Image used for representational purposes only.
Image used for representational purposes only.

Only a reformed Judiciary can deliver timely justice

Moreover, the endemic pending of cases undermines the foundational principles of democracy and the rule of law.

In the dynamic and rapidly evolving landscape of modern governance, characterised by a relentless pursuit of efficiency and effectiveness, the judiciary emerges as a cornerstone of the nation’s functioning. Charged with upholding the rule of law, safeguarding individual rights, and ensuring justice for all, it plays an indispensable role in the fabric of society. Yet, despite its fundamental importance, the credibility of the judiciary is increasingly under scrutiny, primarily due to the prolonged delays in dispensing justice.

With each passing day, the backlog of cases swells, suffocating the legal system and impeding access to justice for countless individuals. Cases languish in judicial limbo for years, if not decades, leaving litigants disillusioned and disheartened. The human toll of this inertia is most poignantly felt in cases where justice delayed tragically equates to justice denied. There are instances where the wheels of justice turn so agonizingly slow that the aggrieved party, whether victim or plaintiff, does not live to witness the resolution.

Moreover, the endemic pending of cases undermines the foundational principles of democracy and the rule of law. Till February 2024, a staggering 5.1 crore cases are pending before the judiciary. The judiciary’s credibility is inexorably linked to its ability to dispense justice in a timely and efficient manner, and yet, by all accounts, this vital function is in question.

The urgent need for judicial reform through a parliamentary legislation has never been more apparent or pressing. It is imperative that we address the systemic deficiencies that impede the expeditious resolution of cases and erode public confidence in the legal system. Comprehensive reforms aimed at streamlining judicial procedures, bolstering institutional capacity, and leveraging technology like AI, e-courts, etc. to enhance efficiency are essential steps toward realising this vision.

I can recall the case of a civil dispute within my own family that lingered unresolved for a staggering nearly 70 years. Such egregious delays not only defy the principles of justice but also perpetuate a culture of impunity. One of the primary reasons for this delay is the manipulation of legal procedures by certain advocates, who prolong arbitration processes to inflate compensation amounts.

Parliamentary intervention is imperative to set stringent timelines for case disposal. Additionally, expanding the judiciary by appointing more judges from the existing talent pool is crucial to alleviate the burden on the system. An All-India Judicial Services Exam can be taken into consideration to bridge the gap pertaining to the shortage of judges.

Another pressing issue, is the working days of judiciary. While the Supreme Court of India will operate for only 190 working days, with 176 holidays in 2024, other governmental bodies toil tirelessly, often under the most demanding of circumstances. This stark dissonance in commitment to service underscores a fundamental imbalance, one that demands urgent rectification. To address this systemic imbalance, it is imperative that judicial service rules be aligned with those governing other branches of government.

Recent judicial decisions, particularly those concerning the granting of bail to political figures like Arvind Kejriwal, have ignited a firestorm of controversy. While bail is undeniably a legal right afforded to all individuals, its grant under politically charged circumstances has the potential to cast a shadow of doubt over the judiciary’s independence. It underscores the delicate balance between judicial discretion and public perception, highlighting the need for greater transparency and accountability.

To address these concerns and reaffirm public faith in the judiciary, reforms aimed at enhancing transparency and accountability are urgently needed. Additionally, mechanisms for judicial oversight and review should be strengthened to ensure that decisions are made in accordance with established legal principles and precedents. While it is imperative to address flaws in governance mechanisms and uphold transparency in political financing, the judiciary must exercise prudence to prevent unintended consequences that could erode public trust. For instance, in the case of the electoral bond scheme, the judiciary’s intervention inadvertently led to the revelation of donors’ identities, undermining the confidentiality provisions that were intended to protect their anonymity.

In crafting a reform agenda, it is imperative to strike a balance between expediency and due process, preserving the integrity of the judicial system while addressing its shortcomings. Ultimately, the effectiveness of any democracy hinges on the strength of its institutions, particularly its judiciary. By undertaking comprehensive reforms to expedite case disposal, enhance judicial transparency, and bolster institutional capacity, we can reaffirm the judiciary’s pivotal role in upholding the rule of law and ensuring equal access to justice for all.

Sumeet Bhasin

Director, Public Policy Research Centre

Posts on X: @sumeetbhasin

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