India's huge backlog of court cases delays justice: Experts

On World Day for International Justice, legal experts urge expanding, strengthening digital courts to reduce pendency.

India's huge backlog of court cases delays justice: Experts

There is a need to take proactive steps to clear the huge backlog of cases in Indian courts, according to legal experts.

Around 47 million cases are pending in courts in India, the government told parliament in March. There were 70,154 cases pending in the Supreme Court and the number pending in the 25 high courts stood at 5,894,060 as of March.

Coinciding with the World Day for International Justice on Sunday, Kaleeswaram Raj, a top Supreme court lawyer told Anadolu Agency that there should be a system for internal management in Indian courts.

"We need a mechanism to assess the backlog, to improve the recruitment process. We should come up with a clear strategy to dispose of the pending matters. And then, there has to be an implementation scheme, which has to be supervised by the higher judiciary. The higher courts should also have an implementation strategy," he said.

Raj said there is a need to "expand and strengthen the system of digital courts, i.e. online courts, so that majority of the cases can be decided through the online system, which will popularize the judiciary, decentralize it and expedite the process of adjudication, across the country."

Several reasons

There are many reasons for the delay in adjudication in Indian courts, said Raj.

"In the Supreme Court and the high courts, the government or the state is predominantly the respondent. Delays often happen in completing the procedures, which essentially occurs on the part of the state," he said, adding that it could happen in processes, like filing affidavits or producing materials.

"This leads to judicial delay, which essentially is a case of administrative delay," he said.

The legal expert also said that judicial delay is also a reality that happens because of multiple reasons.

"We have a poor judge-population ratio. We have only an inadequate number of judges. So the quantity is a problem and it impacts judicial efficiency," he said.

"The quality of the judges is another issue. In the lower courts, the selection process may not be able to assess the real acumen that a judge should generally possess. The quality of the candidate is seldom tested in the existing process of recruitment to the subordinate courts. Therefore, you don't get high-quality judges in the subordinate judiciary," he said. "In the higher judiciary, we have a collegium system in India."

"The performance of the collegium system and the manner in which judges are selected are far from satisfactory ... in short, in the existing recruitment process, the skills that a judge should have are not adequately tested. We need to improve the selection process and get quality judges," said Raj.

With the cases taking time in courts, it often leads to delays in the delivery of justice.

In April, a court in Bihar province acquitted a man of murder after he spent 28 years in jail. Birbal Bhagat, who was arrested at age 28, was freed at 58 and acquitted by a court for lack of evidence.

Bhagat’s case is hardly alone.

In May, Chandresh Marskole, 36, from Madhya Pradesh in Central India was acquitted in a murder case by the state's High Court after being incarcerated for more than 13 years.

Colin Gonsalves, senior Supreme Court lawyer and Founder of Human Rights Law Network (HRLN), India’s leading public interest law group, told Anadolu Agency that there is a single reason for the delay in the courts

"The federal government is not interested in appointing judges. Our judge's strength is at 50%. We need 100 and we have got 50. The federal government is determined not to appoint judges or to delay the appointment of judges as much as possible. Why? Because the government doesn't want an active and well-functioning judiciary," he said.

Gonsalves said judges are very hard working and they get blamed for the delay in adjudication.

"The real culprit is the central government," he said, adding it was the federal government that has to take steps to end the huge backlog in the courts.

The government, however, said every effort is made to expedite the process of the appointment of judges following due procedure.

"Filling up of vacancies in the high courts is a continuous, integrated and a collaborative process between the executive and the judiciary. It requires consultation and approval from various constitutional authorities both at the state and center level," said the Ministry of Law and Justice.

Committed to reducing pendency

The Indian government maintains that it is fully committed to the speedy disposal of cases and reducing pendency.

"The government has taken several initiatives to provide an ecosystem for faster disposal of cases by the judiciary," the government informed parliament in March.