Delayed justice not only results in justice being denied but, more dangerously, creates incentives to break the law. Massive pendency of cases in courts across India has not only hampered administration of justice over decades but also become a source of friction between judiciary and executive in the past. According to National Judicial Data Grid, there are over 2.54 crore cases pending in subordinate courts. About 9% of them have been pending for more than 10 years and 46.3% for two years. Severe shortage of judges, lack of court management systems, frequent adjournments, indiscriminate use of writ jurisdiction and lack of adequate arrangement to monitor and track cases for hearing are among the major reasons for the delay. Against this depressing backdrop, it is welcome that four States–Haryana, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Kerala–and Union Territory Chandigarh have reduced cases pending for over 10 years in the subordinate courts to near zero. This is no mean achievement, given the overall national backlog scenario. They have set an example for other States to follow. The success was possible because these courts had streamlined the systems, fixed annual targets and action plans for judicial officers to dispose of old cases and criminal cases where the accused is in custody for over two years. Telangana, the country’s newest State, is also capable of being among the best performers but its hands are tied because of legacy problems. Its demand for a separate High Court has not been met even three years after the State’s formation.
Adoption of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) like video conferencing, real-time data monitoring of case status, restricting the number of adjournments, reducing summer vacations and filling up the vacant posts of judges, particularly in lower courts, would go a long way in streamlining the judicial process and ensuring timely disposal of cases. The Supreme Court’s proposal for a national district judge recruitment examination, to raise the quality of district judges, deserves serious consideration. The judicial reforms are the need of the hour to prepare the judicial and legal fraternity to keep pace with the rapid changes being brought in by the complex and diverse economy. The Law Commission of India has called for reducing the time for oral arguments unless the case involves a complicated question of law and framing clear and decisive judgements to avoid further litigation. The new technologies like Artificial Intelligence, which is finding application in a wide range of sectors, can be leveraged to assist the courts in judicial administration. There is a need for setting up of fast-track courts to handle long-pending cases while IT tools can be used to reduce arrears and expedite the processes such as filing of documents and serving of notices.