Need for Speed: Judiciary on Amphetamines?
Just about everybody has an opinion on legal delays. Some, obviously exaggerated, comments put the backlog clearing schedule at a couple of hundred years. Nice after-dinner banter, but way off the mark. Last year, Indian courts cleared two crore cases. So, how come there is still a huge pending docket? Simply because another couple of crore fresh cases were added. In short, if no new case is added for two or three years, there would be no work for judges, lawyers or the staff.
 
But, Nirvana is not in sight.
 
If it is any consolation, other countries have the same problem. Besides those that know of no rule of law, civilised nations, ones that believe in sensible justice, have many pending matters. This phenomenon is not new. Charles Dickens, writing over a hundred years ago, lampooned the system by saying that the present litigating generation did not even know each other! The sins of the ancestors were visiting on their descendants.
 
A train-driver is manhandled for a signal failure; a bus-driver abused for delay due to a traffic jam. So it is with the judicial system—where judges are the visible face. The truth, however, is a bit different. The men in black robes are fully aware of the problem and many do their best to make amends; often to the annoyance of the lawyers and their clients.
 
Canada has a system akin to ours and it has similar problems. Here, we need to differentiate between the two types of cases, civil and criminal. While most of us are more in touch with the former, it is really the latter, criminal matters, that need urgent attention. Those involved are invariable poor. They lack representation and proper assistance. They cannot afford bail; nor can they provide sound sureties. Many are devoid of sharp reasoning. They have been nabbed for an assortment of minor crimes; drunkenness, drugs, pick-pocketing, ticketless travel, vagrancy, loitering.
 
While in custody, they are transported at regular intervals in the black marias, only to be herded back at the end of the day; where they are prey to craven cops. No one counts the days, not even the accused. They simply linger.
 
This was a point of discussion in a Canadian case. All countries have provisions for speedy trials in criminal cases. One cannot be incarcerated indefinitely, without determination. In actual practice, it is a rule only on paper. In one case, a preliminary hearing was scheduled after three years! The accused were out, but the time-table was horrendous. Most guilty persons, out on bail, look forward to the ‘tareek-pe-tareek’ progression. Delay in the day of reckoning is big comfort. But Damocles should know that it only one hair away.
 
In Canada, the arguments for unreasonable delay were for the accused to prove. Conditions to be met, to prove delay, were so dicey that the Supreme Court remarked that “…. it was a throw of the dice.” In effect, though the law existed, its implementation was extremely tenuous. So when one Barret Johnson, charged with drug-trafficking, sought relief for delay, the Bench scratched its collective head to find a solution.
 
Readers will remember our old friend, the reasonable man. We ask that they now decide on the length of the ‘reasonable delay’. What should it be?
 
You be the judge and answer this conundrum.
 
What should the time be? A month, a year, three years, five or ten? Each answer will be the outcome of personal experiences. So, how did the judges decide? They concluded that the outer limit should be 30 months for the superior courts; 18 months for an inferior one. It was a majority decision and at least four judges had reservations about such a fixation. We sympathise with them. 
 
And this is what, in law, is called a legal fiction.
Comments
MG Warrier
6 years ago
In my article posted @moneylife.in on February 5, 2013, I had observed in a different context asunsder:
“There is urgency to fast-track justice not only when sensational issues come up and media/ popular protests highlight them. The immediate measures could include:

• Segregating cases which need to be decided within a year and taking them on a priority basis by the courts now in position.

• Leaving the remaining cases to new Special Courts to be put in place at all levels depending on the number of pending cases.

• Ensuring vacancies of judges are filled in time
• Making it compulsory for government and public sector organizations to expedite procedures where they are on either side of matters before courts. This is necessary as there is laxity on their side as cost and delay seldom affects the individuals who handle cases in government and public sector. This position is slowly creeping into big corporates also.

• Making necessary legislative changes to reduce procedural delays
• Simultaneous efforts to encourage concerned parties to settle issues out of court. This method would bear fruit where party on one side of the dispute is government or quasi-government organizations.
It seems, these observations hold good even today. As new vacancies are sanctioned in government and public sector after due deliberations and most of the time a year or two later from the initiating of processes, the large number of vacancies at various levels directly mean heavy pendency of work. Judiciary’s case is not different. Government and public sector should move forward to a ‘zero-vacancy’ concept sooner than latter.
This wasquoted again in my article posted @moneylife.in during April 2016!
manoharlalsharma
6 years ago
But no one to speak for TIME-PASS cases,the merit less cases pending for years,one like 8508/2003 at Bombay high court,despite application No-WP-1756/2013 and order of the court? whom to make responsible as contempting the order.
Burjor Bharucha
6 years ago
Very well said Mr. Malcolm. Fully agree with you. Judiciary in India are amongst the slowest in the world. This "Tareek pe tareek" system has to change to reduce the magnitude of cases piling up making it impossible to see the result in majority cases

during ones life. Some solution has to be made and that only the learned Judges could do.
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