Union law and justice minister Ravi Shankar Prasad on Sunday said the Centre is working hard to ensure citizens get a justice system which reflects values and ideals enshrined in the Constitution.
A big step forward in this direction is structural reforms of the judicial system, he said in his address at the 22nd annual convocation of National Law School of India University in Bangalore.
He said once the states endorse the constitutional amendment of National Judicial Appointments Commission Bill which was unanimously passed in both houses of Parliament, the law would mark the beginning of a new participatory process, with increased transparency in selection of judges, while maintaining judicial independence and predominance.
"This was a process for which the wheels were set in motion at least two decades ago. We are now committed to developing the databank of the performance of young lawyers so that the best talent is considered for appointment as judges," he added.
The convocation was presided over by Justice R M Lodha, Chief Justice of India and NLSI chancellor. It was also attended by sitting and retired judges of Supreme Court and State High Courts and representatives from the Bar Council.
Prasad said not only was a transparent and independent justice system required, "we also must address the fact that the justice delivery system itself is weighed down with issues of pendency and backlog of cases."
The minister said this was problem that concerns not only members of legal profession, but more importantly the public at large, which is looking for much more efficiency in dispensation of justice.
The two major contributing factors to pendency, he said, are the inadequate number of judges (vacancies) coupled with infrastructure deficiencies.
"Many of you (students) may become judges and I encourage you to aspire towards that, but be the kind of judge or advocate that simplifies the experience for the litigants, and demystifies the judicial process so that he or she is satisfied and feels that justice has been served."
Admitting that a large number of vacancies continues to be a problem at both the subordinate and High Court level, he said "on a more positive note, I'm pleased to announce that there has been an in principle approval to increase in the sanctioned strength of High Courts by 25 per cent."
"The High Courts have begun the process of sending in proposals regarding the same. We look forward to having this develop quickly and will keep everyone up to date on its progress," he added.
Noting that provision of good infrastructure is a stepping stone to ensure more efficient justice delivery, Prasad said this is a primary responsibility of a state government, but the Centre is working on these issues in tandem with various High Courts and State governments through a centrally sponsored scheme.
"By extending a hand financially, we are hoping that the resources of the state government would be bolstered to ensure that judicial infrastructure is robust, and as per global standards, that is the ultimate goal. This includes construction of court premises and buildings as well as residential accommodation for judicial officers," he added.
Stating that substantial efforts had already been made to embrace Information and Communication Technology in courts at both district and subordinate levels, he said this is a major priority area for the government, which was working in mission mode, in collaboration with National Informatics Centre (NIC) and the Supreme Court eCommittee.
"Through this, we are aiming to get over 14,000 subordinate courts computerised," he said.
Highlighting the issue of undertrials, Prasad said this was something that was of utmost concern to the government.
"This is not only a human rights issue for those who are lodged behind bars, but also a matter of great concern for our judicial system," he said.
He said 66% of the prison population today comprises undertrials. "In other words, there are more undertrial prisoners in jails compared to actual convicts."
Pointing out that the law was amended to facilitate release of prisoners who had served at least half the maximum period of imprisonment specified for that crime, he said implementation must however be undertaken urgently and there was a need to employ technology and ICT methods to address this problem.
"The Centre has already started this process. The National Informatics Centre has created software for prisons with a goal of developing a database of prison inmates- with a focus on undertrial prisoners," he said.