Voices Wednesday, June 11, 2014 - 05:30
Anisha Sheth| The News Minute| June 11, 2014| 8.20 am IST With a backlog of over at least 25 million cases pending in lower courts, India’s subordinate judiciary is simply handling a humungous workload at the expense of people’s faith in justice. According to a statement made by Kapil Sibal in the Lok Sabha in December 2012, there were 27.6 million cases pending in various lower courts across the country.  In February 2014, the Law Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice prepared a report on Infrastructure Development and Strengthening of Subordinate Courts. In the report it had made several recommendations on how the infrastructure could be improved. The report said that the shortage of judicial personnel had a direct bearing on the number of cases pending in courts.  In its manifesto, the Bharatiya Janata Party had promised multi-faceted judicial reforms. One of the points within the judicial reforms listed on its manifesto is: “initiate a mission mode project for filling the vacancies in the judiciary and for doubling the number of courts and judges in the subordinate judiciary.”  Whether this is an empty promise remains to be seen as successive governments have made all the right noises in connection with judicial reforms. Senior lawyers who spoke to The News Minute however, say this is an idea that should be implemented, and welcome the idea of “strengthening the subordinate judiciary”. But they also emphasised the need for “quality”. Chennai-based senior advocate Sudha Ramalingam said that the conditions in which the lower judiciary worked were “abysmal” and that if they were to function properly they may even require a “tripling” of infrastructure and staff.  She said that doubling of courts should be accompanied by a proportionate increase in the number of staff that could dispose of cases in a timely manner. These staff included stenographers, typists, trained computer operators and the like. She also said there was a need to make the lower courts more “people-friendly”. She said that it was not just the judicial workers who worked in abysmal conditions, but the litigants also faced numerous problems. “There are no toilets, no drinking water, parking space, no breathing space. People are standing everywhere…”  Delhi-based advocate Kamini Jaiswal said it was “absolutely” necessary to “increase the strength of the courts, improve quality, and conditions of service”. Jaiswal also underscored the necessity of providing infrastructure along with ramping up the numbers of courts and subordinate judges. Jaiswal said that the conditions of service of the personnel of the lower judiciary, including proper remuneration, must be improved.  Quality Both Jaiswal and Ramalingam emphasised that mere quantity would not suffice. There must be mechanisms to ensure that the staff who are appointed to the lower judiciary are competent to carry out the work. Jaiswal said that it was necessary to have a selection process that would ensure that meritorious judges were appointed. “If you can say that this judge can be bought or that judge is in my pocket,” Jaiswal said, “how will people have faith in the judiciary?” She also said that it was important to have a “transparent process” of selection of judges, also a system be worked out to ensure that meritorious people enter the judiciary. “Quantity is important, but qualitative delivery of justice depends on the commitment of persons (who are working in the subordinate courts),” Ramalingam said. She too said that increasing the strength of the judiciary would help clear the backlog of pending cases, but it would not be the only factor that would improve people’s faith in the judiciary.
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