Prelude - Lessons from a grizzly Nagpur story:
In a place called Kasturba Nagar of Nagpur, there lived a gangster called Akku Yadav. He was a history sheeter who raped and murdered women with impunity. He had been abusing the local women repeatedly for over a decade without any care for long arms of law. Given his high connections with the local state politicians, and being hand in glove with the local police, he was able to continue his activities with much ease. Though there were many complaints against him the local police refused to help the victims and discouraged them from pursuing the charges. The behaviour of local judiciary did not help either. He was repeatedly granted bail and the trial in the courts dragged for almost a decade. He would get arrested and then be immediately granted a bail. He would come out only to continue with his crimes and avenge the victims who complained against him. And this process went on and on. As his trial dragged for years and his activities continued, the local residents lost their faith in the judiciary and the police system.
At 3 pm on 13 August 2004, a mob of around 200 women from slums of Kasturba Nagar entered the District Court of Nagpur. Armed with chilli powder and vegetable knives, the mob entered the Court Room and in 15 minutes hacked to death Akku Yadav. The Incident was extraordinary because Yadav was murdered not in the dark alleys of the slums, but on the shiny white marble floor of Nagpur district court in front of a sitting Judge, stabbed 70 times his body. It is said that the women continued to stab long after he was dead. Later all 200 women courted arrest claiming responsibility for his murder and had to be released the next day. The spattered blood marks in the court hall and on its wall remains as a grizzly reminder of what happens when the faith in judicial system is irretrievably lost.
A functional and time bound judiciary is the heart of a civilisation
The judicial system of any democracy stands as focal point for success or failure of the republic. Its importance can never be over-emphasised. It is no exaggeration to say that an effective justice system lies at the heart of any civilisation. In fact, an independent and impartial judiciary, and a speedy and efficient legal system, are the very essence of civilisation. It stands not merely as an apparatus but as a focal point that enables its survival. Without a functioning judiciary, the republic tends to descend into anarchy with its citizens taking law into their own hands. Therefore, where the justice delivery system fails, the nation fails and the character of the society is also irretrievably altered to a new low leading to moral degeneration and anarchy.
In the same vein, a nation succeeds where its justice delivery system is sound. Successful nations are those where its judicial systems are strong and fearless. Where the victim of a crime can expect to receive justice within a reasonable time.
In the context of India, the judicial system has been the Achilles heel of our young republic. Over the years, the reputation of the judiciary has hit lower and lower. Therefore, there is a need to reform the ills of the judiciary through drastic changes to safeguard the fundamental human rights of its citizens.
Judicial reforms for a better tomorrow
While there are many ills that plague the system here are twelve that cry for urgent attention.
Reform 1: Clearing the backlog of cases in various courts in India
It was the celebrated jurist Nani Palkhivala who once observed: “the progress of a civil suit in our legal system is the closest thing to eternity we can experience.” That sums up the harsh reality of the Indian judicial system. At present, a mere 19,000 judges, including 18,000 judges in trial courts, are dealing with a pendency of 3.8 crore cases in various courts in India. This results in a civil case lasting for nearly 15 years on an average. That’s just the average. A judge of Delhi High Court calculated that 464 years will be required to clear the arrears with the present strength of the judges in that High Court. In other words, if you file a suit in one of our courts today, there is a strong probability that the same will last between 15-60 years on an average.
Here are suggestions to cut this down:
- Judges must deliver judgments within a reasonable time. Statutory time limit can be fixed between 60 to 120 days depending on the type of case.
- Lawyers must curtail repetitive arguments and should supplement it by written notes. The length of the oral argument in any case should not exceed 60 minutes, unless the case involves complicated questions of law or interpretation of Constitution.
- Since Government of India is one of the biggest litigant, its departments must come out with monetary limits on which cases will be filed on its behalf. This has now been successfully done for cases under Income Tax Act and needs to be replicated for other laws.
- Mechanisms must be set in place to ensure no unwanted adjournments are given. The lawyers who take too many adjournments must be pulled up. Judges must refuse to grant adjournments beyond a point and must make attempts to take the case to quick logical conclusion.
Reform 2: Full computerisation of all courts and creation of E-Courts
In a nation that prides itself of being the IT hub of the world, the courts have remained one of the few institutions that have largely been outside its ambit. Full computerisation and creation of E-Courts in India has the ability to radically improve efficiency and expedite court processes to the benefit of all. For example, with judicious use of IT, one can club all similar questions of law being litigated simultaneously in all courts to save time and efforts and deliver a single judgment.
For reforming institutions in India, information technology has been a force of radical change. To cite an example from history, in 1987, Rajiv Gandhi initiated the process of computerisation of Indian Railways. Many and cynics mocked his efforts, calling it absurd and that it would only destroy jobs and lead to greater levels of corruption. But the reformers worked tirelessly (with limited budget) to computerise every aspect of ticket booking on real time basis. In the years to come, the system would be so successful that the young citizenry (born in the 1980s and 1990s) would not even acknowledge the massive levels of corruptions that once existed in Indian Railways. As the shadows lifted, one of the world’s most corrupt system had been brought to its knees by the power of information technology.
In a similar vein, all court processes must be studied and automated through the process of IT. For example, the courts can issue summons on e-mail and on SMS. All court records can be digitised to improve the productivity and efficiency of the courts. Computerisation of the Registry of the Supreme Court has had its beneficial effects in slashing down arrears and facilitated scientific docket management. The same must now be replicated in all lower courts. Basically the entire process of the court from filing of a suit to delivery of judgment can be computerised to the extent possible with exceptions only for mandatory activities which require physical presence like arguments of lawyers. Also e-filing and video-conferencing save precious time and resources and makes justice more easily accessible. Similarly, many old cases that have become infructuous due to recent judgments or change in law can be separated and disposed immediately with the help of technology. Further, modern technology can be used to enable chief justices of High Courts to allocate their manpower efficiently. It can also be used to monitor efficiency of the judges and the courts. Digital tools can help build a database of lawyers and also help identify the derelict ones and take disciplinary action against them. These will go a long way in identifying where the backlog happens and scientifically analyse what types of cases are clogging most of the judicial times and help create policies to correct them.