Citizens becoming law breakers due to court delays: Retired SC judge

ByMurali Krishnan
Aug 03, 2020 05:20 PM IST

New Delhi: Delay by courts in deciding cases is forcing the public to resort to extra-legal measures to solve their disputes and law-abiding citizens are becoming lawbreakers, retired Supreme Court (SC) judge justice RV Raveendran said last week.

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HT Image

The mounting pendency of cases is also affecting the quality of dispensation of justice, as judges look at cases as mere “statistics” rather than as a human problem due to the enormous workload on them, he had said on July 28, urging measures to be taken to address the pressing issue.

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“Due to delay, confidence in the rule of law and justice system is getting eroded. So, people start thinking of solutions outside the legal framework. Landlords engage musclemen to evict tenants, financial institutions engage dubious collection agencies, etc. Law-abiding citizens become a society of lawbreakers. This is the most dangerous side-effect of delay,” he said.

Justice Ravindran, who retired from the SC in 2011, was speaking at the launch of a book titled Justice Frustrated: The Systemic Impact of Delay in Indian Courts by Daksh, a civil society organisation.

The book is a volume of essays with contributions from jurists, economists, sociologists, and researchers. The book gives insight into the effects of delay and to understand the practical repercussions of judicial delay on the lives of people, organisations, institutions, and society itself.

“Learnings from Daksh’s Access to Justice Surveys in 2016 and 2017 (findings of which are published in two earlier reports, State of The Indian Judiciary and Approaches to Justice in India) made us think more deeply about the various kinds of impact that judicial delay has on individuals, society, and the justice system. This led us to conceptualise this book. In analysing the impact of judicial delay, we want to go beyond calculating the costs and time spent on attending court hearings to a more nuanced and detailed understanding of the cascading effects of judicial delay at multiple levels,” Surya Prakash BS, programme director, at Daksh told HT.

Justice Ravindran, in his speech, highlighted the abysmal judge to population ratio which, he said, was one of the major reasons for the delay.

“Indian judiciary has a judge population ratio of 18 judges per million. Judiciary seldom functions at its sanctioned strength, it normally operates with 75% of strength. So the ratio of judges to the population will be around 12. If you compare it with developed countries, they have 50 to 110 judges per million,” he said.

He said that the mindset of the bar and the bench has to change when it comes to addressing the issue.

“A powerful bar and a very conservative judiciary have developed a mindset tuned to think of the life cycle of cases in terms of years and decades rather than days and months. Negotiated settlements and adoption of alternative dispute resolution is not given the push which they deserve,” Ravindran added.

He said that the executive, legislature and the judiciary have been lacklustre, when it comes to tackling the problem.

“The response of the executive to demands for more courts, judge, and infrastructure have been lukewarm. The response of the legislature to the demand for better laws has been sluggish. The response of judiciary for demands for better processes for selection of judges and their training has been unsatisfactory,” he said.

“Judicial delays are a societal problem, not just a judicial institution problem. They have social, economic, political, and other day-to-day ramifications and affects our lives in more ways than one without us realising it. It goes to the very root of our constitutional republic. After all, if we don’t sort out our problems in court, the rule of law fails and undermines us as a society,” said Harish Narasappa, lawyer and co-founder of Daksh.

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