What really delays justice in lower courts? IIM study has answers
IIM Calcutta study suggests that for a litigant to get judgment it takes around two-and-a-half years, but only around 8 months are spent in court functioning
We often lament about how in our country, sometimes it's not the verdict, but the judicial process itself which becomes the punishment for both the plaintiff and the defendant. Data from a recent study conducted by the Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta not only corroborates that but also finds the reasons behind this regular delay in justice. The study authored by professors R Rajesh Babu, Sumanta Basu and Indranil Bose finds that more than 60 per cent of court time is spent on reasons other than court functioning. Along with long pendency of cases, issues such as judges’ absence, repeated adjournments and courts refusing to simplify processes add to the judicial delay.
To understand court processes and to improve court efficiency for justice delivery, the law ministry last year had assigned the study to IIM-Calcutta. The three professors analysed 40 randomly picked civil cases of different types from the jurisdiction of 24 South Parganas district court to understand the reasons for delays.
The findings are staggering as it suggests that it took over 122 weeks, or around two-and-a-half years, for a litigant to get a judgment. Only 41 per cent of this time, or 36 weeks, was spent in court functioning, the remaining period was spent in awaiting orders/instructions from the high court (22 weeks) and adjournments for absence of judges because the presiding officer was either busy or on leave or on transfer order (17 weeks).
"Long delays in processing cases are common in the Indian judicial system. The incessant delays in the court cases affect fairness and efficiency of the judicial system which in turn weakens ‘access to justice’, democracy, the rule of laws and enforcement of those laws", notes the study.
To understand the delays and the reasons behind them, the IIM professors interviewed litigants and lawyers, and found that, "Practically, a case ends up getting only 5- 6 dates in a year at most, which is one of the main reasons behind the pendency". Not only that, absence or lack of senior lawyers & judges, a meagre 220 working days and either parties' absence cause adjournments which contribute to the backlog and delay of justice.
"The judicial delay and the resultant access to justice issues have led to affirm the belief that “Law is nothing but the convenience of the powerful”. Law and the judicial system must work equally for all sections of the society, yet it runs parallel between two different sections of the society – one for the rich and resourceful, and the rest with no or limited resources", reads the study.
The study also makes recommendations for improvement, which include digitisation of the court processes, sensitisation and training of the court staff and presiding officers, and filling up the vacancies of judges. But the biggest recommendation the study makes is that, "All the courts should be on a fast track mode and a period of maximum 5 years should be fixed for the disposal of cases". The study mulls policy changes in terms of designing a penalty structure to stop unnecessary adjournments. The professors also raised the point of increasing the working days, but admit that would require a cultural change, which can be difficult.
Though this study is based on cases in a district court, the picture is similarly alarming across the country. Even the Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi had said that more than two lakh cases are lying in courts for 25 years, while over 1,000 cases have not been disposed of even after five decades. While out of about 90 lakh pending civil cases, more than 20 lakh are at a stage where summons have not been served yet. In criminal cases, the figure is worse. Out of 2.10 crore pending criminal cases, the total pendency at the summoning stage is over a crore.