July 28, 2006
CJI Against ‘Undue’ Haste In Dispensing Justice*
By Mukesh Jhangiani
United News of India
New Delhi (UNI) – India’s Chief Justice has advocated more judges, more courtrooms and double shift courts, but cautioned against ”undue haste” in dispensing ”justice.”
Delivering Justice Sobhag Mal Jain Memorial Lecture on Delayed Justice on Tuesday, Justice Y K Sabharwal acknowledged delays and aging backlogs.
The tone was set by Himachal Pradesh Governor V S Kokje who was emphatic that ”delay defeats justice.”
A former Judge, Governor Kokje cited the near absence of adequate compensation to victims and wondered if it’s ”justice at all.”
Many a times, he said, a winner is really a loser considering the costs and years spent in courts.
Supreme Court Bar Association President M N Krishnamani, in introductory remarks, criticised outright dismissal of a bulk of matters filed before the apex Court, calling it just ”quantitative” justice.
A Senior Advocate, Krishnamani also criticised long adjournments, pointing out that it made little sense to adjourn a matter for a year because someone is a bit indisposed.
Such practices contribute to delays, he said.
Justice Sabharwal acknowledged Courts’ obligation to deliver ‘prompt and inexpensive’ justice to those who suffer physically, mentally or economically and seek redress without taking law into their own hands.
He recounted judges’ role in enlarging and enforcing human rights and handling Public Interest Litigation, saying it brought courts ”closer to the oppressed and weaker sections of the society.”
But he said Indian Courts ”held in high esteem” around the world, faced ”growing criticism” at home– sometimes uninformed or ill-informed.
”There is growing criticism, sometimes from uninformed or ill-informed quarters about the inability of our Courts to effectively deal with and wipe out the huge backlog of cases.”
He said delay in dispensing justice ”is a major problem being faced by Indian Judicial system.”
He acknowledged how process-induced delays result in miscarriage of justice.
”Long delay,” Justice Sabharwal said, ”has also the effect of defeating justice in quite a number of cases. As a result of such delay, the possibility cannot be ruled out of loss of important evidence, because of fading of memory or death of witnesses.
”The consequences thus would be that a party with even a strong case may lose it, not because of any fault of its own, but because of the tardy judicial process, entailing disillusionment to all those who at one time, set high hopes in courts.”
He said delay in disposing of cases affected not only ordinary cases but even those which by their very nature, call for early relief.
”The problem of delay and huge arrears stares us all and unless we can do something about it, the whole system would get crushed under its weight,” Justice Sabharwal said.
At the same time, he said, ”we must guard against the system getting discredited and people losing faith in it and taking recourse to extra legal remedies with all the sinister potentialities.
”Many times such inordinate delay contributes to acquittal of guilty persons either because the evidence is lost or because of lapse of time, or the witnesses do not remember all the details or the witnesses do not come forward to give true evidence due to threats, inducement or sympathy.
”Whatever may be the reason, it is justice that becomes a casualty.”
Experts have long voiced concern over poor conviction rate– 6.5 per cent– in heinous crimes as a factor that encourages criminal behaviour rather than deter it.
Justice Sabharwal told audience that India’s international trade and other commitments made it ”necessary to have an efficient and effective justice delivery system at affordable costs.”
But, he said, courts have no magic wand to wipe out the huge pendency of cases nor can they ignore injustices and illegalities.
”If the courts start doing that, it would be endangering the credibility of the Courts and the tremendous confidence they still enjoy from the common man.”
He said volumes of Law Commission recommendations and expert reports have not enabled the system to bridge the gap between institution and disposal of cases or even make a dent in the mountain of arrears.
The inadequacy of research on Indian legal and judicial system was also criticised by Governor Kokje who said he was trying to help remedy it in Himachal institutions.
Presumably alluding to Law Commission suggestions to quintuple the number of Judges, he pointed to judicial vacancies and said if finding ten judges is difficult where would one find fifty.
Among steps Justice Sabharwal stressed were filling high court vacancies, setting up more courts, holding courts in two shifts, managing caseloads, giving judiciary financial autonomy, settling disputes through mediation and other ways and plea bargaining.
Justice Sabharwal suggested making it a practice to estimate additional facilities needed to adjudicate rights and offences new laws create– as Americans do.
He also suggested using computers, Internet and video conferencing, sharpening judges’ adjudicatory skills through training, curbing frivolous government litigation, framing rules for easier service of summons and making adjournments cost.
For instance, the sanctioned strength of High Court Judges is 726, and the actual strength 588, leaving 138 vacancies. The sanctioned strength of subordinate judges is 14,582 and the working strength– on April 30, 2006– 11,723, implying 2,860 vacancies.
He made it clear that the backlog ”cannot be wiped out without” hiring more judges, particularly when the institution of cases is likely to increase, not come down, in coming years.
”We will have more litigation in future when those sections of the society, who have remained oppressed and unaware of their legal rights, become more aware of their rights due to spread of legal literacy, and increased awareness equipped by effective legal aid and advice.”
”While laying stress on the urgent need of elimination of delay and reduction of backlogs, we cannot afford to act in undue haste so as to substitute one evil for another one.
”Stress on speed alone at the cost of substantial justice may impair the faith and confidence of the people in the system and cause greater harm than the one caused by delay in disposal of cases.”
His message: the quality of justice must not suffer on account of quantity.
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- People Need ‘Incorruptible’ Justice, Prez Tells Judges* – By Mukesh Jhangiani – February 23, 2008 (mukeshjhangiani.wordpress.com)
- Judges should not rule the nation: CJI (yogeshnaiks-blawg.blogspot.com)
- Supreme Court stands up in CJI’s defence (dailymail.co.uk)
- Don’t trample on judiciary: Chief Justice warns accountability law shouldn’t impair judges’ freedom (dailymail.co.uk)
- Supreme Court Of India Directs RBI To Amend FEMA Rules For Implementing FDI In Retail (ibtimes.com)
- CJI Against ‘Undue’ Haste In Dispensing Justice* – By Mukesh Jhangiani – July 28, 2006