In the controversies over judicial appointments, things such as delayed court verdicts and lack of a sound infrastructure are being lost sight of. The judgment in the Kumbakonam fire tragedy has finally come after 10 long years, and there have been plenty of cases in which people have been found to be not guilty after they have spent more than a decade in jail, which points to severe flaws in our criminal justice system. Going by the count made some years ago, the Supreme Court itself had about 55,000 cases awaiting verdict while the figure is about 60 million overall.
With a population of about 1.2 billion, India has 12,000 courts or so, which is insufficient. Apart from the number of courts, the judicial strength is also inadequate. Also, alternative ways of conflict resolution, such as conciliation and arbitration, have not been tried enough. The non-judicial court staff is often found wanting in education and training. While this is frustrating and painful for the individual, the country too suffers because it is now recognised that legal reforms play a major part in economic growth. It is often said if there is one sector that is outside the reforms process, it is the judiciary.
The lack of enough court rooms is another factor in obstructing a quick delivery of justice. The government has allocated just more than Rs 1,000 crore as part of the planned expenditure for building courts, while Rs 7,060 crore has been earmarked for smart cities. This is evidently a mismatch. The Judicial Accountability Bill is supposed to make judges responsible for their lapses, but in the absence of suitable infrastructure no amount of legislation can ensure speedy justice, which, in the last analysis, is what people want.
There have been suggestions of an All India Judicial Service for entry into the higher courts much in the way judicial posts in lower courts are filled through examinations at the state level. That will enable a person of merit to get a chance to become a high court judge without the necessary ‘connections’. Also to beef up our judicial infrastructure, a fund similar to the Consolidated Fund of India may be considered.