December 30, 2016

Visualizing a New India 2017- Episode 1: Speeding Up Indian Judiciary

2017 is just few hours ahead; Every New year we make certain resolutions and keep some of them. We start with new aspirations and realign our goals. Therefore, it is time that we visualize a new India, without corruption, efficient technologically, where everyone is delivered timely justice and every individual has access to school and education. This is the first and foremost blog of my New Year series "Visualizing a New India" where I brainstorm ideas and innovations to India's long drawn problems. 

"The execution of law is more important than making them," said Thomas Jefferson, principal author of the Declaration of Independence. His statement couldn't have been truer if seen in context with the current state of Indian judiciary. The judicial system in India lags behind with millions of cases queued up thanks to inadequate infrastructure and vacant seats. A swift justice delivery system is as important as the law itself. No doubt, any law holds redundant unless its violators are punished. Therefore, here are some steps that can be implemented to speed up the Indian judiciary.

Petty Offenses- Minimizing Time Wastage in Courts

There are a number of petty offenses which eat up a lot of time of courts. The Indian Penal Code prescribes a special procedure for such petty offenses, which asks the court to send a fine letter along with the summoning to the accused. This means that in case the accused doesn’t wish to participate in the judicial trial, he/she can simply pay the fine and the case would be taken back. However, this only applies for ‘petty offenses’ which refers to offenses with accusations of less than 1000 rupees. This limit can be extended to, say a 10000 rupee limit. There are thousands of people who would prefer paying the 10k fine rather than getting into the never-ending, lethargic judicial process which would itself cost them more than their fine. Taking such a measure would enable the court to zero down on the time spent on such petty cases and hence, concentrate on more important cases.

Pre-trial Hearing- Justice by Negotiation

The concept of pre-trial hearing must be implemented in the Indian judiciary for reducing time wastage in courts. A pre-trial hearing, typically, happens when the prosecutor wants to place a plea bargain to the accused. However, in context of the Indian judiciary, the purview of a pre trial hearing can be slightly altered. Cases must be made to pass through a pre trial session where a junior judge or retired judge acting as mediator tries to find a negotiable deal between the parties involved in the case. If both the sides of the court case reach an agreement, then the trial is suspended and the judicial time is saved. Encouraging such a system would further help reduce the review cases in higher courts as the case is being solved by agreement. However, in order to restore the credibility of judiciary, it is important that the cases where a pre trial agreement is not reached or the agreement reached is later disputed; the trial is allowed to commence or be reinstated.   

Specialization of Judges- Better and Faster Conflict Resolution

A system must be developed which recognizes judges and categorizes them as per their expertise into different categories like marriage, murder, kidnapping, corporate tax, etc. Court cases related to divorce must preferably go to the judge specialized in marriage. This would help in hastening up the process as the judge would be well-aware of the laws and previous rulings of his/ her expertise area. This would not only make the functioning more efficient but also qualitatively better. When I discussed such a proposal with my friends, one of them did not like the idea because that he believed that would lead to an imbalance of cases, with one judge having very high workload and the other being very free. He had clearly misunderstood me. When I write about specialization of judges, I mean to say that the philosophy of specialization must be followed and not a law of specialization. Therefore, in case of a dispute over say, divorce the case must preferably go to the marriage judge; however that doesn’t mean it cannot be heard by other judges.

Case Management- Better Categorization

There are numerous instances where important cases such as the Bhopal Gas Tragedy case weren’t ruled because the court was too busy going over petty and less important cases. Therefore, it is extremely important that some cases are prioritized over others and must be carried forward at a faster rate. Such categorization is though a hugely subjective task and would require qualified manpower; however the task can be made more objective by providing simple guidelines. For example, cases under the category of ‘rape’ must be prioritized over cases in the category of ‘theft.’ A priority list can be prepared.

Secondly, under such categorization, cases which are similar or litigations about the same thing can be grouped and heard together or in parallel. Thirdly, it is very interesting that a huge number of cases lagging in the courts are those amongst state governments, central government and other institutions of the government. Another institution under the judiciary can be built to deal with intergovernmental cases so that the frontend judicial system can wholly focus on matters involving the citizens.  

Concluding Notes

One can go on and on reforming the archaic judicial procedures and ideas in India which have changed a little since the British raj. Some believe that the Lok Adalats which are currently held once or twice a year must be made permanent institutions. Others pitch for the idea of e-courts where disputes can be instantly solved by negotiation with the help of an online mediator. A lot of people believe that the number of holidays must be reduced and the courts must function for more than 250 days if not 365. Some critics suggest that the courts can be made to function 24x7 so as to get more time for trials. However, prerequisite to all these reforms is the need to fill in the vacancies in the judicial system. There are only about three-quarters of judges working out of the total required number. It would be wrong to simply say that the vacancies must be filled as more than just filling the vacancies, what is important is that the vacancies are appropriately filled.

Unarguably Indian judiciary even though slow and sluggish, is largely unbiased and has so far, retained its credibility. Only a few cases exist where the court decisions were challenged by undemocratic means and not accepted. Therefore, my only fear remains that in the haste to fill up the vacancies, the Indian judiciary doesn’t compromise on its credibility and quality. No doubt, justice delayed is justice denied but swift justice at the cost of no real justice doesn’t seem to be a very convincing idea to me.

Thank you for reading and keep on checking FasciNative for the next episodes!

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