Justice Delivery 'System Would Get Crushed' Unless...

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New Delhi, Apr 18 (UNI) Authorities have been warned that unless ''something'' is done about delays in justice delivery and huge case arrears, ''the whole system would get crushed under its weight.'' The warning comes on the eve of a joint conference of Chief Ministers and High Court Chief Justices from across India to be opened by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh tomorrow.

''The problem of delay and huge arrears stares us all,'' Agenda Notes for delegates point out, warning that ''unless we can do something about it, the whole system would get crushed under its weight.

''We must guard against the system getting discredited and people losing faith in it and taking recourse to extra legal remedies with all the sinister potentialities.'' Participants have been reminded that the ''Constitution of India reflects the quest and aspiration of the mankind for justice when its preamble speaks of justice in all its forms: social, economic and political.

''Those who have suffered physically, mentally or economically, approach the Courts, with great hope, for redressal of their grievances. They refrain from taking law into their own hands, as they believe that one day or the other, they would get justice from the Courts.

''Justice Delivery System, therefore, is under an obligation to deliver prompt and inexpensive justice to its consumers, without in any manner compromising on the quality of justice or the elements of fairness, equality and impartiality.

''However, there is growing criticism-- sometimes from uninformed or ill-informed quarters-- about the inability of our Courts to effectively deal with and wipe out the huge backlog of cases.'' Notes also point to the effect of long delays in defeating justice ''in quite a number of cases.'' ''As a result of such delay, the possibility cannot be ruled out of loss of important evidence, because of fading of memory or death of witnesses.

''The consequences thus would be that a party with even a strong case may lose it, not because of any fault of its own, but because of the tardy judicial process, entailing disillusionment to all those who at one time, set high hopes in courts.'' ''The delay in the disposal of cases has affected not only the ordinary type of cases but also those which by their very nature, call for early relief.'' The Notes say the problem is even more acute in criminal cases, in which a speedy process is considered essential to a fair trial. It ''has remained a distant reality.'' ''A procedure which does not provide trial and disposal within a reasonable period cannot be said to be just, fair and reasonable.

''If the accused is acquitted after such long delay one can imagine the unnecessary suffering he was subjected to.

''Many times such inordinate delay contributes to acquittal of guilty persons either because the evidence is lost or because of lapse of time, or the witnesses do not remember all the details or the witnesses do not come forward to give true evidence due to threats, inducement or sympathy,'' the Notes acknowledge.

''Whatever may be the reason, it is justice that becomes a casualty. We must realize that the very existence of an orderly society depends upon a sound and efficient functioning of criminal justice system.'' Perennial judicial vacancies compound matters, especially given expert advice that India needed to quadruple the strength of judges in the first place.

As per the Agenda Notes, at the start of the year, India's 21 High Courts had in place 593 judges as against a sanctioned strength of 877-- implying 284 vacancies or one in three judgeships vacant.

A Law and Justice Ministry source pointed out that the working strength has risen in the last quarter to 610 plus-- but that also does not significantly change matters.

Vacancies also abound in lower courts-- out of a 15,917 sanctioned strength, India had 12,524 Subordinate Judges in place and 3,393 vacancies.

Vacancies evidently make no sense given the high pendency-- close to 30 million cases.

They make even less sense considering that authorities know in advance exactly when a vacancy would arise and could easily form a pool from which to assign judges as soon as posts become available.

Going by the average disposal rate per judge, ''we require 1475 High Court Judges and 21432 subordinate Court Judges only to clear backlog in one year. The requirement would come down to 737 High Court Judges and 10716 Subordinate Judges if the arrears alone have to be cleared in the next two years,'' the Notes estimate.

''The existing strength being inadequate even to dispose of the fresh institution, the backlog cannot be wiped out without additional strength, particularly, when the institution of cases is likely to increase and not come down in coming years,'' they point out.

''It is high time we make a scientific and rational analysis of the factors behind accumulation of arrears and devise specific plan to atleast bring them within acceptable limit, within a reasonable timeframe. We have, however, to put our heads together and find out ways and means to deal with the problem, so as to retain the confidence of our people in the credibility and ability of the system.'' The 12-point agenda includes: -- Monitoring implementation of resolutions passed in the last conference in April 2007; -- Upgrading and augmenting infrastructure of subordinate courts; -- Headway in computerising justice delivery system; -- Steps to cut case arrears for speedy trial; -- Setting up Fast Track Courts-- Magistrates and Civil Courts; -- Setting up Gram Nyayalayas; -- Promoting Alternative Dispute resolutions systems-- mediation, conciliation, arbitration and plea-bargaining; -- Strengthening Judicial Officers' training; -- Filling High Court and Subordinate judiciary vacancies and enhancing Judge strength; -- Setting up evening shifts in Subordinate courts; -- Having a 'permanent mechanism' to implement conference resolutions.

UNI MJ RP KN1833

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