginning of a concerted effort to tackle judicial backlog. Thirty-one million cases remain pending in courts across the country, a staggering figure that has remained unchanged in the last five years despite repeated promises by politicians and judges to tackle the problem urgently. Solutions have been proposed: fast-track tribunals, evening courts, National Case Management Systems and hiring more judges. The CJI suggested last week that courts should work “365 days a year”, a proposal that was opposed by the Bar Council of India.

The AG has suggested a “multi-pronged” approach to the issue. Rohatgi has rightly highlighted the need for an attitudinal change in both litigants and courts. Alternative forms of dispute resolution, like mediation and arbitration, may have received legislative backing in India but far too many disputes concerning petty issues still reach the courts.

Instituting more courts is not a fix-all solution, although anecdotal evidence from Gujarat and Delhi suggests they have brought down the volume of pending cases to some extent. Figures released by the law ministry in April 2014 reveal over 250 vacancies (more than a fourth of the approved strength) in high courts across India. The situation in trial courts too is grim, and the quality of judges has witnessed a steady decline. In its 2009 report on judicial reforms, the Law Commission suggested judgments “should be clear and decisive”, especially on points of appeal, so that similar cases can be disposed of speedily. The commission had also recommended that verdicts be delivered within a “reasonable period of time”, a suggestion the SC issued as a directive to lower courts recently.

Judicial backlog cannot be resolved without active cooperation between bar and bench. The AG is right to ask lawyers to complete arguments within a stipulated time period — far too often, advocates take advantage of procedural rules to seek endless adjournments. The SC, too, should take active steps to discourage frivolous litigation. The court can set an example by gradually reducing the number of appeals it hears on an annual basis.

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