Justice Delayed is Justice Denied: How to reduce the pendency of cases in India?

December 2, 2023

The adage “Justice delayed is justice denied” succinctly captures the essence of the urgent need to expedite the judicial process in India. The Indian legal system, burdened with an overwhelming number of pending cases, often fails to deliver timely justice to its citizens. According to the National Judicial Data Grid, over 5.02 crore cases are pending in various courts across India. This backlog not only undermines the credibility of the judiciary but also denies justice to countless individuals.

The present article, therefore, aims to explore measures that can be adopted to speed up the justice system in India, highlighting important Supreme Court rulings on speedy trials and relevant legal provisions.

Important Supreme Court Rulings on speedy trial

The Supreme Court at various instances has recognized ‘Right to Speedy trial’. For example-

  1. Hussainara Khatoon v. State of Bihar (1979): In this landmark case, the Supreme Court held that the right to a speedy trial is a fundamental right under Article 21 of the Constitution. The court emphasized the need for speedy justice, especially for underprivileged individuals who often languish in jails awaiting trial.
  2.  Abdul Rehman Antulay v. R.S. Nayak (1984): The Supreme Court ruled that undue delay in the trial process can result in the denial of justice. It established guidelines to ensure speedy trials, such as the completion of examination-in-chief and cross-examination of witnesses on consecutive dates.
  3. Common Cause v. Union of India (2018): The Supreme Court recognized the importance of speedy trials in corruption cases, emphasizing that such delays could undermine public trust in the judicial system. The court directed the government to establish special courts to exclusively deal with pending cases involving politicians.

Measures to reduce the pendency of cases in India

The issue of pendency of cases in India can be reduced through various measures, including:

1. Strengthening the judicial infrastructure: Adequate infrastructure, including courtrooms, staff, and technology, should be provided to ensure smooth functioning of the judicial system. This will help in expediting the disposal of cases.

2. Appointment of more judges: Additional courts would not make any sense if they remain vacant. There is a need to increase the number of judges to handle the large number of pending cases. This will help in reducing the backlog and ensure timely disposal of cases.

3. Introduction of Fast-track courts: Setting up fast-track courts for specific types of cases, such as those related to sexual offenses or corruption, can help expedite their disposal. These courts can prioritize such cases and ensure a speedy trial. It is to be noted that fast tracks have already been established under Negotiable Instrument (NI) Act and also Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 (POCSO Act) provides for the establishment of special courts.

4. Alternative dispute resolution mechanisms: Encouraging the use of alternative dispute resolution mechanisms, such as mediation and arbitration, can help reduce the burden on the courts. These mechanisms are often faster and more cost-effective than traditional litigation.

5. Digitization of court processes: Introducing technology-driven solutions, such as e-filing and digital case management systems, can streamline court processes and reduce paperwork. This will help in saving time and improving efficiency.

8. Legislative reforms: Reviewing and amending outdated laws and procedures can help simplify legal processes and reduce the time taken for case disposal. It is to be noted that India has taken significant steps through legislation for the speedy disposal of cases. Various Acts provide a time frame under which proceedings have to be completed.

For example-.

  • Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 ensures that all the processes from the issuing of summons to the filing of written statement to the framing of issues and to the pronouncement of judgment, must be completed in a time bound matter. Time limit has been set under the Act.
  • Code of Criminal Procedure– The Crpc also mandates certain time period, for example under Section 173, investigation under the rape cases must be completed within a period of two months. It is needed to be mentioned that the proposed new Crpc, namely The Bhartiya Nagrik Suraksha Sanhita 2023, mandates certain time frames like 90 days for filing chargesheet, 60 days for framing charges and 30 days for the pronouncement of the Judgment.
  • POCSO Act, 2012- This Act mandates that the trial under this Act must be completed within a period of one year.
  • Juvenile Justice Act, 2015- This Act again under Section 14 mandates that trial (inquiry) of child must be completed within a period of 4 months.
  • Motor Vehicles Act, 1988– This Act provides that the Motor Accidents Claims Tribunals should endeavour to disposes of cases within a period of 6 months from the date of filing.
  • Negotiable Instrument Act– Under this Act it is required that the entire process and disposal of cases should ideally be completed within a period of six months from the date of cognizance of offence.

9. Training and capacity building: Providing regular training and capacity building programs for judges, lawyers, and court staff can enhance their skills and knowledge, leading to faster disposal of cases.

10. No. of adjournments to be reduced: The courts must be reluctant in granting  adjournments.

11. Collaboration with other stakeholders: Collaboration between the judiciary, executive, and legislative branches of the government, as well as engagement with civil society organizations and legal professionals, can help in finding innovative solutions to reduce pendency and improve the justice delivery system.

Justice delayed indeed equates to justice denied. To uphold the principles of fairness and equality, it is imperative to expedite the judicial process in India. By adopting measures such as strengthening judicial infrastructure, implementing case management systems, promoting alternative dispute resolution, and establishing specialized courts, the justice system can be streamlined. It is through these combined efforts that India can ensure that justice is not only served but also served in a timely manner.

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