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Time-bound Justice

There is considerable talk of Judicial Accountability in the nation,

but it does not address the key parameter of time-bound justice. Two in
three persons who are in prisons are under trials, most of whom may not
have committed any crime. Right to Speedy Justice which has been recognized
by the Supreme Court as a fundamental right is violated daily in the
Courts. Justice delayed is injustice. I decided to take a look at the issue
by looking at the data with the objective of trying to estimate the number
of judges required to achieve this. Data has been taken from the Court
News (in the tag Publications) on the Supreme Court website for twenty
quarters from January 2009 to December 2013.
I noted the new cases Instituted in each quarter, disposal and the
pending cases in the Supreme Court, High Court and the District &
Subordinate Courts. Using simple arithmetic it is possible to get the
number of months pendency in each quarter by dividing the pendency with
the number of cases disposed( rows 15, 35 and 56 in the excel sheet). This
shows that the average pendency should be 10, 31 and 18 months from the
Supreme Court to the Subordinate Courts. Most anecdotal perceptions are
that it takes much longer. The average vacancies in the three levels are
12% for the Supreme Court, 30% for the High Courts and 20% for the lower
courts. When citizens are suffering acutely because of the huge delays in
the judicial system, there can be no justification for such high levels of
sanctioned positions being vacant. The dates of retirement of judges are
known in advance and hence the selection process could start even six
months in advance, so that there may be no vacancy. If all positions had
been filled promptly, and these judges had disposed cases at the same rate
as the existing ones, the average pendency for the three courts would have
been less than 3 months for the lower courts and the Supreme Court (cell
V20 and V61). This would have been about 7 months in the High Court.(V40)
This indicates that if the principle of First In First Out (FIFO)
could be strictly followed, and no vacancies kept, this may be the time for
a case to go through the Courts. This would not be feasible completely, but
there can be no justification for many cases taking more than treble the
average time in the Courts. The Courts should lay down a discipline that
almost no case could be allowed to languish for more than double the
average time taken for disposals. Presently the listing of cases is being
done by the judges, with partial resort to computers and no humanbeing can
really do this exercise rationally, given the mass of data. It would be
sensible to devise a fair criterion and incorporate this in computer
software, which would list the cases and also give the dates for
adjournments based on a rational basis. This is essential if we are
serious about Article 14 of our Constitution which guarantees equality
before law. Certain categories of cases may be given priority, based on a
criterion, not the individual or the lawyer. As an example, it may be
logical to have all bail applications decided in a week, but then the
poorest would also get bail in a week, not only Salman Khan. Cases which
must be taken up urgently would be decided by a pre-determined category.
This would result in removing much of the arbitrariness, and also reduce
the gross inequity based on money power. If FIFO is accepted, all vacancies
filled and the principle that 95% of all cases must be disposed within
treble the average time is accepted, the maximum time at the three Courts
would be 9 months, 21 months and 9 months. If the number of sanctioned post
for High Courts was increased by a small number, all these Courts could
deliver justice in less than 9 months. There may be a few exceptional cases
which may take longer. Some people argue that there is a big difference in
the nature of the cases. However, over a large number of courts and cases,
the large variations due to different cases would even out and can be used

to compare or find possible solutions. Besides the evaluation is based on

20 quarters over five years, and appears to show some consistency.
My suggestions based on the above are given below.

Courts must accept the discipline that over 95% of the cases will
be settled in less than treble the average pendency.
The listing of cases should be done by a computer program, with
judges having the discretion to override it in only 5% cases for
very urgent matters. Such a program should be developed with the
inputs and judges and lawyers. It is necessary to understand that
the present system is completely arbitrary and the principle of
First In First Out would be fairer than the current one. Besides
in 5% cases the judicial override could still function.
If these are followed, most cases would be disposed in a court in less than a year and
justice and equity delivered in the courts.

shailesh gandhi
Former Central Information Commissioner.