On Sunday, while addressing the attendees at the inaugural session of Joint Conference of Chief Ministers and Chief Justices of High Courts in New Delhi, the Chief Justice of India, T S Thakur, broke down in front of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, accusing the government of inaction in increasing the number of judges. Lamenting the plight of litigants and people languishing in jails and making a case for the development of the country, a teary eyed CJI looked at the government for help and asked the Prime Minister not to shift the entire blame on the judiciary.
But the question one needs to ask here is will increasing the number of judges alone remedy the problem of pending cases and the lethargy with which the courts proceed? Can the executive and the political class take the primary responsibility for the problem of pendency of cases?
Many argue that while lack of judges is no doubt a very pressing issue and the state needs to look into the matter, it cannot be the only cause for pendency of cases.
Organisations conducting studies on the performance of the judiciary in the country and luminaries from the legal field have talked about the various reasons for the sorry state of the legal system in India. Incompetent judges, rampant malpractices, decreasing quality of legal education, unethical lawyers are some of the most important reasons that are bogging down the third pillar of our democracy.
Talking about the problems plaguing the legal system in India, Justice Chandru Krishnaswami, a former judge with several decades of experience under his belt, says, “Refusal to switch over to technology, appointment of incompetent Judges and decreasing standard of legal education are the major reasons for backlog of cases.”
According to Aparna Chandra, Assistant Professor and Research Director, Centre for Constitutional Law, Policy and Governance, National Law University, Delhi, with the judiciary’s reluctance to open itself up for a review of its functioning, merely suggesting an increase in judicial resources and infrastructure will not solve the problem.
“Appointing additional judges is only one part of the solution in bringing down time taken to dispose of cases. A scientific, evidence based study needs to be carried out to understand the exact reasons for the time taken to dispose of cases. Solutions can be proposed only on the basis of the results of such a study,” says Surya Prakash from Daksh, an organization that works on measuring political and judicial performance, especially the problem of pendency cases in India.
Further, experts say that it is difficult for anyone in the country to question the judiciary. Laws like the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 have been used to put a spanner in the attempts to question the judiciary. “The judicial system exercises immense public power and is mandated with vital constitutional responsibilities. However, due to the lack of transparency in the functioning of the system, the absence of a culture of openness and willingness to engage with civil society, academics and other stakeholders, and near absolute lack of quality statistics on the functioning of the system, the judiciary escapes accountability,” writes Aparna Chandra.
Talking about the disproportion between the number of cases admitted and the number of cases disposed Justice Chandru says, “In the higher courts, there are no accountability regarding disposal of matters. On the other hand, there is a liberal dose of admission of cases without ensuring their disposal. This is mainly because some want to please the Bar. Only when you control the inflow, you can increase the outflow.”
Blaming rampant corruption and the existence of favourtisim in the courts, Justice Chandru says that the political class cannot be blamed for the problem of pending cases and the judiciary should blame itself for the present state of affairs.
“Unless certain amount of accountability is ensured by appointing competent and experienced Judges, increasing the strength of judges will not solve the problem for pendency of cases” adds Justice Chandru.