The old legal maxim reads ‘Justice delayed is justice denied’. It means that if legal redressal or equitable relief to an injured party is not available early, it is effectively the same as having no remedy at all. Justice is one of civilisation’s foundational goals. It is therefore imperative for the judiciary to perform its duty in a manner to enable the society to continue its pursuit of peace, harmony and progress.

India till a few years ago had 2781 Central Acts and a still larger number of State Laws. Moreover, the population of our country is the second largest in the world and very soon we are slated to outclass China in this race. The number of litigations in our country is also the highest in the world and the pendency of cases in different forums & courts is alarming. There are more than 60000 cases pending in the Supreme Court and 45+ lakh cases in various high courts. At the district and subordinate court levels, the number of pending cases stand at a shocking 3.20 crores.

It is pertinent that a few days ago the Apex Court in the case of V. Kalyanaswamy (D) by LRS. & ANR vs. L. Bakthavatsalam (D) by LRS. & ORS finally decided the matter of inheritance on July 17, 2020 almost 65 years after institution of the case. This certainly cannot be termed as ‘justice’. The maxim is ‘Justice delayed is Justice denied’ but I shall go further to say ‘ Justice Delayed is Justice Crucified’. It is a matter of common knowledge that everyone who goes for redressal to the court has to wait for generations for getting justice. Recently, Apex Court Justice R Banumathi, in her farewell address lamented that her family was also a victim of judicial delay in the past. “I lost my father in a bus accident and my family was a victim of judicial delay for getting compensation,” the judge said on her last working day as she addressed her farewell function via video conferencing. Nothing more authentic can be said in this regard. Justice, so called, becomes meaningless & redundant after a particular span of time. Such an inordinate delay in imparting justice in the long term leads to an erosion in the faith of people. The question arises that who is ultimately responsible for the delay -the plaintiff, the respondent, the witnesses, the judicial process, the advocates, the judiciary, the large number of Acts giving rise to large number of cases, the large population, poor infrastructure of the courts, inadequate number of judges or all of them together?

I am reminded of Jarndyce and Jarndyce, a fictional court case in Bleak House by Charles Dickens, progressing in the English Court of Chancery. The case is a central plot device in the novel and has become a byword for seemingly interminable legal proceedings. Jarndyce v Jarndyce concerns the fate of a large inheritance. The case has dragged on for many generations and the legal costs ultimately devoured the whole estate and the case had to be abandoned. Dickens used it to attack the chancery court system as being near totally worthless with an advice to “Suffer any wrong rather than come here!” The position of our legal system as it exists today cannot be said to the better than Dicken’s court system. But, on an optimistic note, we have to find out solution to this problem so that there is timely redressal for the common man and the Real Rule of Law is established.

The only solution to unclog the Courts and to provide time-bound justice to those approaching the courts is perhaps to fix a mandatory time limit for the disposal of cases. It should be made compulsory for those holding the judicial chairs to render decisions in civil/criminal cases within a specified time limit. If the obligation to impart justice through timely & reasoned manner is breached, as it flagrantly has been for decades in our country, the rule of law is subverted and becomes nugatory. This situation is akin to a situation of lawlessness and in fact it is prevalence of state of pandemonium. The golden rule of law is ” to none deny or delay, right or justice” but the stark reality is that delivering justice expeditiously is unheard & unseen in our country. The biggest problem is that there is no accountability of the judiciary which leads to state of anarchy. The rule of law, after all, cannot be seen to act arbitrarily and must be held accountable. If Transparency and Openness are achieved, judicial arbitrariness is automatically curbed. If the judge does not comply with the mandatory time frame, they ought to give explanation for the reasons of delay. Extension of time can be granted by their heads, on specific requests, but in exceptional circumstances after giving reasons and allowing limited fixed time to complete the proceedings. This move shall further strengthen the judiciary rather than dampening the spirits of judiciary. It would be trite to refer to an instance wherein the Court of Appeal of England and Wales criticized a High Court judge in such terms that he was compelled to tender his resignation to the Lord Chancellor, when he had delayed inordinately. This Precedent of UK should be emulated in our country, which also follows Common Law. Delays beyond the stipulated time cannot be tolerated in a country committed to dispensing Justice within a Time Frame.

 One of the biggest menaces of Delay in disposal of cases by Courts is the tendency/tactics of seeking repeated adjournments on lame/baseless grounds. Once the time Limit for final disposal of cases is mandated, the Courts will not be able to grant frequent Adjournments. Moreover, adjournments should be ordered in really demanding circumstances and that too for the next working day & not for months & years together. No adjournment should be given on ground of busy schedule of the arguing lawyers. This will also promote & give new opportunities to young & budding lawyers to establish themselves as they are not that busy. Certainty of law can also contain litigation. A lot of amendments are being legislated and the settled legal position becomes unsettled. No amendments in law are being made in existing Acts after the declaration of law by the Apex Court although the dictum binds all under Article 141 of the Constitution. There is no real intention of the Government to make laws simple. In the name of simplicity, laws are being made all the more complicated.

One of the other precipitating factors in the judicial system is the tendency to remand the cases for reappraisal of the law & facts. There have been a number of judgements of the higher courts wherein the courts have given detailed judgements but did not decide the long pending dispute and remanded the matter for fresh adjudication to the lower court. The Courts usually discuss the applicable laws but relegate the matter to the lower court without a framework or a direction. It cannot be denied that the courts in writs & revisions can only decide the question of law & are not to do appraisal of facts but while sending back the matters to be decided afresh they ought to lay down the law and direct the inferior court to decide the matter expeditiously in accordance to the law laid down by them.

Virtual hearing can also help in unclogging the Courts. In cases of bail, stay, minor offences, admissions, recording statements of witnesses, grant of interlocutory orders, disposal of miscellaneous applications etc. should be heard & disposed of only through virtual hearing. This will save the valuable time of the Courts. It is the right of every citizen of our country to have an effective legal remedy & timely redressal and Virtual Hearing shall foster timely hearing & redressal.

The stark reality is that the existing system is too overburdened and the judiciary is often impacted by judicial hesitancy to make a decision. Unjustifiable delay in court proceedings, particularly in deciding cases, can have a significant impact on the parties and reflects adversely on the judicial system.  Today it takes a minimum of 25 years if a case travels from the subordinate court to the higher courts. Twenty five years means possibly new generations of litigants, enormous cost and frustration. This time lag for ultimate resolution speaks volumes of the inefficiencies and ineffectiveness of our judicial system and such ‘justice’ delivered after a span of 25 years would be bereft of its true meaning.  Every day in each court 70-75 cases are listed in a district court, where the effective hours of working are just 6 hours. The Judge has to provide hearing, conduct examination of witnesses, listen to arguments, pen down arguments & rulings, dictate orders and do other miscellaneous works. With the listing of about 70-75 cases listed before him each day, the lawyers well realise that majority of the cases are only meant to be adjourned by the judge without any significant movement. This is happening every day in each court across the country throughout the year. This implies that the judicial system has adapted itself to system of Adjournments. Similar is the scheme of several High Courts, wherein the lists are not completed and the matters get automatically delisted. It is required that an improved system be developed to efficiently manage the judicial time. No precious time of the Court be wasted on routine adjournments, which should be limited and made in advance to enable the lawyers of the final list to thorough prepare for their cases as they know that their matter would be heard with certainty. This type of judicial time management would certainly achieve the desired results. Another important measure could be to appoint a full-time judicial administration cadre which would be ancillary to the work of judges and is carried out by dedicated and specialised personnel to help judges efficiently perform their judicial duties. This trained cadre will provide support to the judiciary through case management, assistance with budgeting, handling administrative tasks, and ensuring maintenance of court infrastructure thus enabling the judiciary to focus on the dispensation of justice. They would also be instrumental in harnessing technology in the better delivery of justice.

Judicial delays lead to uncertainty regarding laws and their application. Justice would be futile & inconsequential if there is inordinate delay in dispensation of Justice. It is imperative for the Government to make a policy in this regard in consultation with the Apex Court to fix a time limit for disposal of different type of matters in different courts, increase the strength of judiciary and to start ‘Faceless Conduct of Cases’ so that Justice prevails and is not crucified on the altar of Delay.

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April 2021