That the Indian judicial system desperately needs to find a way to bring legal cases to their conclusion in a more efficient and timely manner cannot be disputed. Some estimates suggest that about 30 million cases remain pending in various courts across the country. Most cases drag on for several years, without reaching a conclusion. The appointment of judges to vacant posts in various courts is just one of the issues that require immediate attention.
In many cases, undertrials spend more time in jail than the period of punishment for their crime, if proved in court, would require. Litigants routinely miss court dates, causing hearings to get repeatedly postponed. A work around to this could be to use technology to make the judicial process more streamlined.
Speaking at the closing ceremony of the sesquicentennial celebrations of Allahabad High Court, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday emphasised the importance of using information and communication technologies (ICTs) such as video conferencing to streamline the judicial process. This could be a very useful way to ensure that cases are dealt with in a timely manner. If government officials and litigants could appear in court via secure video conferencing links, it could save everyone precious time, effort, and money.
Litigants who require to travel from other cities to appear at court could be present at designated court spaces in their city and appear anywhere else in the country through video conferencing. Undertrials in jails could also be presented in court using this system.
Courts have already moved many filing systems to an online platform, making it easier to find and access court documents, and some police departments even allow the filing of FIRs online, but much more needs to be done to make a significant dent in the number of pending cases in the country.
The setting up of fast-track courts to handle cases that have already gone on for a stipulated amount of time, in order to ensure that undertrials do not spend more time in jail than the length of their possible sentence, would also be a reform worth considering. This would help clear up some of the backlog and also free up much-needed space in jails, which remain overcrowded and unhygienic in most parts of the country.
In a welcome move, three constitutional benches have been set up to hear important matters during the summer vacation. Chief Justice of India, Jagdish Singh Khehar has pointed out that if all judges work only 5 days in the summer vacation, thousands of more cases could be brought to their lawful conclusion. But once again, given that the volume of pending cases runs into the tens of millions, it will take much more than three constitutional benches and five days in the summer holidays to make the judicial system significantly more time-efficient.