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We need more judges, in court

india Updated: Aug 09, 2009 23:25 IST
JS Verma

Let me tell you the story of a retired senior bureaucrat. For more than ten years, he has had a case - a completely frivolous charge - pending against him in a trial court. He came to me one day and asked: "Is there any way in which I can get the case to end before I die? I don't want my children to continue to suffer the ignominy even after I am dead". This bureaucrat would've been happy to come to a court even at midnight, just so that he could've had his case decided

In the UK, barristers and solicitors act as judges in courts where they aren't practicising. They're called Recorders. It is exactly this public-spiritedness that is missing from courts in India.

In fact, these days, it's common for judges to be absent from court even on a working day, for reasons that seem perfectly avoidable. When I was practicising, we would decline even an official invitation to lunch from the President. Many valuable hours are lost because of extra-judicial activity in courts. This needs to be corrected at the very highest level.

Next, we need to dispose of cases that I call 'artificial arrears'. These are cases - like traffic offenses - that require very little time, and can be easily decided but are instead usually adjourned. Several such cases, which involve a common law point can be clubbed together and be decided by one judgment alone.

This method was adopted in the Supreme Court (SC) in the 1990s. Cases in the SC went down from approximately 1,10,000 to 19, 000 by adopting a set of such measures with the joint effort of the Bench and the Bar. If these methods can be effective in the SC, then why would they not work in the courts below?

Other than this, at subordinate courts, the government should also allow the appointment of eminent citizens as Special Magistrates under the Code of Criminal Procedure. These magistrates can dispose minor matters like traffic offences and ordinary crimes. I had even written to the Chief Justices of High Courts proposing this. However, it hasn't been put into practice.

And instead of constantly recruiting a large contingent of new judges to deal with judicial backlog (with the risk of diluting the quality of judges), it is more practical to re-employ retired judges who are fit and can do the job. This would result in decreased costs as well. The retired judges can work with the same infrastructure after regular court working hours. They can identify cases that qualify as 'artificial arrears' and deal with them, leaving the regular judges to preside over bigger cases.

Finally, there are a few smaller things that can be done: decriminalizing petty offences that can then just be dealt with in the civil courts, and granting adjournments only for completely unavoidable reasons. Adjournments are often used as excuses by lawyers to delay a case.

JS Verma is a former Chief Justice of India.