“Reforming the Law for Maximising Justice in Society and Promoting Good Governance under the rule of Law” ……. Law Commission
The tired pillar of India’s democracy is in urgent need for overhaul. With over 2 crore cases pending before various courts across India, the citizens who look up to the courts for justice are being denied their rights and justice delayed is justice denied.
Judicial Reforms and Judicial Accountability has been debated for too long and its time for the nation’s decision makers to get its act together and move towards comprehensive reforms.
Low Judge-to-population ratio: According to a report released by the Lok Sabha Secretariat Committee on Empowerment of Women released on May 08, 2013, the judge-to-population ratio in India is 13 judges for every 1 million persons, as against 35-40 judges per 1 million in some developing countries and 50 judges per 1 million in developed countries. Unless this lacuna is addressed immediately, the pressure on the judicial system shall only increase, leading to justice being delayed and subsequently denied.
Prolonged and costly litigation caused by lengthy procedures and lawyer’s interests: The process of law is such that once any litigant gets involved in the litigation process, he gets into the endless vortex of procedural delays and vested lawyer’s interests that would gladly have an extended litigation process, at the cost of the poor litigant. This alone detracts many from approaching the legal system for redressal, which leads to alternate illegal ways to solve the problem.
Lack of fast track courts: Though the government has initiated steps to establish fast track courts in cases involving women and children, the process is still lengthy. While judgments were passed relatively early in cases pertaining to the Nirbhaya and Shakti Mill rape case, there are several cases still stuck in various fast track courts.
Given focused activism by the media, society is now demanding immediate justice in cases which provoke a strong emotional response from the people and in the absence of a quick delivery of justice, social unrest can grow into a serious law and order problem. Another area of public concern where fast track courts are required is in cases involving politicians and public servants. Frequent reportage on cases of corruption involving these two segments is causing frustration and cynicism with the ruling system and that is a threat to democracy.
Weak alternate dispute redressal mechanisms: Consumer courts are a good example of an alternate mechanism to address disputes especially civil cases. However, there are several cases that can be addressed through alternate mechanisms like arbitration. These options need to be strengthened and made available as alternates to the lower courts across the country, without lowering the judge deployment ratio in the existing courts.
Inadequate quality lawyers: This is an area of concern as a litigant depends on the lawyer’s knowledge, ability and integrity to get him justice. Any compromise in any or all of these can only lead to miscarriage of justice.
Too many loopholes in law causing delays: Unless the laws are made less procedural and more litigant friendly to understand, interpret and apply, cases will keep getting extended. The litigation process in India can extend to several years that very often causes people to end up close to bankruptcy. This is unacceptable and its time to review existing laws and procedures.
Corruption at all levels: This is India’s bane across all segments of society and spread across all levels. The judiciary is no different. The situation is much worse in the lower courts where money is exchanged for every step and paper work to move. Influencing of judges through political or financial pressures is prevalent. Unless the system is made more transparent and the delivery process more efficient, this will continue to hold back the true power of the judiciary as envisaged in the constitution.
Lack of technology along with inadequate infrastructure: The judicial system has fallen way behind in adopting the use of technology to speed up the judicial process. One example of where technology can be used immediately and efficiently is in the use of Web conferencing. Undertrials need not physically go to the courts and can depose from the premises of the jail itself. This can significantly bring down expenses that the Police has to undertake by way of deploying staff, vehicles and time in moving Undertrials to and from the court premises. Same could apply to witnesses that are located outstation.
Accountability at the higher levels: Judicial accountability is very crucial and pertains to the higher echelons of the judiciary. Selection of a committee that will oversee the judiciary is still being debated. Prashant Bhushan, Senior Advocate, has been vociferously advocating that the committee must comprise of individuals that do not have any conflict of interest with the existing judges or the government. Unless all members of this committee are truly independent and secure in carrying out their duty, the very purpose of establishing this committee will be defeated.
It’s now up to the new government that will take charge to take initiative in this very crucial area of reform. They have to act NOW as our citizens have suffered for too long in order to get justice.