Judicial delays/ pendency: India
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The history explains the causes (and, perhaps, the solution
Nearly 250 years ago, the British East India Company under governor general Warren Hastings started ‘Dewani’ (civil) and ‘Fauzdari’ (criminal) court system. The first Law Commission, set up in 1834 under Lord T B Macaulay, did stupendous work towards codification of civil and criminal laws. After the Sepoy Mutiny in 1857, the British government acted on the drafts presented by the commission and enacted Civil Procedure Code, 1859; Indian Penal Code, 1860 and Criminal Procedure Code, 1861.
Codification of civil and criminal laws led to a spurt in court-based litigation which stamped out the traditional panchayat system that provided inexpensive justice. By 1920s, India had a population of 11 crore. Yet, courts had started feeling the heat of pendency. The British set up a commission headed by Calcutta HC’s Justice Rankin in 1924 to study the problem and recommend ways and means to contain pendency, which was spooking litigants.
In his report in 1925, Justice Rankin said, “Existence of mass arrears takes the heart out of a presiding officer (judicial officer). He can hardly be expected to take long interest in preliminaries, when he knows that the hearing of the evidence and the decision will not be by him but by his successor after his transfer. So long as such arrears exist, there is temptation to which many presiding officers succumb, to hold back the heavier contested suits and devote attention to the lighter ones.”
Nearly a hundred years have passed since. Yet, Justice Rankin’s finding holds good for trial judges even today as nearly 19,000 of them face a pendency of 2.74 crore cases. One must not lose sight that they decide over one crore cases annually, the number of fresh cases which gets filed every year. But the pendency monster continues to live and spread its rotund belly to choke access to justice and stifle right to speedy justice.
The first Law Commission in independent India, headed by renowned lawyer M C Setalvad, made a detailed study of the problems ailing the three-tier justice dispensation system and submitted a 1,262-page report in September 1958 to the Centre. It brushed aside demands for radical reforms and suggested elaborate procedural reforms to ease the choke points.
After Emergency, the Law Commission headed by Justice H R Khanna in November 1978 submitted a report suggesting ways and means to secure elimination of delays and arrears in trial courts. At that time, approximately 4,000 trial judges were facing a pendency of 21 lakh cases. This report said the annual disposal rate was equal to the rate of filing of fresh cases and recommended streamlining of procedures to ease the burden.
In 2014, Justice A P Shahheaded Law Commission suggested a novel method to compute the number of trial judges required to erase the backlog and achieve speedy justice in letter and spirit while concluding that “judicial system is unable to deliver timely justice because of huge backlog of cases for which current judge strength is inadequate”.
Till now, Law Commission recommendations and the SC devised mechanisms to speed up the justice delivery system were characteristically a bird’s eye view shorn of recognising the difficulties faced by trial judges in dealing with cases at ground level. The revolution in information technology has provided judiciary with the opportunity to adopt a different approach to empower trial judges to deal with pendency effectively.
Two weeks ago, CJI Dipak Misra said, “Law ultimately belongs to litigants and we have to ensure that it reaches them timely and effectively.” Apart from the oft-repeated demand for adequate infrastructure and increase in number of trial judges, he acknowledged that “without co- mprehensive range of information technology and communication tools, we cannot expect a state-ofthe-art judicial infrastructure, which will advance the paradigm of rule of law”.
The solution must necessarily come from those involved with trial courts. A young advocate, Karan Kalia, recently gave a presentation on an artificial intelligenceaided comprehensive software programme for speedy disposal of trial cases to the SC’s eCommittee headed by Justice Madan B Lokur.
The software developed by Kalia’s team is impressive as it provides relevant case laws to a trial judge instantaneously while identifying its reliability value. It also helps the trial judge note down daily case proceedings, which could be recalled later on at the touch of a button.
Moreover, the software is so designed that the trial judge automatically gets guided to those portions of higher court rulings relevant to the case she is adjudicating, thus, saving precious time that would have been spent in reading lengthy judgments in entirety.
Like Justice Rankin had said, most trial judges today are reluctant to take up lengthy matters because they are sure they would not be able to write the judgment for it. However, through Kalia’ system, the judge who succeeds a transferred judge will, at the touch of a button, be able to recall the summary of proceedings that took place earlier, saving him from rummaging through voluminous records.
Only when technology aided innovative measures get implemented at the first tier of justice delivery system will the rhetoric of access to justice and speedy justice become reality.
Some cases pending in the SC, 1952- 2022
New Delhi: None of the current lot of 27 Supreme Court judges was born when the oldest civil and criminal cases were instituted within three years of India becoming a Republic. The oldest criminal case under Section 65E of the Maharashtra Prohibition Act, 1949, was registered by Raigad police on May 18, 1953, five years before Justice Maheshwari was born, before Judicial Magistrate First Class (JFMC), Uran, in Raigad district.
Thesame year the JFMC had warrants against accused Jangbahadur Brijlal Joshi, who was charged under Section 65E [selling, buying, or possessing any intoxicant (other than opium) or hemp] of the 1949 Act, which on conviction attracts a minimum punishment of three years’ jail term and fine of Rs 25,000 or a maximum of five years of imprisonment and a fine of Rs 50,000. The JFMC had issued non-bailable arrest warrants against the accused in the case no. 47/1953. It is not clear from the record whether the accused is still alive nearly 70 years after the institution of the case. If alive, he would be in ripe old age.
The JFMC has fixed the case for further hearing on February 9 this year, as per the data available on National Judicial Data Grid (NJDG).
Another criminal case under Section 381 (theft by clerk or servant of property in possession of master), which provides for a punishment of seven years’ imprisonment on conviction, was filed by Raigad police against Shankar Sonu Malgund on May 25, 1956, two years before the birth of Justice Maheshwari. This case is also listed for further hearing on February 9 before the same JFMC, Uran, at Raigad.
Oldest among pending civil suits, seeking partition of family property, was filed by Jabendra Narayan Chowdhury against Ashutosh Chowdhury before a civil court in Malda, West Bengal, on April 4, 1952. After 66 years, on September 25, 2018, the Malda civil judge (senior division) was informed that defendant No. 4 had died leaving behind his widow and three children —two sons and a daughter. He ordered the legal heir to be impleaded as parties. The case has not progressed further since then. The second oldest civil case, too, is pending before the same civil court in Malda for more than 70 years. Parvati Roy had filed the suit against Bipracharan Sarkar on July 18, 1952. Since 2018, the civil judge is awaiting a report on the outcome.
The Calcutta HC has the infamy of having on its record the oldest civil case, which has been pending since 1951, and the oldest criminal appeal, filed and pending since 1969. Of the total nearly 60 lakh civil and criminal cases pending in the 25 HCs, 51,846 civil cases and 21,682 criminal cases are more than 30 yearsold.
Asmany as 79,587 pending criminal cases, pending in trial court, are more than 30 years old. Those filed in 1975 and still pending are 216; filed in 1980 and pending are 1,026; filed in 1985 and pending are 3,515; filed in 1990 and pending are 10,376; and, filed in 1992 and pending are 16,256. Of the total 3. 23 crore pending criminal cases in trial courts, 71% are less than five year-old.
More than 30-year-old live civil cases in trial courts number 36,223. Those filed in year 1965 and still pending are 31; 1975 269; 1980 862; 1985 1,875; 1990 3,850; and, 1992 5,373. Of the total 1. 09 crore civil cases pending intrial courts, 73% are less than five years old.
Adjournments, if frequent, harass witnesses: HC
The Times of India, Jun 22 2016
The high court has deprecated the practice of criminal courts granting frequent adjournments, leading to harassment of public witnesses who come to depose. In a recent order, Justice Sunita Gupta identified this “attitude of courts of sending witnesses back“ as a major cause of “harassment which discourages public from associating in the investigation of any case.“
The court said, due to being forced to come to court repeatedly , even a public spirited person who may have witnessed a crime avoids joining police and court proceedings.Justice Gupta pointed out that even before coming to court to depose, a witness has been a part of investigation which “itself is a tedious pro cess where a public witness, who is associated, has to spend hours at the spot.“
Favouring fewer adjournments and a sense of urgency on behalf of courts in recording the testimony of a witness, the court reminded the prosecution that “normally , nobody from public is prepared to suffer any inconvenience for the sake of society.“
The other reason, the court explained, for a public witness not readily associating with a criminal investigation is “their harassment that takes place in the courts.“ It added that “normally a public witness should be called once to depose in the court and his testimony should be recorded and he should be discharged.But experience shows that adjournments are given even in criminal cases on all excuses and if adjournments are not given, it is considered as a breach of the right of hearing of the accused...“
Justice Gupta's observations came while upholding the conviction of Rajveer and Rajeev who were awarded a ten year jail term by a special NDPS court earlier. They had filed an appeal challenging the conviction order. Accusing the police of implicating them, the accused said that the absence of a witness clearly casts a doubt on the prosecution version. But the court said there is no reason to disbelieve version of a police witness if other evidence supports the prosecution version.
‘A Culture of delay allowed by mindsets’
Study shows why merely increasing the number of judges may not be enough to clear the alarming backlog of cases
Much popular attention pertaining to the judi ciary has been on the vexed question of judicial appointments, a power struggle between the government and judges for determining who has the final word on the judiciary's ideological trajectory and the careers of individuals manning it. This has meant that the core issue -unacceptable delays in the judicial system -is sidelined. Delay is mainly seen as an HR issue -appoint more judges and delay will automatically reduce.By blaming delay solely on inadequate capacity , neither the judiciary nor the government is asking the hard questions: What are the mindsets within the judiciary that allow a culture of delay to fester? As of September 30, 2016, the Supreme Court has nearly 61,000 pending cases, official figures say . The high courts have a backlog of more than 40 lakh cases, and all subordinate courts together are yet to dispose of around 2.85 crore cases. At all three levels, courts dispose of fewer cases than are filed.The number of pending cases keeps growing, litigants face even dimmer prospects of their cases being disposed of quickly .
This is the trend across the country . In high courts, 94% of cases have been pending for 5-15 years. In Alla habad, the country's largest and by many accounts, an inefficient court, 925,084 cases are pending. On an average, cases take three years and nine months to get disposed.In Delhi HC, considered publicly as one of the best, 66,281 are pending. It takes an average of two years and eight months to give its verdict in a case. To be fair, delays are not a peculiarly Indian phenomenon. Many advanced countries struggle to provide quick, high-quality justice to citizens. But in India the scale of the problem is unprecedented.
Focusing on capac ity alone won't reduce delays.A pervasive reason for delays is adjournments. A study by the Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy (VCLP) conducted on Delhi HC found that in 91% of cases delayed over two years, adjournments were sought and granted. Merely increasing the number of judges won't help because adjournments are acceptable in our judicial system. These encourage delaying tactics, block judicial time, prevent effective case m a n a g e m e n t and impoverish litigants. They deter many from seeking access to for mal justice. Apart from the lawyers, who often charge per hearing, none benefits.
An initiative by VCLP -Justice, Access and Low ering Delays in India (Jal di) -seeks to address the problem. It talks of reducing government litigation, com pulsory use of mediation and other alternative dispute resolution mechanisms. It mentions simplifying proce dures, recommending pre cise capacity reinforcements and use of technology . The goal is to find a way to clear all backlog in the courts within six years.
This isn't unrealistic. In Singapore, the implementa tion of similar reforms in the 1990s led to astonishing re sults, 95% of civil and 99% of criminal cases were disposed of in 1999. The average length of commercial cases fell from around six years in the 1980s to 1.25 years in 2000. The pend ing cases count hasn't grown substantially since.
While implementing such , reforms will present chal lenges, it is critical that the public narrative around de lays changes. Delay in courts is not an HR issue -it is a question of the growth of a culture that has made delays acceptable. It impacts our ease of doing business rank ings and hinders access to justice to the mazdoor whose employment has been unlawfully terminated.
Scarcely has there been an issue that cries out louder for the government and the judiciary to secure the constitutional mandate of speedy and effective access to justice.Arghya Sengupta is research director, Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy The data in the graphic alongside is from a report on inefficiency & judicial delay (Delhi high court) by Nitika Khaitan, Shalini Seetharam, Sumathi Chandrashekaran of the Judicial Reforms Initiative at the Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy
Centre Pulled Up For Similar Pleas, Fined ₹1L Twice
“The couldn’t-care-less and insouciant attitude of the Union government with regard to litigation has gone a little too far,” the Supreme Court said and castigated the Centre for repeatedly filing appeals on identical questions of law despite being fined earlier for clogging the justice delivery system with frivolous cases.
Ticking off the Centre for snail-paced efforts to streamline its litigation policy, a bench of Justices Madan B Lokur and Deepak Gupta recently used the NDA government’s reformist slogan of “ease of doing business” to make a sharp point. “Under the garb of ease of doing business, judiciary is being asked to reform. The boot is really on the other leg,” the bench said. Pointing to the collateral damage the overcrowding of the judicial system caused other litigants, besides financial liabilities of the government, the court asked when the “Rip Van Winkleism” would end.
“We hope that someday, some sense, if not better sense, will prevail on the Union of India with regard to the formulation of a realistic and meaningful national litigation policy and what it calls ‘ease of doing business’, which can, if faithfully implemented, benefit litigants across the country,” the bench said.
On December 8 last year, the SC had dismissed a batch of appeals filed by the Centre. Unmindful, the Centre filed another batch of petitions in March involving the very same question of law. It was dismissed with a cost of Rs 1 lakh on March 9. “Unfortunately, the Union government has learned no lesson,” the bench of Justices Lokur and Gupta said on April 24 when it came across a third set of appeals on the same issue with an identical question of law.
SC: When will govt wake up to its duties to justice-delivery system?
The bench said it had expected the Centre to take steps to withdraw all pending appeals from the SC registry once the question of law was settled by the December 8 order.
“But obviously, the Union government has no such concern and did not withdraw appeals from the registry. The government must appreciate that by pursuing frivolous or infructuous cases, it is adding to the burden of this court and collaterally harming other litigants by delaying hearing in their cases through the sheer volume of numbers. If the Union government cares a little for the justice delivery system, it should display some concern for litigants, many of whom have to spend a small fortune in litigating in the Supreme Court,” it said and slapped an additional cost of Rs 1 lakh while dismissing the appeals.
Writing the judgment for the bench, Justice Lokur said, “To make matters worse, in this appeal, the Union government has engaged 10 lawyers, including an additional solicitor general and a senior advocate. In other words, the Union government has created a huge financial liability by engaging so many lawyers for an appeal whose fate can be easily imagined on the basis of existing orders of dismissal in similar cases.
“Yet, the Union of India is increasing its liability and asking the taxpayers to bear an avoidable financial burden for the misadventure. Is any thought being given to this? The real question is: When will the Rip Van Winkleism stop and Union of India wake up to its duties and responsibilities to the justice delivery system?”
Referring to the Centre’s 2010 “National Legal Mission” to reduce average pendency from 15 years to three years and the “National Litigation Policy”, the SC said, “None of the pious platitudes of the NLC have been followed, indicating not only the Union government’s lack of concern for the justice delivery system but scant regard for its own policy.”
The court said the 2010 policy was supposed to be reviewed and reformulated in 2015. “When this will be finalised is anybody’s guess... Nothing has been finalised by the Union government for the last almost eight years,” it said.
2018: govt’s findings; efforts to reduce government litigation
To bring down litigation in courts, the government may soon enhance the financial threshold of cases in which it would approach the Supreme Court against an adverse high court order to Rs 50 lakh. The threshold is Rs 10 lakh now.
However, this threshold will not apply to cases where government policy is challenged and may have wider implications. This is another measure to limit government departments going for appeals after a web portal was set up in 2016 where all litigation across 55 ministries and departments are monitored online, their progress at each stage of trial tracked and final pendency status prepared ministry-wise.
An analysis carried out by the law ministry last year had found that 46% of all litigation across courts were cases or appeals filed by state or central governments. These litigation included service matters, disputes with private entities as well as disputes between two government departments and disputes between two PSUs.
The docket of 3.15 crore pending cases would come down if government litigation is brought down. The ministries of railways, finance, communications, home and defence have emerged as the top five central ministries which have the highest number of cases.
A similar case study by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) for the Central Board of Excise and Customs for financial years 2014, 2015 and 2016 showed that it had been filing an average 1,700 appeals annually before the SC despite the fact that its success rate came down during the period from 19%to11%,or for every 100cases filed, the department lost 89.
According to the income tax study, its field authorities together had a pendency of over 38,000 cases in various HCs with tax effect of Rs 2.87 lakh crore. All its pendency put together had revenue implication of over Rs 9.60 lakh crore.
Holidays/ vacations are on high side
Efforts to cut SC holidays stalled
The Times of India, May 18 2016
Judges, advocates stalled efforts to cut SC holidays, say ex-CJIs
As the Supreme Court commences its 48-day summer vacation, many former Chief Justices of India said their efforts to reduce pendency by shrinking the holidays were frustrated by both judges and advocates.
Just a few weeks back, CJI T S Thakur had become emotional while appealing to the government to speed up the appointment of judges to high courts as the huge pendency of nearly 40 lakh cases in HCs cast an enormous burden on judges.
Former CJIs feel reduction in holidays would be a major step to counter pendency . The 1966 rules of the SC had allowed it to take a summer break up to 10 weeks. The first reduction in the recess happened under then CJI Y K Sabharwal, who cut it down to eight weeks.
Many succeeding CJIs, including Justices S H Kapadia, P Sathasivam, R M Lodha and H L Dattu, tried to convince judges and the bar association to trim the break.“But the judges and advocates stonewalled any proposal for reducing the break. No doubt the summer is harsh in Delhi. But all others work during the summer. So why not judges,“ said an ex-CJI.
It was Lodha who wanted courts, including the SC, to function 365 days a year and had presented a blueprint for it. He had proposed that every judge would intimate in advance the major periods of leave he would take in a year and that would be incorporated to chart out a roster for sitting of judges without the SC closing for a day. During Lodha's tenure as CJI, the 1966 rules were amended and the summer break was officially reduced from 10 weeks to seven. “It would be ideal to reduce the summer break to four weeks,“ some ex-CJIs told TOI.
“The SC closes for two weeks for the winter break.It also closes for 10 days each for Holi, Dussehra and Diwali. The winter break could be reduced to a week and Holi, Dussehra and Diwali could each have three days holiday ,“ they said.
If the suggestions are taken and implemented, it will produce an additional 50 working days for the SC, the ex-CJIs said. In a year, at present, the SC works for 193 days, the HCs 210 days and trial courts 245 days.
Inefficiency to blame
See graphic 'Delayed cases in Delhi HIgh Court, some facta and definitions'
Infrastructure is inadequate
As in 2019
Gadkari was bang on target when he emphasised that “time is the essence” for all agencies. He will be shocked by the woefully inadequate infrastructure and manpower that has crippled the judiciary and made it systemically snail-paced for decades.
He will realise the truth by going through a 2016 report prepared by the Supreme Court’s Centre for Research and Planning, which said, “The subordinate judiciary works under severe deficiency of 5,018 court rooms. The existing 15,540 court halls are insufficient to cater to sanctioned strength of 20,558 judicial officers as on December 31, 2015, resulting in judicial officers having to work under undesirable conditions.
“A similar picture emerges in terms of residential accommodation for the subordinate judiciary. Here, the shortage is of 8,538 quarters, or above 40% of sanctioned strength of judicial officers. The staff position for subordinate courts is also not encouraging, 41,775 such positions are lying vacant. These indicators have adverse consequences on the effectiveness of courts. A judge trying cases for days without end in makeshift rooms cannot be expected to turn out optimal result; equally, shortage of secretarial and support staff tells on the availability of court services, so vital to ensure timeliness.”
For decades, the Law Commission has been making repeated recommendations to the government to increase the judge-population ratio to at least 50 per million. In 1981, the US had 107 judges per million people when India had just 10. Now, it has improved to around 20 but is still far from the bare requirement of 50 per million.
The Law Commission in its 1987 report had recommended immediate increase in judge-population ratio to 50 per million and further recommended that India should achieve a judge-population ratio of 107 per million by the year 2020. “If these recommendations had been acted upon, India would have had a judge strength of 1,10,071 in the year 2000 and 1,36,794 as on December 31, 2015. Sanctioned strength of the judiciary (at all levels) as on December 31, 2015 however, was only 21,607.” Gadkari has rightly said time is of the essence. If nearly three decades are not enough, can the minister ask Niti Aayog to find out when the government will be able to achieve judge-population ratio of 50 per million? And can the Aayog find out when nearly 3 crore pending cases will be wiped out? Can it also quantify the compensation the government must pay to accused in criminal cases for languishing in jail for delays in trials due to inadequate judge strength?
It required the intervention of an SC bench headed by CJI Ranjan Gogoi to make states and high courts fill up vacant posts in trial courts by summoning chief secretaries and putting them under the contempt sword. After amicus curiae Vijay Hansaria pointed out that the Centre was lethargic in contributing its share for improvement of state judicial infrastructure, it was again the SC which had to devise a plan for timely release of central funds to spruce up rickety court infrastructure.
Coming to HCs, where governments are the biggest litigants, the vacancy in judges’ posts has been hovering around 37-40% for last five years. At present, the SC collegium’s recommendations for appointment of 40 judges and nine chief justices of HCs are pending with the government. The government had pulled out the name for appointment as chief justice of Gujarat HC from the bundle and has been sitting on the recommendations for CJs of other HCs. Will Gadkari remind the law minister and the PM that time is of the essence in appointment of heads of state judiciaries?
Gadkari would be surprised to know that the SC collegium has deferred consideration of 10 names for appointment as HC judges awaiting information from the government, which has not responded for at least five months in most cases and for seven months in one case.
In August, the CJI wrote to the law minister requesting expeditious action on collegium’s pending recommendations. “The existing percentage of vacancies — 37% of total HC judge strength all over the country — is bound to increase with 5-6 judges retiring on an average every month, unless equal number, if not more, of judges is appointed,” the CJI had said. A go-getter in creating infrastructure, Gadkari would contribute handsomely if he flags the issue of judicial infrastructure and judge strength in the cabinet meetings headed by the PM. For, if a minister joins activists in flogging the over-burdened judiciary, it will not help clear the traffic jams on judicial highways.
Lower courts: reasons for delay
According to a new study issues such as judges’ absence, repeated adjournments and courts refusing to simplify processes add to judicial delay
The study conducted by IIM Calcutta found that on an average, it took over 122 weeks, or around two-and-a-half years, for a litigant to get a judgment
NEW DELHI: A recent study has found that along with long pendency of cases, issues such as judges’ absence, repeated adjournments and courts refusing to simplify processes add to judicial delay. More than 60% of court time is spent on reasons other than court functioning. A study by Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta, found that on an average, it took over 122 weeks, or around two-and-a-half years, for a litigant to get a judgment. Only 41% 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).
“There is a huge delay due to the processes of court functioning during the trial stage for reasons namely non-attendance of witnesses, non-appearance of lawyers, lengthy oral arguments, arbitrary adjournments and delayed judgments,” the study said.
Adjournment for even passing judgment took an average nine weeks, while court holidays and strikes consumed about five weeks. Then there were other causes of delay such as the absence of lawyers of both plaintiff and the defendant and quite often, court entertaining requests for postponement due to delay in producing required information.
To understand court processes and re-engineering opportunities to improve court efficiency for justice delivery, the law ministry had last year assigned the study to IIM-Calcutta. Three professors of the institute — R Rajesh Babu, Sumanta Basu and Indranil Bose — analysed 40 randomly picked civil cases of different types from the jurisdiction of 24 South Parganas district court to understand the reasons for delays.
On repeated adjournments, the study found that absence of lawyers was often a common factor. “Since advocates have to deal with multiple cases at the same time, they can’t be present everywhere, hence some cases have to be delayed so that pertinent ones can be attended to. Lawyers also continue to take long dates so as to cover the tenure of the current judge (the tenure of a judge is for a period of 2-3 years) and present the case afresh to the new judge,” it said.
The IIM professors said, “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 society, yet it runs parallel between two different sections of society — one for the rich and the resourceful, and the rest with no or limited resources.”
Delay reduction programmes, however, needed to be checked at the micro level rather than providing general prescriptions for major causes of delay, they added.
To understand the sources of these delays, the study interviewed litigants and lawyers and found that a case usually got only 5-6 dates in a year, which largely contributed to pendency. “In lower courts, a total of 220 working days with huge backlog of cases has been creating frustration and disappointment across all sections of society,” the study said.
Delay in judges’ appointments and inadequate court staff were some other reasons contributing to delays.
Not shortage of judges alone
Advocating reforms in the justice delivery system, a note prepared by the law ministry for the forthcoming advisory council meeting of National Mission for Justice Delivery and Legal Reforms said, “The linking of problem of pendency of cases in courts with shortage of judges alone may not present the complete picture“.
The ministry studied state-wise comparison of the judge-population ratio, number of cases being instituted in courts, cases disposed per judge per annum and pending cases and observed there was little to link the pendency of cases with the shortage of judges.
The ministry said a variety of factors contributed to delay in disposal of cases including lack of court management systems, frequent adjournments, strikes by lawyers, accumulation of first appeals, indiscriminate use of writ jurisdiction and lack of adequate arrangement to monitor, track and bunch cases for hearing.
States with higher judge population ratio, such as Delhi (ranked second) and Gujarat (fifth) are struggling to dispose pending cases.“Conversely , states such as Tamil Nadu and Punjab, ranked lower in terms of judgepopulation ratio, have comparatively lesser number of pending cases,“ it said.
The state-wise analysis on civil cases instituted in district and subordinate courts between 2005 and 2015 revealed that their number had come down from 40.69 lakh in 2005 to 36.22 lakh in 2015. During the time, pendency of civil cases increased from 72.54 lakh to 84 lakh.
“...in 2005, the working strength of judges in district and subordinate courts was 11,682 which increased to 16,070 in 2015. Despite the increase in judges and decline in cases filed, the pendency increased,“ it said.
Judge shortage, adjournments, dubious litigations
The Times of India, May 08 2016
Abhinav Garg & Sana Shakil
Uncharacteristic as it was, Chief Justice of India T S Thakur's emotional outpouring at the conference of chief justices and chief ministers in Delhi impressed upon Prime Minister Narendra Modi and others in the audience that India could not expect to reduce litigation pendency or the backlog of cases without drastically increasing the number of judges.
CJI Thakur's comments were widely discussed in the Delhi high court too but a scrutiny of the two “biennial reports“ brought out by the court administration in the past decade shows the answer may not lie merely in boosting judge numbers. If lawyers and litigants are to be believed, any effective attack on the arrears has to focus on cutting down on adjournments, existing judges putting in more hours of work and maximising the number of court working days in a year.
Consider this: In 2008-09, HC had around 40 judges who managed to dispose of 50,000 cases at an average of over 4,000 a month. The following year saw around 43 judges clearing roughly 43,000 cases for a monthly average of 3,600. The second report showed an average of 40.41 judges bringing to a conclusion 40,861cases in 201011at 3,300 cases per month. This rose to 3,558 disposals per month in 2011-12 though the court was hampered, having to make do with just 36 judges.
The reports may not provide definitive answers, but are handy signposts that show surges and falls in the rate of disposals by division benches. Depending on which jurisdiction of the court the cases were filed under, even fewer benches sometimes cleared a higher number of cases in a year.
“What the data shows is backlog reduction is judgecentric rather than outcome of a cogent system,“ an insider explained. “The court has failed to build and increase its capacity to maximise output and is dependent on few enterprising individuals to keep it afloat from mounting arrears.“ Senior lawyer Aman Lekhi said the bane of protracted litigation required a holistic approach for a solution. “Staff crunch and lack of infrastructure are big problems but other things can improve the situation. The lawyers' tendency to prolong cases has to stop and judges should ensure that arguments are time-bound.“
It is not the Supreme Court or the high court that people approach as first resort. Cases begin in Delhi's district courts, where pendency is at a staggering 2.18 crore cases. Statistics show the shortage of judges is certainly a factor for cases dragging on for years, sometimes even for decades, but here too there are other factors at work.
The varied nature of cases that come before these courts often results in an uneven distribution of workload among the judges. For instance, the number of criminal cases varies from district to district, leaving some courts overburdened and some with very less wo rk. There is also the issue of courts created for special cases.Special courts were created for hearing the coal and 2G scam cases, but no new judge was recruited. In effect, work was redistributed and more cases piled on the existing judges.
A proposal to appoint 210 more judges for the district courts is hanging fire due to lack of land to build more courtrooms where the officers can function from. An alternative plan to expand space in the six court complexes, according to sources, also cannot be carried out, at least at this stage.
When cases from other states are transferred to Delhi for fairer trials on the directions of SC, litigation can be a lengthy process because bringing witnesses to depose in Delhi is a time-consuming exercise. The murder case of former railway minister L N Mishra, transferred to Delhi from Bihar, took, for instance, almost four decades to reach a conclusion.
Frivolous PILs, a common burden for courts across the country , has impacted Delhi HC less after it tightened procedu res a few years ago to screen petitions failing to meet the “public interest“ criteria laid down by the court. In the lower courts, it is a bane. Senior advocate Rebecca John, who specialises in criminal litigation, said, “Dubious litigations are allowed to proceed, adding to the load of overworked courts. Courts, especially superior courts, need to be firm while dealing with frivolous cases and in that I notice a lack of leadership on the part of SC and HCs.“
An insider also pointed out that the concepts of plea bargaining and out-of-court settlements that can quickly resolve some disputes are not encouraged in India. “In some cases, as in bank frauds, the idea is to recover money and not pursue prosecution. They can be settled out of court,“ the insider said.
Red tape and multiplicity of agencies have hobbled the construction of additional courtrooms, forensic labs and intake of more prosecutors, all vital cogs in the justice delivery system. Obviously , it needs more than the tears of a chief justice to get the wheels moving.
Absconding accused; evidence not given by parties
‘Accused absconding’ has been cited as the reason in over 7,000 cases pending in the lower judiciary, some of them since 1948. More than 2.99 crore cases are pending in district and subordinate courts and judges have now provided reasons for delay in nearly 25,000 cases.
Parties not recording evidence before trial courts, stay granted by high courts and the Supreme Court, absence of important witnesses, parties not interested, and delay in receiving government documents rounded up the list of top six reasons for delay in disposal of cases.
Earlier TOIhad reported how over 78,000 cases were pending in district and subordinate judiciary for over 30 years, the oldest pending case traced to 1914. The performance of the 24 HCs was equally woeful with more than 56,000 cases pending for over three decades. The total pendency in all courts across the country, including the SC and HCs, has crossed an alltime high of 3.12 crore.
As part of the newly-introduced court management system, it has been made mandatory for lower court judges to record reasons for delay in disposal of cases. However, not all judges have been providing reasons. SC and HC judges have also not followed the mechanism. Repeated adjournments have become the norm rather than exception.
In a case before a junior division civil judge in Buldhana in Maharashtra, a case is pending as the accused has been absconding since 1963, according to reasons cited on the National Judicial Data Grid, monitored by the SC. In another case before a senior division civil judge in Ratnagiri, Maharashtra, a case is pending since 1958 because of a stay granted by the HC. A 1968 case is pending for final order before a junior division civil judge in Mau, UP, because of repeated stays by the HC.
Other reasons cited for delay in disposal included obstruction in execution (154 cases), records not available (175 cases), SC stay (170 cases), complex litigation (253 cases), district court stay (116 cases), failed attempts at recovery (841 cases), frequent challenges to HC (197 cases), heavy pendency in courts (371 cases), and legal representatives not on record (1,106 cases). Reasons have not been recorded for a majority of the cases.
The first of its kind data has been made available as a result of the case management system called CIS 3.0 (Case Information System), an electronic monitoring of all cases filed across the country with current status. The e-Courts reform was implemented under the guidance of Justice Madan B Lokur who recently retired from the apex court but continues to supervise reforms in the judiciary.
CIS 3.0 has helped the higher judiciary and the government monitor performance of each and every judge, how much time they spend on each case listed before them every day and their disposal record.
Procedural timeframes, non-adherence to
The Times of India, Aug 25 2016
Judgments diluting timeframes in Code of Civil Procedure worsen the problem of adjournments
There are around 21.3 million cases currently pending in various courts in India including the Supreme Court. The magnitude of this pro blem was brought sharply into perspective in a magazine article last year, which stated “if the nation's judges attacked their backlog nonstop with no breaks for eating or sleeping and closed 100 cases every hour, it would take more than 35 years to catch up“. How did we get here? The problem of delay in Indian judicial system has been studied extensively by the Indian Law Commission over the years. In these studies, infrastructural deficiencies have frequently been blamed for the delay . Accordingly , more courts and more judges are seen as a solution.However, a cause that remains underexamined in the literature and public discourse on delay is the contribution of the courts to the problem by nonadherence to procedural timeframes.
Specification of time limits has emerged as a distinctive feature of process reforms across jurisdictions that have been able to quantifiably minimise judicial delay , such as the UK and Singapore. In India, there have been at least two major amendments to the Code of Civil Procedure, in 1999 and 2002, which specified timeframes vis-à-vis completion of various processual steps in civil proceedings. But that doesn't seem to have remedied the problem in any significant way .
Why, one may wonder, have the prescribed timeframes not worked in India?
A close examination of the Supreme Court's reception of these timeframes is revealing. Let's look at an indicative assortment of four amending provisions that introduced specific outer timeframes in the Code and their interpretation by the Supreme Court.
Prior to 1999, there was no limit on the number of trial adjournments courts could grant. The 1999 Amendment fixed an upper limit of three adjournments that courts could grant during the hearing of a suit. However, in the 2005 case of Salem Advocate Bar Association-II (2005 (6) SCC 344), the Supreme Court interpreted this restriction as not curtailing the court's power to allow more than three adjournments.
This decision has had an active afterlife, having been invoked by tens of high court decisions which proudly proclaim the court's inherent rights to endlessly adjourn.
The 1999 Amendment fixed the timeframe for yet another important provision which directly impacted the court's general power to extend timelines. It specifically disallowed the courts from enlarging the time granted by them for doing any “act prescribed or allowed by the Code“ beyond a maximum period of 30 days. However, in the same 2005 case, the Supreme Court interpreted this timeframe as one not attenuating the inherent power of Indian courts to “pass orders as may be necessary for the ends of justice or to prevent abuse of process of the Court“.
In order to curb the practice of non prosecution of cases filed by litigants, the 1999 Amendment also fixed an outer timeline of 30 days for service of summons on defendants. However, in 2003, in the case of Salem Advocate Bar Association-I (AIR 2003 SC 189) the Supreme Court interpreted this to mean that 30 days limit designated only the outer timeframe within which steps must be takenby the plaintiff to enable the court to issue the summons. In other words, the court held that the provision did not specify a time limit within which summons ought to be served on the defendant by the court. Insertion of another timeframe that was pivotal to curbing delays was introduced in 2002. Prior to 2002, a written statement could be filed within any time as permitted by the court. The 2002 Amendment incorporated a mandatory outer timeline for filing written statement by not allowing the courts to accept it beyond a period of 90 days from the date of service of summons. However, in the 2005 judgment of Kailash vs Nanhku (AIR 2005 SC 2441), the Supreme Court relaxed this statutorily prescribed deadline by interpreting it as merely directory and not mandatory.
It held that courts could use their discretion in unspecified exceptional circumstances to accept delayed written statements. This case has been applied as a virtual carte blanche by lawyers to file written statements beyond 90 days as a matter of course. Thus the exceptional has become the new normal.
Evidently , in each of these illustrations, the Supreme Court relaxes the timeframe inserted by the amendments and restores to the courts discretion to dilute them in accordance with the courts' perceived sense of justice.
These illustrations are not merely fragmentary instances. Similar examples of the undoing of procedure may be found for nearly every provision in the Code that contains a time limit. These illustrations are in fact, a sampling of the adjudicatory manoeuvres by which the Supreme Court has unwittingly come to countenance delay , in contradiction to the express wordings and intent of the Code.
In addition, phrases like “procedures are the handmaiden of justice“, frequently invoked by the Supreme Court, serve as lexical alibis by which departures from procedure are introduced and justified.
Solving the infrastructural deficit by itself would not reduce delays unless a simultaneous effort is made at reforming this jurisprudence of delay that has been allowed to take root. With over 21million cases pending, treating procedural laws as the equal partner rather than a handmaiden of justice would be a better way forward through the crisis.
‘Stay’ orders delay cases # 6.5 years
The Times of India, Jun 22 2016
Stays by HCs, SC delay cases by up to 6.5 yrs
Stays on proceedings ordered by high courts and the Supreme Court delay trial by up to 6.5 years, according to a study by the law ministry . Significantly, the average life of a case is 10-15 years. In effect, a case remains in limbo for 50% of its life span because of stays granted by the higher judiciary . The study , which covered the Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Odisha HCs, found that trial proceedings had been stayed by superior courts in more than 15,300 civil and criminal cases.
The findings are based on analysis of the annual reports of these HCs. There are 24 HCs in the country , and the data coming out on the number of cases stayed is just a fraction of the total number of cases stayed, a source said. Interestingly , not all HCs are publishing annual reports, making it difficult to ascertain the “accurate and complete picture“.
“There is no uniformity in the manner in which judicial statistics are being provided in annual reports, making it difficult to compare data,“ says the report. The study has also found that the high number of adjournments result in an increase in the average life cycle of cases. It has analysed the number of adjournments granted in Odisha and Rajasthan. Only these two HCs are believed to have provided such data in their annual reports -that too only for their subordinate courts. In Odisha, on an average 51 adjourn ments are granted in civil cases and 33 in criminal cases. For Rajasthan, the adjournments are on average up to 42 in civil cases and 34 in criminal. “It is to be considered that the high number of adjournments hinders the reduction of pendency as is evident from the figures above,“ the report says. The total pendency of cases remained static at around 10.59 lakh in case of subordinate courts in Odisha, and in case of Rajasthan it went up from 14.54 lakh to 14.78 lakh between January and December 2015.
The law ministry had recently also asked all HCs to provide data on their longest reserved judgments. The Calcutta HC reported its longest reserved judgment was for over seven years. It was not known if this was the longest reserved judgment as some of the HCs chose not to respond to the government query . The oldest reserved judgment in the Allahabad HC is pending for three years. The Jharkhand HC has reported its longest pending judgment is for two years while two other HCs of Kerala and Gujarat have reported judgments reserved for more than a year.
Vacancies in Judiciary
The extent of vacancies has been taken up on the page Judiciary: India
New Delhi: At last count, the Supreme Court had 69,766 cases pending before it for adjudication. But what catches the eye is the pendency before its constitution benches. The oldest case before a five-judge constitution bench has been pending for 31 years now, and another before a seven-judge bench has been undecided for 29 years. In all, 29 cases are pending before constitution benches.
Five cases are pending before nine-judge constitution benches, the oldest since 1999. Two other cases have been pending for 21 years. The SC and high courts are called constitutional courts as their judgments interpret the Constitution act as reference points for the subordinate judiciary while adjudicating matters. However, both tiers of the higher judiciary are clogged with routine matters, such as issues related to service, bail and the like.
According to the law ministry, out of the 29 cases pending before the SC’s constitu- tion benches, 18 are pending before five-judge benches, including the challenge to the abrogation of Article 370. Six cases are pending before seven-judge benches and five are pending before nine-judge benches, the oldest for 24 years, two others for 21 years and the fourth for 16 years.
Constitution benches disposed of 440 cases during 1950-1959 and 956 during 1960-1969. In recent years, the disposal rate went down drastically, with these benches adjudicating only 71 cases during 2010-2019 and 19 during 2020-2023. This could also be because of fewer cases being referred to constitution benches.
The SC, when it was constituted on January 26, 1950, had a sanctioned strength of eight judges, including the Chief Justice of India. Its strength increased to 11 in 1956 and to 14 in 1960. The sanctioned strength was further increased to 18 judges in 1977 and to 26 in 1986. The next increase happened after 23 years when the judge strength was raised to 31. It was again increased to 34 judges in 2019 to deal with rising pendency.
Cost to nation of judicial delays
Cases pendency hitting India’s economic growth
The Economic Survey has made an attempt for the first time to study the backlog of cases in courts which it said is affecting India’s economic activity. The study, which captured government projects in six infrastructure ministries to the tune of Rs 52,000 crore currently stayed by court injunctions, said they had likely cost enhancement of up to 60% during the period of pendency.
The hardest hit are the ministries of power, roads and railways. “Since project costs were predominantly debt-financed, it is likely that project costs have increased by close to 60% given the average duration of stay,” the survey noted. The study has substantiated its claims through data collected from the State Bank of India.
Despite India jumping 30 places in the World Bank’s ease of doing business last year, the economic survey has pointed out that the backlog of cases in courts is not only affecting economic activity but also making a huge dent on the finances of companies.
The illustrative example of six infrastructure ministries does not include other central or state government projects that are similarly stalled by court injunctions, nor past projects.
“Pendency of economic cases are high and mounting in the Supreme Court, high courts, Tribunals and tax department, which is taking a severe toll on the economy in terms of stalled projects, mounting legal costs, contested tax revenues and reduced investment,” the Survey observed.
Creation of tribunals, which have seen a 25% increase in the size of unresolved cases, have not helped reduce pendency in high courts. While the average pendency across tribunals is 3.8 years, it is 4.3 years in high courts.
“The Supreme Court has less capacity to deal with economic cases because of rising overall pendency,” it said. The other reason being the SC has increasingly been admitting more special leave petitions, which empowers any party to approach it directly. Initially SLPs were invoked only in “exceptional circumstances” now they have increased from around 25% in 2008 to nearly 40% in 2016.
Supreme Court on pending cases
Curb adjournments, speed up trials, SC tells lower courts
‘Law Being Violated With Impunity’
Dhananjay Mahapatra The Times of India 2013/05/15
At a time when people are getting impatient with judicial delays, the Supreme Court has stepped in to curb the tendency of trial courts to liberally grant adjournments at the instance of lawyers. It said that trial courts were flouting “with impunity” the Criminal Procedure Code mandate for conducting proceedings on a day-to-day basis after witness examination starts and were easily granting adjournments.
A bench of Justices K S Radhakrishnan and Dipak Misra expressed “anguish, agony and concern” over adjournments granted by a Punjab trial court in a bride burning case which stretched the process of examination of witnesses to more than two years.
“On perusal of dates of examination-in-chief and crossexamination, it neither requires Solomon’s wisdom nor Argus eyes (mythological giant with 100 eyes) scrutiny to observe that the trial was conducted in an absolute piecemeal manner as if it was required to be held at the mercy of the counsel,” Justice Misra, who authored the judgment, said.
Referring to Section 309 of the CrPC, the bench said once a case reached the stage of examination of witnesses, the law mandated that it “shall be continued from day-to-day until all witnesses in attendance have been examined”. The section provides that if for some unavoidable reason the court was to grant adjournment, it must record its reasons in writing.
‘Trial judge can’t be a mute spectator to litigants’ tactics’
The Supreme Court expressed its anguish over the tendency of trial courts to liberally grant adjourments. “It is apt to note here that this court expressed its distress that it has become a common practice and regular occurrence that the trial courts flout the legislative command with impunity,” the bench of Justices K S Radhakrishnan and Dipak Misra said.
The bench added that the criminal justice dispensation system casts a heavy burden on the trial judge to have full control over the proceedings. “The criminal justice system has to be placed on a proper pedestal and it can’t be left to the whims and fancies of the parties or their counsel.”
“A trial judge cannot be a mute spectator to the trial being controlled by the parties, for it is his primary duty to monitor the trial and such monitoring has to be in consonance with the CrPC ,” the bench said. The SC wanted trial judges to keep in mind the mandate of the CrPC and not get guided by their thinking.
“They cannot abandon their responsibility. It should be borne in mind that the whole dispensation of criminal justice system at the ground level rests on how a trial is conducted. It needs no special emphasis to state that dispensation of criminal justice system is not only a concern of the bench but has to be the concern of the bar,” it said.
On the case of bride burning and ill-treatment meted out to daughters-in-law, the apex court said, “A daughter-in-law is to be treated as a member of the family with warmth and affection and not as a stranger with despicable and ignoble indifference. She should not be treated as a housemaid. No impression should be given that she can be thrown out of her matrimonial home at any time.”
The Times of India’s View
Given the enormous backlog of cases in Indian courts, particularly at the lower levels, any measure that helps speed up processes is welcome. Getting rid of needless adjournments is certainly an important step and the Supreme Court must be thanked for stepping in to curb them. We hope that the implementation of this directive will be rigorous.
SC blames HCs for delay in hearing criminal cases
Apex Court Finds 2,280 Cases Of Rape, Murder Stayed By HCs
Dhananjay Mahapatra | TNN
New Delhi: Ever wondered why so many accused in heinous crimes — murder, rape, kidnapping and dacoity — roam around for years before the law catches up with them?
This question bothered the Supreme Court a lot and it found that the High Courts were mainly responsible for such a sorry state of affairs. For, they have stayed the proceedings in these cases and forgotten all about them for years.
As many as 2,280 cases relating to murder, rape, kidnapping and dacoity have been stayed by HCs at various — FIR, investigation, framing of charges and trial — stages and then left in the limbo, possibly allowing the accused to remain at large on bail.
A Bench comprising Justices G S Singhvi and A K Ganguly sought assistance from Solicitor General Gopal Subramaniam for collating data on cases relating to the four categories of heinous crimes which have been stayed by HCs after it found an identical situation pointed out in a petition filed by Imtiaz Ahmed, where the Allahabad HC had stayed a criminal case since April 2003.
The efforts by the SG to collate such cases threw up startling facts:
Murder cases stayed at various stages by HCs were 1,021 (45% of the total cases), rape cases 492, kidnapping cases 550 and dacoity 217
As many as 41% of the 2,280 cases were pending for 2-6 years and 8% for more than 8 years. Of a total of 178 cases pending for more than 6 years, 97 were murder cases
Calcutta High Court appears to be the most liberal when it came to staying cases relating to heinous crimes accounting for 31% of the 2,280 cases. Allahabad High Court was not far behind having stayed 29% of the cases
In most of the cases across the HCs, the duration for which the case is pending varied from 1 to 4 years. It is seen that 34 out of 201 cases in Patna HC and 33 out of 653 cases in Allahabad HC were pending for more than 8 years
After perusing the enormity of the situation and having regard to the case in hand that related to Allahabad HC, the Bench headed by Justice Singhvi requested the counsel for the High Court to furnish data about the number of cases which have been stayed at the stage of investigation or trial and listed the matter for further hearing on July 9.
The report was submitted to the court by Subramaniam, who took assistance of Dr Pronab Sen and Dr G S Manna, secretary and deputy director in the ministry of statistics and programme implementation, in studying the data supplied by various HCs.
The SG, in the concluding part of the report, said “the fact-finding exercise by the Supreme Court has revealed a problem of serious dimension” and suggested that the apex court would be well within its jurisdiction to direct the HCs to dispose of the matter within a year from the date of grant of stay in cases relating to heinous crimes.
If a case was not disposed of within a year, the concerned judge must record the reasons which should be communicated to the concerned chief justice of the HC, Subramaniam suggested.
SC: ‘Flood of appeals affecting verdicts’
Pressure Does Not Give Judges Enough Time To Deliberate Upon Cases: SC
Dhananjay Mahapatra | TNN
New Delhi: A concern expressed in hushed voices by senior lawyers for quite some time in the corridors of the apex court has now become official.
The Supreme Court has admitted that deluge of appeals is affecting the quality of its judgments, which are abided by all and sundry as the law of the land.
It does not want the apex court, set up to decide constitutional issues and inter-state disputes in addition to giving opinion to the President on tricky legal questions, to get reduced to just a final court of appeal being mired in the volumes.
To devise a way out of the jungle of files eating into judicial time and affecting the quality, a bench comprising Justices Markandey Katju and R M Lodha said the time has come for a Constitution bench to firmly lay down guidelines as to the categories of cases that the apex court should entertain rather than get engaged in deciding routine appeals or mundane issues.
The judgment comes at a time when a flood of appeals in the last four years has given rise to huge pendency in the Supreme Court, which for the first time in a decade reported a backlog of over 50,000 cases in March last year. Since then it has been on the increase and on January 1, 2010, the pendency stood at 55,791 cases.
Searching for a solution, the bench found the suggestions of senior advocate K K Venugopal quite valuable. Venugopal in a recent speech had said that the SC should deal with five categories of cases — those involving interpretation of the Constitution, matters of national and public importance, validity of laws, judicial review of constitutional amendments and settling difference of opinion between high courts.
On its own it added two more categories — where there is a grave miscarriage of justice and where a fundamental right of a person is prima facie violated.
It said: “The apex court lays down the law for the whole country and it should have more time to deliberate upon the cases it hears before rendering judgments.”
“However, sadly the position today is that it is under such pressure because of the immense volume of cases in the court that judges do not get sufficient time to deliberate over the cases, which they deserve, and this is bound to affect the quality of out judgments,” the bench said.
It issued notices to the SC Bar Association, Bar Council of India and the SC Advocates on Record Association to assist the constitution bench in framing appropriate guidelines to limit the flooding of appeals.
With the computerization of the Supreme Court registry and use of information technology in the docket management, the pendency of the cases in the 1990s was brought down from over one lakh to a manageable 20,000.
But, the rush of litigants, despite an increased disposal rate, has proved more than a match for the judges, who despite hearing nearly 80 cases per day have not been able to bring it down.
The pendency started creeping northwards since 2006, when it stood at 34,649. In January 2007, it became 39,780 while it registered a steep jump to 46,926 in January 2008.
By the start of 2009, it was within handshake distance of the 50,000-mark as the pending cases numbered 49,819. The half-a-lakh pendency mark was crossed on March 31, 2009.
SC: Bail Plea In 1 Week, Magisterial Trial In 6 Months
`Fix Bail Plea In 1 Week, Magisterial Trial In 6 Mths'
Holding that speedy trial in criminal cases is part of the fundamental rights of an accused, the Supreme Court has suggested a time-frame for lower courts to decide a case to ensure that the accused do not languish in jail due to prolonged proceedings.
A bench of Justices A K Goel and U U Lalit asked the high courts to issue directions to subordinate courts to decide bail applications within a week and in cases where the accused in custody, magisterial trial should be concluded within six months and sessions trial (for offences punishable by more than seven years) within two years. It said efforts should be made to dispose of all cases more than five years' old by the end of the year.
Expressing concern over alarming number of old cases pending in lower courts, the bench said all-out efforts should be made for their quick disposal. The total number of more than five-year old cases in subordinate courts at the end of the year 2015 is said to be 43,19,693 and number of under-trials detained for more than five years at the end of the year 2015 is said to be 3599.
“Speedy trial is a part of reasonable, fair and just procedure guaranteed under Article 21. This Constitutional right cannot be denied even on the plea of non-availability of financial resources. The court is entitled to issue directions to augment and strengthen investigating machinery , setting-up of new courts, building new court houses, providing more staff and equipment to the courts, appointment of additional judges and other measures as are necessary for speedy trial,“ the bench said.
It said that high courts should regularly monitor performance of judicial officers and the timelines should be made the touchstone for assessment of their performance in annual confidential reports.
“We do consider it necessary to direct that steps be taken forthwith by all concerned to effectuate the mandate of the fundamental right un der Article 21 especially with regard to persons in custody in view of the directions already issued by this court. It is desirable that each high court frames its annual action plan fixing a tentative time limit for subordinate courts for deciding criminal trial of persons in custody and other long pending cases and monitors implementation of such time-lines periodically,“ the bench said.
The bench said vested interests and unscrupulous elements would always try to delay the proceedings but determined efforts are required to be made by the judiciary for success of the mission.
“Judicial service as well as legal service are not like any other services. They are missions for serving the society . The mission is not achieved if the litigant who is waiting in the queue does not get his turn for a long time. Chief Justices and Chief Ministers have resolved that all cases must be disposed of within five years which by any standard is quite a long time for a case to be decided in the first court,“ it said.
It also asked the high courts to ensure that bail applications filed before them are decided within one month and criminal appeals where accused are in custody for more than five years are concluded at the earliest.
Priority hearings for those jailed for 5+ years
Chief Justice Dipak Misra has pressed the Supreme Court and high courts to expeditiously hear CJI Mis cases pending for more than five years and decide on appeals filed by people lodged in jails for a similar period.
SC sources told TOI that the CJI, as chief patron of the National Legal Services Aut hority , knows about the plight of poor people held in jails for years, and initiated a unique step that requires state legal services authori ties to provide an advo cate free of cost to poor jail inmates. The serviill be for those in prison ce will be for those in prison for more than five years and the advocates will argue appeals during priority hearings. For this purpose, the CJI wrote a letter to the chief justices of HCs providing them with the guiding framework to deal with a large number of criminal appeals and jail appeals pending in these courts. He said “delay in disposal of these appeals raises a question about the efficacy of the administration of justice as a whole and [the] criminal justice system in particular“.
The CJI's appeal to chief justices of HCs to hold court on Saturdays to hear appeals filed by those in jail for more than five years received an overwhelming response and except for three small high courts, all others have started holding Saturday special hearings to dispose of old criminal appeals. In just nine such sittings in the last two months, the HCs have decided nearly 1,000 cases, sources said.
The CJI is monitoring the early listing of old criminal cases and jail petitions by the HCs on a daily basis and has opened constant communication with these courts to fine-tune the mechanism, sources said. The implementation of the scheme for early hearing of criminal appeals has also been implemented in the SC, they said.
With smart management of case dockets and bunching of cases, besides the extra efforts put in by SC judges, pendency in the apex court has come down by 3,013 cases in just 60 days of Misra taking over as CJI, sources said. The pendency on September 1 was 58,272 cases, which came down to 55,259 on November 1.
There are 161 special leave (criminal) petitions, 2,058 criminal appeals, 2,481 special leave (civil) appeals and 7,854 civil appeals in the SC which are over five years old. These cases will get listed on a priority in the next few months, the sources said.
However, the huge pendency of 2.54 crore cases in trial courts continues to pull down the speed of disposal in subordinate courts, which have a sanctioned strength of nearly 22,000 judges but as many as 5,000 posts are vacant. Of the total pendency , 22.76 lakh cases have been pending for more than 10 years. The CJI will need to devise a plan of action for reducing the pendency of cases in trial courts to keep the litigants' faith in getting speedy justice.
The extent of the problem
320 years to clear the backlog
‘It’ll take 320 years to clear legal backlog’
TIMES NEWS NETWORK
Hyderabad: It will take the Indian judiciary 320 years to clear the backlog of 31.28 million cases. The staggering admission came on Saturday from someone who knows the way the courts work all too well — Justice V V S Rao of the Andhra Pradesh high court.
‘‘If one considers the total pendency of cases in the Indian judicial system, every judge in the country will have an average load of about 2,147 cases,’’ Justice Rao said. India has 14,576 judges as against the sanctioned strength of 17,641, working out to a ratio of 10.5 judges per million population, he said. In 2002, the Supreme Court suggested it be 50.
‘Court cases increase with rise in literacy’
It will take the Indian judiciary 320 years to clear the backlog of 31.28 million cases, says Justice V V S Rao of the Andhra Pradesh high court. If the norm of 50 judicial officers per million becomes a reality by 2030 when the country’s population would be 1.5 to 1.7 billion, the number of judges would go up to 1.25 lakh dealing with 300 million cases. A recent study indicated that the number of new cases has direct relationship with increasing literacy rate and awareness, the judge said.
Citing the example of Kerala, a high literacy state, Justice Rao said with awareness, 28 new cases per 1,000 population per annum have been added, whereas in Bihar, the figure stands at just three, he said. He summed up the Indian situation by quoting from the journal of International Law and Politics which said: ‘‘The typical lifespan of a civil litigation in India presents a sad picture. Records of new filings are kept by hand and documents filed in court house are frequently misplaced or lost.’’ TNN
1993- 2022: pendency increase from 80% to over 90%
Pendency in criminal cases has increased from 80% in 1993 to over 90% now. This not only delays justice but also increases the likelihood of it being denied, as evidence is lost and witnesses turn hostile with time, this analysis shows
“Everything has been said already, but as no one listens, we must always begin again.”
The Justice VS Malimath Committee’s 2003 report on reforms for India’s criminal justice system began with this quote from French Nobel laureate Andre Gide. It identified high case pendency and low conviction rates as the two main problems of the judicial system. Yet, two decades on, case pendency has increased and conviction rates, after improving slightly, dipped again in 2021.
Over 90% cases pending now
In 1993 – when the film Damini summarised the judicial process as “tareekh pe tareekh” – about 80% of criminal cases were pending. The pendency had increased to about 85% when Justice Malimath flagged the problem 10 years later. It crossed 90% in 2020 and stayed there in 2021. The Malimath report had also cited the 90% or higher conviction rates in advanced countries, but India is far below this yardstick.
Long wait in rape, murder trials
In 2021, about 11 lakh cases of violent crime and more than 2 lakh cases of causing death by negligence had been pending for over three years. These figures include over 50,000 rape cases. Imagine a rape victim testifying for years to get justice, like the victim in Damini .
49 lakh cases older than 3 years
Altogether 1.44 crore criminal cases are pending. Of them, 70% were older than one year in 2021, and 34% were older than three years. In absolute numbers, 4.2 lakh criminal cases have been pending for more than 10 years.
Hope dims with age of case
More than half of all trials (including crimes under SLL, or special and local laws) finish within a year. But the rate of finished trials decreases as cases get older.
Pendency hits punishment
The Malimath report points out that acquittals increase with long pendency because evidence is lost and the witnesses forget some details or turn hostile as the accused have a better chance of influencing them with threats and inducements. India’s conviction rate for violent crimes dropped from 59.2 convictions per 100 completed trials in 2020 to 57% in 2021. Last year, the conviction rate in cases of violent crime was lower than the overall conviction rate, and the biggest fall was in the conviction rates for attempt to commit culpable homicide, and rape.
Worst rates in Assam, Odisha, Bengal
Among major states and Union territories, the conviction rate is over 85% in Delhi and Kerala. It’s over 70% in Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Telangana, but only 21.1% in Gujarat, and less than 10% in West Bengal, Odisha and Assam.
2006-13: Pending cases
Apr 06 2015
Perhaps one of the biggest challenges faced by the Indian judiciary is the massive burden of pending cases. As of the last quarter of 2013, there were over 3 crore pending cases in various courts. In the eight years between 2006 and 2013, the number of pending cases increased at each level of courts. The increase, however, is steeper at the higher levels compared to district and subordinate courts. Also, the burden of cases per judge has increased in the SC and HCs while it has decreased in district courts. As of the last quarter of 2013, there were 6,963 pending cases per high court judge. The corresponding figures for SC and district courts were 2,288 and 1,776 respectively.
The Times of India, Aug 11 2016
2.18 Crore Cases Pending In Courts Till May 31, Reveals SC
22L cases stuck for more than 10 yrs
Reasons may be many , from inadequate number of trial judges to lack of infrastructure, but the snailpaced judicial system continues to carry a large chunk of cases that have been on its back for more than a decade.
Statistics released by the Supreme Court say that by May 31, courts across the country recorded a pendency of 2.18 crore cases, of which 27% or 59.3 lakh cases have been pending for more than five years entailing litigants to visit the courts several times.
Of the 59.3 lakh cases pending for more than five years, as many as 22.3 lakh cases have been on board of courts for more than 10 years, the eCommittee statistics revealed. The eCommittee conceded that the national average of disposing of very old cases has come down.
The National Judicial Data Grid statistics revealed that at the end of April 30, there were 27.4 lakh undated cases pending in various courts and it increased to 28.8 lakh cases by May 31.
The states which reported the largest number of more than 10-year-old cases are: Uttar Pradesh -6.6 lakh; Gujarat -5.2 lakh; Maharashtra -2.51 lakh; Bihar -2.3 lakh; Odisha -1.83 lakh and West Bengal 1.51 lakh. Among the larger states, Punjab recorded the least number of more than 10-year-old cases with 1,328 of them pending.
From time to time, the Chief Justice of India on be half of the judiciary and the governments have been resolving to expeditiously dispose of old cases and cases filed by senior citizens and women.But, the message does not appear to have had the desired effect at the ground level.
As many as 7.1 lakh cases filed by senior citizens and 21.4 lakh cases filed by women are pending in trial courts. Karnataka, which had done reasonably well in disposing of over 10-year-old cases, lags in attending to cases filed by senior citizens. States with large pendency of cases filed by senior citizens are: Maharashtra -2.07 lakhs; Karnataka -1.07 lakh; Tamil Nadu 64,018; UP -63,762; Gujarat 49,837 cases.
Highest pendency of cases filed by women has been reported from UP, which has 4.4 lakh such cases.
Other states where large pendency of cases initiated by women are: Maharashtra -2.7 lakh; Bihar -2.17 lakh; West Bengal -1.72 lakh; Karnataka -1.47 lakh; Tamil Nadu -1.37 lakh and Rajasthan -1.19 lakh.
Pending cases- 2000-15
2012-14: Pendency in subordinate/ district courts
The Times of India, Jan 08 2016
UP lower courts show the way in disposing of cases
More Than 3cr Cases Pending In HCs, Subordinate Courts
The performance of subordinate judiciary in UP , surprisingly , has mproved considerably compared to other states. Last month they had disposed of 1,04,425 cases as against 76,479 new ones registered. The rate at which pendency has been reduced in the last three years has been impressive too. The disposal of cases by he subordinate and district courts in UP has gone up by almost 2 lakh a year in the last hree years -from 27.98 lakh cases disposed of in 2012 to 31.82 lakh in 2014. Among other states, Karnataka and Kerala have also shown better performance during this period where disposals have gone up from 10.35 lakh to 13.67 lakh cases and 11 lakh to 13.55 lakh cases, respectively.
Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Tamil Nadu are among those which need to further strengthen their court procedure, to avoid being tagged laggards. The subordinate courts in Maharashtra had disposed of 20.48 lakh cases in 2012, which has come down to 15.36 lakh cases in 2014. Similar is the rend in MP and Tamil Nadu.
The statistics released by he law ministry recently indicate the performance of subordinate judiciary has overall improved in the last ew years. In comparison, the rend in 24 High Courts together show a dismal per ormance. More than 3 crore cases are pending in HCs and subordinate courts together -41.50 lakh in HCs and 2.64 crore in subordinate and dis rict courts across the coun ry. UP still remains at the top with highest number of pendency at 48 lakh cases, fol owed by Maharashtra, Gujarat, West Bengal and Bihar.
2012-14/ 15: Pendency down, except for crimes against children
The Times of India, January 27, 2016
Pendency down, but up 59% in cases of crimes against kids
Pendency of cases across all levels of the judiciary has gone down, but it has sharply increased in cases of crimes against children, with Delhi recording a 71% rise. In what also points to a spurt in crimes against kids, the countrywide pendency of such cases went up from 74,400 in 2012 to 125,000 in 2014, a rise of over 59%.
According to the law ministry, in 2012, at least 3,500 cases of offence against children were pending in various courts in the capital. This went up to 4,253 at the end of 2013 and to 6,021by the next year.
Maharashtra had the highest number of pending cases of crimes against children, ahead of UP. The western state had 18,000 pending cases in 2012 which increased to 21,255 the next year and to 25,302 in 25,302 in 2014. In UP, such pendency increased from 11,115 to 25,011during this period.
MP ranked third and Gujarat fourth. While pendency in MP increased from 12,159 to 18,080 between 2012 and 2014, it went up in Gujarat from 5,596 to 7,250. In Karnataka, the rise was from 887 cases in 2012 to 3,000 in 2014. The overall pendency of cases showed a down ward trend. According to the ministry , the pendency in SC came down from 66,692 in 2012 to 58,879 in 2015. In the 24 HCs, it decreased from 44.34 lakh to 41.53 lakh during the same period. Even in the 15,000odd district and subordinate courts, pendency came down from 2.68 crore to 2.64 crore.
Though the states have set up special courts under the POCSO Act for trial of such cases, this has not helped as more and more cases have been registered, adding to the pendency list. There are more than 600 special courts to try cases of crimes against children in the country . UP has the maximum with 75 courts.
2014: 3.19 crore pending cases
Jan 13 2015 See graphic.
Indian courts are known for the colossal pile of pending cases. According to the latest data available on the Supreme Court website, there are about 31.9 million pending court cases in India, more than the population of countries like Saudi Arabia, Malaysia and so on. The data also shows that there are sizeable number of vacancies at all levels of courts -19.4% in the Supreme Court, 29.2% in high courts and about 22% in various district and subordinate courts. Among high courts, the Allahabad HC has the highest number of pending cases followed by Madras and Bombay. At lower levels, the highest pendency is in Uttar Pradesh
2016: Pendency of cases
The Times of India, Mar 22 2016
Allahabad tops in pendency, reveals study
In a reflection of the slow pace of justice delivery in India, a study has found that it takes more than three years on an average before a case is disposed of in the high courts. The study conducted by Bengaluru-based NGO Daksh on 21 high courts has found the average pendency of a case in the Allahabad HC is over three-and-half years or 1,337 days, topping the chart. It is followed by Bombay HC which has 1,245 days of average pendency of a case.
The Gujarat HC comes third, taking 1,186 days for a case to be disposed of, followed by Patna (1,073), Karnataka (982) and Delhi (959).The Sikkim HC has the lowest average pendency of 281 days, also for the fact that the state has one of the lowest number of cases registered. The oldest case yet to be disposed of is of January 1, 1958.
“The study has also reviewed 17 lakh cases in 417 district courts, the oldest case being of November 22, 1931.In the district courts, the av erage pendency has been more than five years or 1,953 days as compared to 1,128 days in HCs,“ said Kishore Mandyam, co-founder of Daksh. The database of number of cases used to arrive at the average pendency days of a case has been almost similar for both district and high courts.
The NGO, which is collaborating with the law ministry to analyse its data, has reviewed 18 lakh cases and 59.60 lakh appearanceshearings from 21HCs.
According to the study , besides Sikkim, the HCs hat have faster disposal records include Uttarakhand, Goa, Orissa, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand and Kera a, in that order. Though law minister Sadananda Gowda had last year written to all chief justices of HCs for compiling an annual report isting performances of the r courts -pendency of cases, disposal rates, etc. -and put the same on their websites for public scrutiny , barring HCs of Delhi, Himachal, J&K, Jharkhand, Kerala, Madras and Tripura, none had responded to he government's request.
September 2016/ 10% cases over 10 years old
December 2017/ 45.51 lakh cases pending in 24 HCs
‘Some HCs take avg of 4 years per case’
Pendency Higher For Civil Cases, Finds Survey
Some high courts in the country take up to an average of four years to dispose of a case, a study has found. The high courts of Rajasthan, Allahabad, Karnataka and Calcutta are among the worst performers. The situation is worse in subordinate courts where it takes more than an average 9.5 years for disposal of cases.
A study conducted by Bengaluru-based Daksh, which analysed 45.51 lakh pending cases in 24 HC, found that the performance of Allahabad HC has gone from bad to worse. A similar study by Daksh in 2016 had shown that Allahabad HC had the highest average pendency of about three years which went up to 4.32 years in 2017.
Average pendency indicates the length of time for which cases remain in courts without being disposed of.
Allahabad HC, the country’s largest, has the highest pendency of 9.25 lakh cases while Rajasthan HC has 2.50 lakh pending cases but has the same average disposal rate of 4.3 years. The Karnataka HC took an average 4.1 years to dispose of a case, Calcutta HC 3.7 and Orissa and Delhi HCs 3.4 years each, the survey for 2017 found.
“In general, civil cases have higher average pendency than criminal and writ cases in most high courts,” the study said.
The situation got worse in subordinate courts. Gujarat subordinate courts had the highest average pendency of 9.51years, followed by Odisha at 8 years, Jharkhand 6.89 years, J&K 6.88 years, UP 6.75, Maharashtra 6.36, Bihar 6.28, West Bengal 6, MP 5.86 and Chhattisgarh 5.8 years.
The best performing subordinate courts were in Rajasthan where a case was disposed of in 3.67 years, followed by Assam, Punjab and Delhi at 3.86, Karnataka 4 and Andhra and Telangana at 4.24 each.
The organisation also analysed different stages of a case’s progress in court. On an average, a case took 36% of the total time at the stage of evidence, followed by appearance where it took 31% time. The argument stage took almost 18% and framing of charges 7%.
An analysis of the life cycle of a case — time taken from the evidence stage to the final judgment — showed that in 50% of cases, it took longer than 384 days between the evidence stage and the final order.
For this purpose, Daksh studied cases in Delhi’s subordinate courts and found that in two cases, the time taken was up to 4,350 days or almost 12 years. Less than 50% of cases in Delhi’s subordinate courts was disposed of in less than two years, which is the benchmark set by the Malimath Committee.
Allahabad HC: 40 year pendency
50% Of Posts Vacant, Avg Disposal Time 12 Yrs
The Supreme Court’s consistent rulings that every accused in a criminal case has a fundamental right to a speedy trial has been rendered meaningless by the pendency of criminal appeals for more than 40 years in the Allahabad high court.
Crimes committed in the late 1960s or early 1970s and some of the appeals in the high court in the late 1970s against decisions of trial courts convicting the accused are still pending. A recent report submitted to the Supreme Court by the HC revealed that as many as 14 criminal appeals filed in the seventies — 1976 (2), 1977 (4) and 1978 (8) — are still pending final decisions.
In what can dent the faith of the common people in the efficacy of the justice delivery system, more than 13,600 criminal appeals are pending for more than 30 years in the HC, the biggest in the country with a sanctioned strength of 160 judges. In its report to the bench of Justices J Chelameswar and Sanjay Kishan Kaul on Friday, the HC said one of the main reasons for delay is the almost-50% vacancy in judges posts as the high court has only 84 judges, battling the odds stacked heavily against them.
It was the petition of a murder accused that spurred the SC bench to diagnose and seek to remedy the deep-running malaise of pendency. His counsel, Dushyant Parashar, told the SC that the appeal was filed in 2007 and it is yet to be put up for final hearing even 10 years later. “If the situation so continues in the HC, the appeal may not come up for hearing in the next 10 years,” he said, pressing for a solution to the problem even after the SC turned down bail for his client. However, the SC sought to know from Unnao jail superintendent the conduct and behaviour of the convict.
The SC clarified that “the choice of the HC is only in view of the extent of pendency and the frequently expressed concern over the relatively longer disposal time in the adjudication of criminal appeals before it, which (is also) noticeable from contemporaneous records.”
‘Vacancies slowing down justice delivery’
We wish to state that the selection of the HC by no means is an indication of any deficiency in the functioning or the ongoing endeavours on its part in addressing the issue and ought to be viewed as a step, if possible, to reinforce the same in the espousal of a public cause founded on the cherished right of personal liberty,” it said.
The Allahabad HC’s efforts to deal with monstrous pendency may have been laudable but the factual scenario as narrated by the HC in its report to the SC is disconcerting. The HC said “average disposal time of an appeal is about 11.39 years”. The chart on disposal of cases said thousands of criminal appeals took on an average of more than 20 years to be decided, indicating serious infraction of the right to a speedy trial.
The HC said a large vacancy, coupled with heavy filing of fresh cases and lack of interest among lawyers for early disposal, had a crippling effect on efforts to dish out speedy justice. It says technology could be used in a big way to expedite the disposal of cases. “However, due to a lack of the sufficient number of skilled employees and lack of infrastructure, benefits of having e-courts (paperless courts) is not being utilised,” it said. The SC appointed senior advocate M N Rao as amicus curiae to assist the court in finding a practical solution to the vexed issue.
35-year wait for convicts who appeal/ 2021
In a reflection of the problems haunting the criminal justice delivery system, data placed before the Supreme Court revealed that in the Allahabad high court, the average waiting period to get justice in a criminal appeal against conviction by a trial court is around 35 years as the disposal rate is just18% and more than1.83 lakh appeals are pending.
It means that a person who approaches the HC now against conviction and sentence awarded by a trial court may have to wait 35 years to get her/ his case decided and if s/he is involved in heinous offences, where getting bail is anyway difficult, then s/he may have to languish in jail for many years waiting for justice. The startling data was placed before a bench of Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Hrishikesh Roy.
2018: 10 lakh+ cases pending in 24 high courts for 10 years+
Over 10 lakh cases are pending in 24 high courts across the country for more than 10 years, many of them pending disposal for 20 years and more, according to information released by the gover nment.
For cases pending for a period between 5 and 10 years, such pendency constitutes almost 50% of the total 42.69 lakh cases yet to be disposed of in all the 24 HCs.
The Allahabad high court tops the list among the high courts with the largest pendency. With 2.67 lakh cases pending for 10 years and more, the country’s largest high court has almost 38% of its total pending cases falling in this category.
The high courts of Bombay; Punjab and Haryana; Calcutta; Rajasthan; Madhya Pradesh; Telangana and Andhra Pradesh; Madras; Orissa and Patna, in that order, are the high courts which have highest pendency of cases older than 10 years.
The pendency of cases have also become part of the political debate with Congress president Rahul Gandhi tweeting how the “legal system collapsing under pending cases” with a hashtag #JudiciaryDemonetised. Law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, however, said the judiciary should be kept out of the political discourse. He attributed the Congress chief ’s tweet “a result of nervousness after government's notice to Cambridge Analytica for data mining”.
Interestingly, the cases pending for decades have experienced long and repeated adjournments, which are also in conflict with the provisions laid down in the law. According to amendments carried out in the Civil Procedure Code and the CrPC, no judge can give repeated adjournments in a case, not more than three, unless it is extremely unavoidable.
The large pendency of decade-old cases in HCs have little justification, particularly in view of the fact that these HCs together have been disposing of over 1.24 lakh cases every month, of which cases older than 10 years constitute just around 8,000.
140 cases pending 60 years+; 51,000 for 37 years+
66K Cases Stuck For Over 30 Yrs
Rahul Pathak of Buxar filed a case on May 5, 1951, for final decree or judgment. According to records with the National Judicial Data Grid, the case is still at the argument stage in the Dumraon civil court, and the last hearing was on November 18, 2018. The court is yet to update the next date of hearing.
The story, though unusual, is not unique. Similar cases, running into thousands, are pending for more than 40-50 years or so in remote corners of the country. Official statistics show that there are about 140 cases pending in lower courts for more than 60 years, many since 1951. Cases pending for more than 30 years are as high as 66,000 in district and subordinate courts as on December 28, 2018.
And those pending for more than five years add up to 60 lakh.
A recent assessment by the government noted that at the current rate of disposal, it will take 324 years for pending cases in subordinate courts to be disposed of. As per records, the pendency has increased to an all-time high of 2.9 crore cases, 71% of which are criminal cases where an accused may have been arrested and could be languishing in prison as an undertrial. Last month, subordinate courts disposed of 8 lakh cases against 10.2 lakh new ones instituted, generating a backlog of more than 2.2 lakh cases every month, on average, besides the current pendency.
A TOI analysis on year-wise pendency since 1951 shows there are about 1,800 cases still in hearing or argument stages for the last 48-58 years.
51,000 cases pending for over 37 yrs
Around 13,000 cases have been pending for over 40 years and around 51,000 for up to 37 years.
Uttar Pradesh, the most populous state, accounts for the highest 26,000 cases pending for over 30 years, or nearly 40% of all such cases, followed by Maharashtra where more than 13,000 cases are pending for such a period. About 96% of all such pendency are in six states of Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, West Bengal, Bihar, Gujarat and Odisha. Overall, these states together have more than 1.8 crore cases pending in their subordinate courts, which is over 61% of 2.93 crore pendency in all lower courts in India.
Many of these cases are on perpetual stay while others are simply being given a new date of hearing but never taken up for final disposal — reasons are not recorded. For instance, a case filed on July 2, 1953 by one Bhagwan against Dulari in Varanasi is on perpetual stay.
The case history shows that it reached first hearing date on October 11, 2015, and the next date of hearing has been fixed on January 15, 2019.
A case, ‘Uttar Pradesh state vs Ayoudhyas’, filed on March 18, 1966, reached appearance stage before civil judge Duddhi in Sonbhadra district in September 2016 and has since been given next date of hearing on February 13, 2019.
2018-21: backlog of 30-year-old cases up 61%
Vacancies of judges in courts have been a perennial problem of the Indian judiciary and so has been the huge pendency of cases. The Covid-19 pandemic has further accentuated this with the backlog of 30-yr-old cases alone rising by 61% over the last two years across the country — from 65,695 in December 2018 to 1,05,560 till January 2021.
The subordinate and district judiciary in the six states of Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, West Bengal, Bihar, Gujarat and Orissa accounted for 98% of more than a lakh of these over three decades old pending cases. The oldest of these cases dates back to 1951, according to the National Judicial Data Grid (NJDG). Almost 2,000 of them are pending for over 50 years.
Overall, the total pending cases in the subordinate judiciary increased from 2.92 crore in December 2018 to 3.72 crore at the end of January 2021, a majority of them added during the pandemic year. Most of these are criminal cases (73%), almost similar to the number of undertrial population in our prisons across the country.
The Niti Aayog, in its 2018 strategy paper “New India @75”, had noted that at the current rate of disposal of cases in our courts, it will take more than 324 years to clear the backlog. Then the pendency was 2.9 crore cases.
2019: 94,000 cases pending for more than 20 years in 25 HCs
There are 94,000 cases pending for more than 20 years in 25 high courts in the country, of which, the Allahabad High Court accounts for 47%, or 44,000 cases. The country’s largest HC is functioning at 63% of its sanctioned strength of 160 judges — a key reason besides lack of administrative reforms in courts that has stymied the justice delivery system.
Though the matter of long delays in hearing of bail applications in criminal cases in the Allahabad HC came up before the apex court, the situation is more or less similar in other HCs.
Since January this year, the total vacancies in 25 HCs have gone up by 32, according to the Union law ministry. As on November 1, there are 40% judges post vacant in these high courts on a sanctioned strength of 1,079 judges. The five other HCs grappling with long pendency of over 20-yearold cases include the HCs of Bombay, Rajasthan, Madras, Patna and Orissa. Together these six high courts have 82,746 cases pending for more than two decades, accounting for 88% of all such pendency.
In the Allahabad HC, twice in the past few years, the HC collegium had recommended 33 advocates for their elevation as judges. However, in both instances the SC collegium withheld or rejected 50% of the recommendations amid allegations of nepotism and ineligibility pointed out by the Union law ministry.
Currently, there are at least 13 recommendations from the SC collegium for appointment as judges of the Allahabad HC pending with the government, of which at least 10 do not meet the minimum income criteria. To become an HC judge, an advocate must have an average net professional annual income of at least Rs 7 lakh in the preceding five years before he is recommended by the HC collegium. However, it has been found that three recommended candidates have reported an average annual income of around Rs 4-4.5 lakh, while others have an average annual income of less than Rs 7 lakh, thus making them ineligible, according to sources.
To a large extent, the apex court collegium has failed to adhere to its own eligibility guidelines set for elevation as a HC judge when last year it diluted the income criteria for a select few while on a similar ground it had earlier rejected candidature of several recommendations made by some other HCs.
There are 44.62 lakh cases pending in 25 HCs across the country, again the highest in the Allahabad HC where the pendency is at an all-time high of 7.31 lakh cases. The long list of pendency of court cases is rising as the subordinate courts are grappling with similar problem—more than 5,000 vacancies of judges and over 3.13 crore cases pending, 3.68 lakh cases for more than two decades. Though the SC is currently functioning at its full strength, it has 59,600 cases pending disposal.
2020, HC judge appointment takes 337 days
It takes 337 days, or the better part of a year, on an average for appointment of a high court judge after a name is recommended by the HC collegium, attorney general K K Venugopal told the Supreme Court on Monday, arguing that the judiciary was equally responsible for 36% vacancies in HCs.
Detailing the timeline, Venugopal told a bench of Justices S K Kaul and K M Joseph, which is examining delays in appointment of HC judges, that on average the Centre took 127 days to decide on the list given by the HC and forward it to the SC collegium.
The collegium took 119 days to clear the names and the government thereafter took another 73 days to finalise the list which was then cleared by the Prime Minister and the President in 18 days. The break-up was based on the time taken for appointments in 2019.
Justifying the time taken by the Centre to forward the recommendations, the attorney general said the government had to collect information from state authorities and conduct an inquiry by the Intelligence Bureau before clearing names and asked why the SC collegium took almost the same time. The sanctioned strength of judges in 25 HCs is 1,079 but the working strength, as on February 1, was 683. Some HCs like Patna and Rajasthan have more than 50% vacancies.
Venugopal said a major reason for huge vacancies was delay on part of HC collegiums in recommending names. As of now, no names have been forwarded by HCs for 199 out of 396 vacancies. He urged the SC to direct HCs to initiate the process of appointment one year before a vacancy arose and said explanation should be sought for delays. He told the bench that in many cases, HC collegiums sent recommendations more than five years after a vacancy arose.
Agreeing with the AG’s submission, the bench said, “Some introspection is required to be done on our part also and there has to be some administrative work mechanism... If we (judiciary) are not doing something, then we also need to push ourselves.”
It said the situation in some HCs was “alarming” and the chief justices of HCs must try to make recommendations as early as possible. Though the bench did not issue notice to HCs for delay in appointments, it directed registrar generals of HCs to file a report on vacancies or those likely to arise in the near future and when recommendations would be made by HCs for appointments.
As per the report filed by the AG, 80 proposals are pending with the SC collegium and 35 with the Centre. He said the SC collegium and the Centre were on the same page regarding 10 out of 35 proposals and there was a difference of opinion on 25 names.
New Delhi: The pendency of cases in fast-track courts (FTCs) has crossed the 10-lakh mark, as of December, defeating the very purpose of such special courts across the country meant to dispose of long-pending cases of heinous crimes, crimes against elderly, women and children.
Out of a total 4. 1 crore cases pending in district and subordinate courts, at least 38 lakh are in trial for more than a decade, including nearly 1. 2 lakh cases pending for over 30 years. The FTCs were set up for fast-tracking disposal of long-pending cases, particularly those pending for more than a decade.
The long pendency has not only put a strain on the justice delivery system but has caused additional cost and harassment to poor litigants who are facing unending adjournments for decades. Currently there are 914 FTCs which are in addition to 681 special FTCs, with the latter constituted to dispose of rape cases and those booked under Pocso Act (Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act).
According to information shared by high courts with the Union law ministry, the pendency of FTCs as on 31st December 2021 has crossed 10. 8 lakh — the highest in Uttar Pradesh with 7. 3 lakh pending cases, followed by Maharashtra (1. 3 lakh), Tamil Nadu (97,000), West Bengal (61,000), Telangana (12,000), Assam (10,000), Kerala (7,600) and Andhra Pradesh (6,100).
The disposal rates in FTCs are quite low with total cases disposed of during the preCovid period in 2019 being less than 6. 5 lakh. During the Covid period in 2020, the total disposal in 914 FTCs dropped to 2. 4 lakh and 4 lakh in 2021.
The disposal rates are low in special FTCs with total pendency in them having crossed 1. 9 lakh. The 14th Finance Commission had recommended setting up of 1,800 FTCs against which there are 914 functional courts. Similarly, given high pendency of rape and Pocso Act cases, the government had set a target of setting up 1,023 Special FTCs but only 681 are functional as of December, including 381 Pocso courts, despite rising pendency of such cases in several states.
It is not just the delay that has been causing extended harassment of victims of heinous crime but the long pendency has also resulted in a low conviction rate. A study on the conviction rates in cases dealt by special FTCs vis-a-vis regular courts have revealed that “conviction to disposal rate of cases for regular court, special FTCs and Pocso courts are 5. 5%, 7. 2% and 17. 6% respectively”. The study, according to the law ministry, was conducted by the National Productivity Council during the third quarter of 2020.
As in 2023 January
Bengaluru : Of the over four crore cases pending in lower courts in the country, about 63 lakh cases remain undecided because of non-availability of counsel, according to the National Judicial Data Grid (NJDG), as of January 20. At least 78% of such cases are criminal and the rest civil.
While Uttar Pradesh has the most cases pending due to this reason, an analysis of a few randomly selected states shows thousands of such cases in the pendency list. Delhi, Gujarat, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, UP, and Bihar together account for 77. 7% (or more than 49 lakh) of the 63 lakh such cases.
Advocate KV Dhananjay said a variety of reasons could be attributed to this: Death of lawyers, unaffordability ofadvocates when cases drag on, delay in fixing of lawyers by prosecution, and inefficiency of free legal services.
Anisha Gopi, team lead of Nyaaya, an initiative helping citizens understand legal rights, said: “Delay is one of the major barriers and this happens for a variety of reasons like a large volume of cases, not enough judges and adjournments for variousreasons (one of them being lawyers not being available). ”
Gopi said, “Lawyers are often overburdened. The way the registry in our courts functions, case listings come up at the last minute and lawyers are then often forced to miss either of the hearings. Another reason is that an average case in India takes four years to be completed. When litigation continues for longer than anticipated, the aggrieved person may run out of resources to continue paying hefty legal fees. ”
Separate data from the Union law ministry shows that between 2017-18 and 2021-22, over one crore people have benefited from pro-bono legal services offered through the legal services authorities, in sharp contrast to the performance in the previous decades.
The five states that saw the maximum increase in 2021-22 were MP, UP, Jharkhand, Bihar and Assam. Together, these states accounted for 94% (58. 6 lakh) of the 62. 2 lakh beneficiaries in 2021-22, while they account for 70. 4% or 73. 1 lakh of the 1. 03 crore beneficiaries in the past five years. However, experts argue that the exponential increase the data shows was hard to accept and called for a more detailed study.
2018- 2023 July
New Delhi : The justice delivery system in the country remains choked with the backlog of cases in courts crossing the five crore mark on July 14. All three tiers of the judiciary — subordinate/ district courts, high courts and the Supreme Court — are falling far below expectations in disposal of cases. The total pendency in lower and district courts are at an all-time high of 4.4 crore, as on July 14. The scenario is no different in the 25 high courts in the country and the Supreme Court which have pendency of cases of 60.6 lakh and 69,766 respectively.
There is no prescribed timeline for disposal of cases as courts continue to indulge absence of counsels and repeated adjournments. The Centre, while responding to a question in Parliament on the burden on judiciary, on Thursday attributed several factors behind these increasing pendency, including the lack of a timeframe for courts to decide disposal of cases, lack of physical infrastructure and vacancies of judges. Over 5,388 posts of judicial officers are vacant in lower courts and over 330 in HCs.
Other reasons attributed by the government include “complexity of facts involved, nature of evidence, cooperation of stakeholders viz. bar, investigation agencies, witnesses, litigants and proper application of rules”.
To help maintain a timeline for disposal of cases were left only for commercial courts which have shown progress. The same, however, is yet to be initiated in regular courts or higher judiciary.
The extent of pendency in the SC
High rate in Delhi, 2011-15
The Times of India, May 05 2016
HC: Poor probe led to high acquittal rate
More than 80% of criminal cases decided by the Delhi high court in the past five years ended in acquittal while the figure hovered around 60% for sessions courts in the capital.
Appalled by the high acquittal rate, a bench of justices B D Ahmed and Sanjeev Sachdeva on Wednesday blasted Delhi Police for its “shoddy probe“, pointing out that “innocents may have been sent for trial and guilty gone unpunished“ because of this trend.
The court's stinging comments came on a status report filed by the police disclosing data of total cases decided by the Supreme Court, the Delhi HC and sessions courts in the past five years.Referring to the “revealing statistics“, the HC bench said, “For this reason, we have been pressing upon the need to bifurcate law and order duties so that investigation wing improves. We also stressed the need for proper scientific methodology , increase in manpower but these concerns take a back seat for governments of the day .“
The police report showed that of 725 cases in HC, 588 ended in acquittal while the accused were convicted in 138 cases. With regard to crimes against women, acquittals in sessions court were over 71% as against 84% in the Delhi HC.
Saying it is “deeply disap pointed“, the bench slammed the police. “People are getting raped, molested, harassed, murdered and acquittal rate is 80 to 90%. Then court is blamed for acquittals that we allowed culprit to go scot-free. But the reason is shoddy investigation by police. It means they have apprehended a criminal but because of poor quality of investigation and evidence, court acquits the criminal...because of shoddy investigation, innocent people get arrested,“ the court noted.
According to the report filed in a suo motu case related to policing and security following the Nirbhaya case, the police revealed that of 14,270 session courts cases, 8,667 ended in acquittal while 5,603 ended in conviction in the past five year.
“Two of the most material things for any human being are life and liberty , which should never take a back seat“ the bench reminded the counsel appearing for the Delhi government, police and the Centre.
The high court asked the Delhi government to file a detailed status report on the backlog of samples, which are yet to be tested in forensic science laboratories and also the number of samples tested in past three years. Zeroing in on the lack of sufficient FSLs as one of the main reasons for delay in trial and mounting arrears, the court said report would have to indicate the number of samples tested in the past three years and the capacity of each lab individually and together. The court will take up the matter on May 18.
As of now, there are only two functional forensic labs in Delhi--at Chanakyapuri and Rohini--and the backlog of samples is over 8,000. A report from these labs is received only after three-four years, the court was informed.
The Centre in its affidavit said that Delhi Police had forwarded majority of its proposals for manpower directly to MHA. It said a high-level committee had been set up to take a holistic view regarding manpower requirement.
Courtrooms, shortage of
2018: Shortage of 4,000 courtrooms
There are just 18,400 court halls available across the country for district and subordinate judiciary at present, a shortfall of more than 4,000 courtrooms if all the vacant posts of judges in the lower judiciary are filled up.
The Centre has set a target of completing construction of 2,730 court halls within this financial year with the Supreme Court making it clear that all the 5,700 plus judicial vacancies in district and subordinate courts are to be filled up immediately. Currently, the working strength of judicial officers is 16,728 against a sanctioned strength of 22,474 judges.
The initiative to fill up all vacancies in lower courts has received fresh impetus after CJI Ranjan Gogoi expressed his displeasure with the manner in which states and high courts have dealt with the recruitment process leading to huge backlog. Hearing a related writ petition on Thursday, the CJI even warned HCs and states of SC intervention to ensure that all these judicial vacancies are filled up in a fixed timeline.
Lower courts currently have pendency of 2.72 crore cases, and judges’ vacancies are seen as one of the reasons. If all these posts are to be filled up, the country would require at least 4,071 additional court halls. At present there are only 18,403 courtrooms available for lower court judges . Even if the government manages to construct the targeted 2,730 court halls, the shortage will remain for 1,341. The SC had recently asked HCs to give a status report on judicial infrastructure required for filling up of all vacancies. The existing infrastructure is just sufficient for 16,728 judges, the present working strength of lower courts. But if all the vacancies are to be filled up within a year, the states and the Centre will have to ensure that more courtrooms are either constructed or hired for the newly recruited judges to function.
A source in the law ministry said the government has sanctioned adequate funds to ensure that the construction of 2,730 courtrooms are taken up on mission mode and completed within the deadline.
The government has shown willingness to conduct a nationwide examination, as a one-time measure for appointment of judicial officers for subordinate and district judiciary, involving a central agency with due importance given to local languages for those opting for particular state as their choice, something on pattern of NEET held by CBSE for medical students. An all-India merit list of aspiring judges will be prepared based on the proposed central selection mechanism. The decision to hold these examinations would be taken only after a directive is issued from the SC which is hearing a writ petition on the possibility of constituting an all-India judicial appointments mechanism, which was objected by several states and HCs in the past.
Alternate Dispute Resolution
2015> 2017: ADR a success
Mediation is picking up as a popular mode of dispute resolution, particularly at the district level, where people are preferring to resolve disputes at the Alternate Dispute Resolution centres rather than courts.
The number of cases referred by the courts to ADR centres in districts have shown a sharp increase in the past few years in some states. Centres in Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Kerala, Rajasthan and UP have 35,000 to 75,000 cases listed for mediation at the ADR centres.
In a statement before Parliament last week, minister of state for law P P Chaudhary said from 2.07 lakh cases received at district centres in 36 states and Union Territories in 2015-16, it has gone up to 2.91 lakh cases in 2016-17. And in the nine months between April-December 2017-18, it has already crossed 2.59 lakh.
According to Chaudhary, while 53,000 cases were settled in 2015-16, the next year more than 93,700 cases were settled. During April-December 2017, already 77,500 cases have been settled through mediations at the ADR centres.
“Legal Services authorities are engaged in promoting the use of ADR mechanisms,” the minister said of centres set up in states that deal with matters referred to them by courts.
Courts are also encouraging mediation at pre-litigation stage in marital disputes besides civil and criminal matters.
The government is promoting ADR mechanism through mediations to bring down the pressure on the regular courts which are having huge pendency of cases. The subordinate courts in the country have more than 2.69 crore cases pending.
Pendency, strategies to tackle
Courts must follow case timelines
Former chief justice of Delhi high court, A P Shah, shares his take on tackling judicial inefficiency
ON JUDICIAL DELAYS
Judicial delay is often attributed solely to court vacancies. But paucity of judges is not the only reason for pendency . There is an absence of evaluation of courts' performance and specific reasons for delay have not yet been studied.
Vidhi's report on the Delhi high court is a first step forward.Inefficiencies in the system must be examined: the court and other actors are not functioning at optimum efficiency , and the extent to which this contributes to delay must be tracked from the trial court stage itself.
ON HOW TO IMPROVE EFFICIENCY
What's troubling is that case timelines are never followed. The culture of adjournment and non-compliance is so deeply rooted that no thought is given to case management. Both the Bar and the bench are equally responsible; advocates use multiple adjournments as a strategic tool, and courts do not adhere to procedural timeframes.
Although exemplary costs are sometimes levied on dilatory tactics, it's mostly ad-hoc and not a matter of institutional policy or practice. It is also common for lawyers to engage in unnecessarily long arguments and for judges to write overly long judgments. Since case management is completely absent, hundreds of matters are listed on one day , and insufficient time is left in court to hear cases. Courts need to implement case timelines and there must be serious consequences for not following them.
ON HOW COURTS CAN AID RESEARCH ON DELAY
Professional managers are needed in courts to improve data management. Judges are still given these administrative tasks.As a result, data collection is non-uniform, defective and, at times, misleading. What Delhi high court has done is laudable but not sufficient. The judiciary needs better data management but has been reluctant to engage external experts, even for managerial tasks. There is a misconception that technology will solve all of judiciary's problems. That is the role of judicial policy-making; technology is a small part of the solution.
Retired High Court judges, use of services
The Hindu, November 6, 2016
Retired judges to wield the gavel again
It took the government six months to agree to a resolution passed by the judiciary to re-employ them to cut pendency.
The Union government has agreed to a resolution passed by the judiciary in the Chief Justices and Chief Ministers Annual Conference in 2016 to use the services of retired High Court judges with proven integrity and track record to tackle pendency of cases.
The resolution, forwarded by the Delay and Arrears Committees of the judiciary, had been hanging fire since April 2016.
The provision to use the services of retired judges is open to the Chief Justices of High Courts under Article 224A of the Constitution with the previous consent of the President as an extraordinary measure to tide over case pile-ups.
As per the minutes of the April resolution, “keeping in view the large pendency of civil and criminal cases, especially criminal appeals, where convicts are in jail and having due regard to the recommendation made by the 17th Law Commission of India in 2003, the Chief Justices will actively have regard to the provision of Article 224A of the Constitution as a source for enhancing the strength of judges to deal with the backlog of cases for a period of two years or the age of sixty five years, whichever is later until a five plus zero pendency is achieved.”
‘Five plus zero’ initiative
‘Five plus zero’ is an initiative by which cases pending over five years are taken up on priority basis and their numbers are brought down to zero.
The conference minutes considered the report of the committees about delay in case disposal in the High Courts with great concern. “The reports submitted by the Delay and Arrears Committees of various High Courts have indicated a need to prioritise areas of immediate concern in the disposal of pending cases.”
These concerns highlighted in the conference includes: The pendency of cases in the High Court has been stagnant for over three years; 43 per cent of the pendency is of cases of over five years; concentration of ‘five years plus’ cases in a few High Courts; and stagnant pendency figures of five years plus cases (33.5 per cent in 2015) in district courts.
Accordingly, it was resolved that all High Courts shall assign top-most priority for disposal of cases which are pending for more than five years.
In High Courts, where arrears of cases pending for more than five years are concentrated shall facilitate their disposal in a “mission mode.”
The High Courts shall progressively thereafter set a target of disposing of cases pending for more than four years. The Conference had resolved that while prioritising the disposal of cases pending in the district courts for more than five years, additional incentives for the judges of the district judiciary be considered.
MoP on appointments
The agreement on the minutes comes at a time when the Executive and the Judiciary are trying to find a common ground on the memorandum of procedure for judicial appointments in High Courts and ths Supreme Court.
As on June 30, 2016 while the total sanctioned strength was 21,303, the subordinate courts were functioning with 16,192 judicial officers — a shortage of 5,111.
The 24 High Courts face a shortage of nearly 450 judges. Nearly three crore cases are pending in courts across India.
Reasons why there are vacancies in HCs
2020, Govt: Collegiums are the main culprits
Blamed for not filling up vacancies in high courts, the Centre has told the Supreme Court that HC collegiums were the main culprits as there was inordinate delay on their part, in some cases going back to more than five years, in recommending names for judgeship after the vacancy arose.
Placing a detailed analysis of the vacancies in HCs and the reasons for delay in filling up the posts, the Centre told a bench of Justices S K Kaul and K M Joseph that no names were forwarded by HCs for 199 out of 396 vacancies, some of which occurred way back in 2014. The sanctioned strength of judges in 25 HCs is 1,079 but the working strength, as on February 1, was 683. Some HCs like Patna and Rajasthan have more than 50% vacancies.
Attorney general K K Venugopal told the court, which is examining reasons for delay in appointment of judges, that the Centre was waiting for recommendations from HC collegiums which were yet to forward names for 199 vacancies —134 from the bar and 65 from the judicial service.
Agreeing with the AG’s submission, the bench said, “There is an important aspect which the attorney general emphasises by referring to a chart submitted before us showing the inordinate delay in making recommendations to fill vacancies by high courts. The situation in some high courts is more alarming than the others but it is no better than the others, including the court in the capital of the country.
“Needless to emphasise that chief justices of HCs must endeavour to recommend names against the vacancies as early as possible, even if they are not made at one go. We may also note that there appears to be some hesitation in some courts to recommend names without the earlier list being cleared. We understand that there is no such impediment and it should be a continuing process of recommending names without waiting for the result of the earlier recommendations. Otherwise, the time period to process names is such that by the time appointments take place, another set of vacancies arise which brings the problem of vacancies to square one.”
Blaming HC collegiums for the delay, Venugopal urged the court to issue notice and seek explanation from HCs. But the bench refrained from issuing notice and said, “We desist from doing so at present but call upon registrars of different high courts to send us the vacancy position as on date, when did they arise and number of vacancies likely to arise in the next six months, explaining as to what is the time period within which one can expect recommendations to be made.”
The six worst hit states
The data in this section seems to be for 2006-16
Six states account for around 90% of the 23 lakh cases pending around the country that are older than 10 years, though not all of them are the largest states in terms of overall pendency .
UP accounts for 30% of all 10-year-old cases pending countrywide, followed by Gujarat with 22%, Maharashtra (11%), Bihar (10%), Odisha (8%) and West Bengal (8%).Out of 2.29 crore cases pending in subordinate courts across the country , 22.95 lakh are older than 10 years. In addition, 40 lakh cases have been pending between five and 10 years. According to the National Judicial Data Grid, UP has close to 7 lakh cases which have been pending for 10 years or more. Gujarat has 5.13 lakh such cases, Maharashtra 2.57 lakh, Bihar 2.37 lakh, Odisha 1.82 lakh and West Bengal 1.72 lakh.
Many of these cases remain unresolved in subordinate courts for decades and are reflective of the slow moving justice delivery system.Around 71% of all cases pending for over 10 years are criminal cases where a court is bound to dispose of the matter in a fixed time.
However, of late, the judicial system in some states have shown the willingness to take up older cases on priority. For instance, Gujarat, which has the second highest pendency of old cases, disposed of 9,000 last month -over 6,400 criminal and 2,500 civil cases. UP has performed well too, with 6,600 cases older than 10 years disposed off last month alone, half of these were criminal cases. There are also huge va cancies in lower courts across the country . At least 4,432 judges' posts were vacant as of December 2015. Out of a sanctioned strength of 20,502 judges for subordinate courts, the strength stood at 16,050 last year.
Trial courts: Delhi, delays reduced
Case backlog shrinks in trial courts
30% Reduction Since 2011-End, But No Change In Number Of Criminal Cases
Smriti Singh TNN
The Times of India 2013/08/13
New Delhi: Trial courts in the capital have managed to reduce pending cases by 30% in the last one-and-a-half years. A recent report released by the Delhi district courts on the pendency of cases states that around five lakh cases are pending before the lower judiciary this year as against more than seven lakh at the end of 2011. This figure includes all the criminal cases and civil disputes before the magisterial courts and the district and sessions courts.
There has also been a significant reduction of 50% in the pending cases of dishonoured cheques, major component of the backlog. From 2.2 lakh cheque bounce cases pending in 2011, the courts now have 1.06 lakh. Legal experts say the drop in pending cases is a result of measures adopted by the judiciary, such as the setting up of special courts and the ‘five-plus-zero’ initiative.
Last year, the Delhi high court had asked judges to “identify” cases which have been pending for more than five years and take them up on priority. They were also asked to dispose of such cases within six months.
The circular issued by the HC had also asked the courts to bring down the pendency of ‘cheque bounce’ cases under the Negotiable Instruments Act by 50% before December 2012. To achieve the target, the senior judges were asked to “ensure” that the metropolitan magistrates dealing with such cases are provided with “adequate staff and support from police stations in executing summons and warrants”.
While the targets in the cheque dishonour and traffic challan cases seem to have been achieved, there is no decline in the number of criminal cases pending before the sessions courts. In all, 18,564 sessions-triable cases, which have a punishment of seven years and above, are pending. This figure includes 1,043 rape cases, 47 cases of gang rape and 212 cases pending under the new Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO).
Even as six fast-track courts have been set up to try cases of sexual offences against women, sources said it is difficult to bring down the pendency in such cases to zero due to the increasing crime rate. “Pendency in criminal cases usually stays constant as new cases are filed every day, and despite regular disposal the new cases add on to the existing numbers,” said a judge on the condition of anonymity.
Also, adding to this year’s backlog are more than 1 lakh cases pending before magisterial courts. These include petty offences in which the maximum punishment is up to three years.
Sources say many measures have been adopted by the courts to tackle the mounting number of cases. Besides the five-plus-zero initiative and the increased number of judges in the lower judiciary, the courts are also required to send their disposal rate in every quarter of the year. Mega lok Adalats are also being held on a regular basis to deal with compoundable offences—those in which a settlement can be achieved.
2015: Pendency 45 lakh in 24 HCs
The Times of India, Oct 15 2015
The wheels of justice, the saying goes, grind slowly but grind exceedingly fine. In the Indian context, it would be more true to say that they grind so exceedingly slowly that there can be nothing fine about the outcome. When we set out to look at instances of gross miscarriage of justice, we found several cases where people were convicted of heinous crimes and locked up for years before being found innocent on appeal. Given the state of our high courts, this is hardly surprising. Consider the cold statistics first. As of end of June 2014, there were nearly 45 lakh cases pending in the country's 24 high courts. That's an average of nearly 2 lakh cases per high court. This is mindboggling in itself, but pales in comparison to the situation in Allahabad HC, where approximately 7 lakh cases are pending.
The extent of pending cases is only to be expected when you look a little deeper into the same official data. It also tells you that as of end of June 2014, there were 265 vacancies for judges in the HCs against a sanctioned strength of 906, a shortfall of almost 30%. In the case of Allahabad HC, 70 of 160 positions were vacant or, about 44% of the judges required for the voluminous work have not been appointed.
Of the cases pending, about 10.3 lakh in all the HCs and 3.5 lakh in Allahabad alone were criminal cases. Assume for argument's sake that just one in a hundred of these cases will end up in the acquittal of the person or persons convicted by the lower courts -the actual acquittal rate will, of course, be much higher, but even if 1% of those convicted is innocent -then over 10,000 people in the country are wrongly locked currently . They are in jail despite being innocent of the crime they are said to have committed. For a system supposedly based on the principle that it is better for ten guilty people to go scot-free than for one innocent to be wrongly convicted, that is a shocking statistic.
It isn't as if a person who has been wrongly convicted can count on a quick reprieve on appeal. In Allahabad HC, for instance, it takes, on average, 30 years for appeals against conviction in a lower court to be decided. The Rajasthan HC also has criminal cases pending since 1985. In Bombay HC, you could wait anywhere between two and 20 years, but the average time it takes for an appeal to be heard is four to seven years if a convict is in jail and the sentence is over 10 years; and 10-15 years if the convict is on bail pending the appeal hearing.
The exact period of waiting may vary from HC to HC, but in most cases it runs into several years. And if the crime involved is murder, the wrongfully convicted person will be serving time while he or she waits. And for a very long time.By the time they are acquitted, most have wasted their best years in conviction. If this isn't travesty of justice, what is? Here are some real cases. One Ayodhya was convicted by the Gonda district judge for dacoity and murder in 1982 and appealed promptly . He was finally acquitted in September this year after having been in jail for two years and 30 more years under the shadow of a wrongful conviction though out on bail. Getting employment or social acceptance in this period must have been next to impossible. Kanem Anjamma of East Godavari in Andhra was convicted in January 2010 along with her husband for murdering their neighbour G Nageswara Rao neighbour G Nageswara Rao in 2007. Locked up for over five years, Anjamma finally was acquitted by HC in June this year. Kavita Sharma and her alleged paramour, Krishna Kumar Sain, were arrested in 2004 for murdering Kavita's husband and convicted by the trial court in 2006. In July this year, the Rajasthan HC acquitted them. They had spent 11 years in jail.
The loss of their freedom apart, each of these people had to carry the stigma of being criminals and murderers and in most cases by the time the grinding wheels of justice spat out their final verdict, there really wasn't much of a life to return to. That these are not isolated cases, but are illustrative of a deep malaise, is evident from the statistics on pendency of cases. The adage about justice delayed being justice denied has never been truer or more powerfully brought home.
(With bureau inputs from states)
The Times of India’s View The Times of India, Oct 15 2015
The provision of justice is among the most basic of services the state is expected to render to its citizens. The data here makes it abundantly clear that the Indian state has failed miserably in discharging this duty. At a time when all reasoned opinion says India needs more judges at every level than it currently has, how can the state escape the responsibility for vacancies of the order of about 20% in the Supreme Court, 30% in the high courts and nearly 22% in the lower courts?
Almost every week, there's a report in this paper of someone being found innocent by the courts -but only after he she has spent years and years in jail. This Sunday, we carried a report of the Bombay HC declaring a person not guilty of murder -14 years after he had been thrown behind bars, eight of them while his appeal was pending. In many such long-pending cases, the defendants are abjectly poor and cannot afford bail, forget a decent lawyer. Some of them don't even come to trial for years though theirs are relatively minor infractions of the law such as pickpocketing; it's not uncommon for undertrials to spend more time in jail than the maximum term they would have got if convicted. It's almost as if these people are forgotten once they're thrown behind bars.
Since it is the state's negligence that is largely responsible for such delays, it is only fair it compensates those found to have been wrongfully confined if their appeal has taken more than a stipulated time to decide or the appeals court holds that the earlier conviction was a case of very poor judicial judgement. It cannot undo the years of freedom they've lost, or the damage to their reputation, but it can bring some support to those who've lost years of their working lives in jail. At the very least, it should pay Rs 50 lakh for every year lost, to someone who had no income. For those with modest incomes the amount should be Rs 1 crore per year, Rs 3 crore per year for those with middling incomes and Rs 7 crore-Rs 10 crore per year for those in higher income brackets. These sums may appear high, but remember they include both compensation for irreparable harm and an element of deterrence for wrongful confinement or tardy administration of justice.
There should be fast-tracking of appeals, at least in cases like the Aarushi murder. Someone might legitimately ask why the Talwars should receive `preferential treatment'. It is possible that in many other cases waiting to be heard, the collection of evidence and police investigation was shockingly slipshod -as in the Aarushi case -and due process of law not followed. So why should the Talwars not have to wait like everybody else? It's because they've been convicted of murdering their daughter in a case where the unanswered questions are too glaring and too many to ignore. There can be no fate worse than that of parents who may have been wrongfully convicted of their child's murder.First, the grief of losing a child in gruesome circumstances, and then being viewed as murderers by the world. An expeditious hearing is all they seek -and it should be granted.
In the end, the entire system needs to be fixed, and soon.How many years more will we let countless thousands rot in jail -away from home and family -for crimes they haven't committed? More than these people, it is the state and the criminal justice system on trial here.
2016: States with best and best disposal and causes
The Times of India, Jun 20 2016
Shortage of judges may not be the predominant factor behind the large pendency of cases in courts across the country as much as their efficiency, says a study commissioned by the law ministry after the Chief Justice of India recently attributed over three crore pending cases to a huge gap in the judge-population ratio. The CJI had sought 70,000 more judges to clear the backlog. The study , which compiled data between 2005 and 2015, lists several states with higher judge-population ratio -such as Delhi (47 judges per million population) and Gujarat (32 judges) -which are still struggling to dispose of cases.
Conversely , states such as Tamil Nadu (14 judges per million population) and Punjab (24 judges) have among the lowest pendency rates, according to the study. The findings also show a huge variation in the av erage number of cases disposed by a judge in a year in different states. In Kerala and Tripura, for instance, the rate of disposal per judge is as high as over 3,000 and 2,800 cases respectively per year while in states such as Jharkhand and Bihar, it is merely 255 and 274 cases respectively as per the working strength. India has an average 17 judges per million population on the current sanctioned strength, though there are over 44% vacancies in 24 high courts and 23% in subordinate judiciary . The current sanctioned strength of the subordinate judiciary is 20,214 judges while that of the 24 high courts is 1,056. The pendency of cases has remained abnormally high at 3.10 crore, as per the last estimates.
“There is no direct relation between judge-popula tion ratio and the pending cases,“ said the study , pointing out how states such as Tamil Nadu and Punjab which ranked lower in terms of judge-population ratio also ranked lower in terms of the number of pending cases.
The highest pendency of cases per million population are in the states of Delhi, Gujarat, Chandigarh, Tripura, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Jharkhand and Bihar--all having judge-population ratio above the national average of 17. The top five states have a judge-population ratio in the range of 20 to 47 judges per million population, but still have one of the highest pendency of cases per million population.
Quoting from a previous Law Commission report, the law ministry study said the judge-population ratio was a poor substitute for sound scientific analysis to arrive at the real reasons behind huge pendency.
Allahabad HC has highest pendency
New Delhi: The Aditya Nath Yogi government has resolved to improve the law and order situation in Uttar Pradesh but two important pillars of the justice delivery system -the police and the judiciary -are in a dilapidated condition in the state. There is over 47% vacancy of judges in Allahabad high court and more than 55% vacancy in the sanctioned strength of the police force in the state.
Allahabad HC, the country's largest with a sanctioned strength of 160 judges, continues to reel under severe manpower crunch. Former chief justice of the HC Justice D Y Chandrachud, before he was elevated to the Supreme Court in May last year, had recommended candidates to fill up almost 90% of these vacancies, but to no avail.
The recommendation got entangled in the standoff between the higher judiciary and the government over the process of appointment of judges. A year later, a majority of the recommendations for Allahabad HC are still pending approval of the government. Allahabad HC, short of 75 judges, has the highest vacancy among all HCs in the country .
Consequently , the HC has the highest number of pending cases as well, a significant number of which have been pending for more than five years and some for longer than 10 years. According to the last estimate, the total pending cases in Allahabad HC was 9.25 lakh, which is over 23% of 40 lakh cases pending in all 24 HCs in the country .
Now, with the BJP assuming power in the state and also being at the helm at the Centre, it is expected that these vacancies will be filled up fast.
A risk assessment carried out on Uttar Pradesh's rising crime graph by the CAG last year had found that UP was at the top among states having highest number of violent crimes, accounting for almost 13% of all such incidents. It also had the maximum cases of crime against women. “Shortage of about 55% of the police manpower, if not immediately addressed, may further worsen the crime scenario in the state,“ the CAG had warned.
Pendency of cases in District courts, region-wise, January 2017
The new year began with a crushing backlog in district courts, with over 2.3 crore cases pending across India as on January 2. Of these, approximately 1.5 crore are criminal cases, and 72 lakh, civil.
The data, compiled by the National Judicial Data Grid, comprises statistics of the district judiciary of the country , but excludes figures from family courts and courts where connectivity is not available.
With 55 lakh cases, 41 lakh criminal and over 13 lakh civil, Uttar Pradesh has the highest pendency . Cases not disposed of for over a decade constitute over 13% (over 7 lakh) of the state's total, with nearly 20 lakh cases, 36%, pending for less than two years.
Maharashtra ranks second, with 31 lakh cases pending in the state's district courts on January 2, including 20 lakh criminal and over 11 lakh civil cases. Of the state's total, 8% or over 2.5 lakh have been pending for over 10 years, and 45% or 14.6 lakh for less than two years.
The data also shows that nationally , cases pending for over 10 years comprise 10% of the total at 23 lakh, while those pending between two and five years constitute 30%.
The majority of the cases -over one crore, around 43% -have been pending for less than two years. Nationwide, the number of pending cases filed by senior citizens form 3.5% of the total. Nearly 23 lakh of the pending cases were filed by women.
Madhya Pradesh and Delhi have recorded a low pendency at approximately 4.6 lakh and 5 lakh, respectively . Only 1% of Delhi's total -comprising 3.4 lakh criminal and 1.6 lakh civil cases -have been pending for over a decade.
Tamil Nadu's district courts have 9 lakh pending cases, but it departs from the nationwide trend in that it has more civil than criminal cases.
2017: 4 states, 1 UT clear 10- year backlog
In Delhi, Figure Brought Down To 1% Of All Cases
For the first time, as many as four states and a Union Territory have managed to bring down cases pending for over 10 years in their subordinate courts to almost zero. It's not a mean achievement, considering that decade-old cases in the country account for 23 lakh, or almost 9% of all cases pending in the subordinate courts.
Haryana, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Kerala and Chandigarh lead in improving their justice delivery system, with courts managing to dispose of almost all cases that were pending for a decade or more.
Five other states -Delhi, Assam, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra and Karnataka -are not too far behind and ha ve successfully brought down pendency of 10-yearold cases to almost 1% of their total pending cases. This data, however, does not include cases pend ing in the Supreme Court or high courts.
There are 2.54 crore cases pending in around 17,000 subordinate courts across the country , of which 22.76 lakh cases have been pending for more than 10 years, according to latest statistics from the National Judicial Data Grid (NJDG).
Some states like Haryana, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala and Delhi have a large number of pending cases. That these states have managed to dispose of nearly all cases older than 10 years shows the efficiency of judges in these states and the proactive measures adopted by the government and the HCs in making the justice delivery system responsive and effective.
Huge pendency in courts has resulted in a large number of undertrials languishing in jails for longer than the sentence they would have served if convicted. Accord ing to the government's estimates, two-thirds of the country's prison population comprises undertrials, a reflection of the decayed system that has failed to harness technology to speed up the justice delivery mechanism.
Yet, some states seem to have overcome these challenges, revamped their prosecution system, adopted good practices and carried out automation in court procedures to make a difference while some others continue to struggle. Gujarat, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Odisha and West Bengal are still bogged down by huge pendency, including cases older than 10 years.
Gujarat at nearly 20% has the highest percentage of cases pending for over 10 years in subordinate courts, followed by Odisha at 17%, Bihar at 16%, UP at 13%, West Bengal and Uttarakhand at 12% each and J&K at 11%.
The justice delivery system needs a complete overhaul if it has to be made responsive and effective. Automation is the need of the hour where all that is required is to allow an aggrieved person to file a case online from any destination by fulfilling the required formalities and submitting documents.
The government has already put in place some technological platforms such as the National Judicial Data Grid and a court software where all cases are uploaded real-time with updates on the case status available online and provision to update litigants and lawyers through mobile phone and text messgaes.
The worst sufferers of pendency are women and senior citizens, with around 15% of the 2.54 crore pending cases related to them.
Eleven lakh cases filed by senior citizens and over 26 lakh cases filed by women are pending in courts today.
The loss that delays inflict
Compensating for lost years
The Times of India, Oct 15 2015
In most developed countries, a wrongful conviction can lead to the aggrieved person seeking huge compensations. The reason is despite their proven innocence, those convicted find the odds of relocating themselves in society difficult. It's for this that such countries claim an obligation to facilitate financial compensation to the wrongfully convicted.
In our country, the only reward for wrongful conviction is release from prison, never mind if the life of that person has been destroyed after years and sometimes decades in prison, for no fault of theirs.
TOI looks at the state of justice -rather its miscarriage -that is unwittingly functioning towards a more criminalized society than a `humanistic' one. The old aphorism, “Let justice be done though the heavens fall,“ is turned on its head in our country, where the heavens fall on countless innocents who await the assistance of a system that wrongfully convicted them.
Vacancies in the HCs
HC vacancies, 2014-Feb 2020
HC vacancies, 2014-Feb 2020