“Justice delayed is justice denied”, goes the popular saying. The Constitution of India gives every citizen the fundamental right to seek legal remedy in a court of law. Indian Judiciary has been praised for its strong principled support of the cause of justice. Yet Justice Dipak Misra, the then Chief Justice of India observed in 2018, the criticism faced by Indian judiciary due to huge piling up of pending court matters. With the Covid-19 pandemic raging since 2020, pending cases in courts across India have gone up by substantially as per Indian Express report. If this is the state of Indian courts in general, one wonders about the situation in courts in our state.
As per the Law minister’s reply to a question in the Odisha Legislative Assembly on 7th December 2021, there were 17,68,704 cases pending in district courts of Odisha presently. There are 1,87,028 cases pending in the High Court, the minister informed the Assembly.
Concerned about pending criminal cases, the Supreme Court in June 15 last year asked the Orissa High Court to submit a plan of action regarding disposal of criminal cases. The Supreme Court observed that if the appeal of convicted criminals in jail if not heard on time, the right to appeal would be illusory as the criminal would end up spending most of his jail sentence without appeal. The National Judicial Data grid records that 23.03% of the criminal cases in Odisha are delayed currently as they remain unattended.
Numbers alone never tell us the complete story. We need to understand how courts in Odisha are performing in comparison to other states. The Mint in an article published on 18 August 2019 compared the performance of law courts in various states. They based their research on the Judicial stress index, which is an objective score based on rate of pending cases, case load per population of the district and infrastructure in district courts. This research placed Odisha among the last three states in India based on performance. The research observed that while Odisha had similar number of court cases per population as Kerala and Maharashtra, the lack of court infrastructure makes Odisha less able to handle cases. This was the reason for Odisha having one of the highest levels of pending court cases in the country. Since then Odisha has worked steadily in clearing pending cases. It is good news that Odisha is no longer among the top 3 in number of pending cases.
Are pending cases in court a matter of public interest? It is no secret that Odisha is one of the least economically successful states in India. Economic surveys time and again have shown that improving performance of the lower judiciary makes the biggest improvement in ease of doing business. The easier doing business in Odisha is, the better will be our states’ growth and prosperity. In other words, investment in improving the performance of Odisha law courts is one of the most effective and profitable steps the government can take for rapid development of the state.
With the link between pending court cases and economic development of the state being established, possible solutions need to be discussed. Concerned with growing numbers of pending court cases, the Supreme Court organized a national initiative to reduce delay in the judicial system. As a part of this initiative in 2018, the then CJI Justice Dipak Misra, advised chief justices of high courts to study and implement court and case management techniques. He suggested the appointment of court managers to help in better management of courts. He felt that old cases must be taken up on a priority. Many old cases get rendered irrelevant by time. This is especially important in Odisha as the National Judicial Data grid records that 3380 cases are pending since more than 20 years. There are 1049 cases pending since more than 30 years in courts of Odisha. It is possible that many of these cases may have been rendered irrelevant by time.
The National Judicial Data Grid also records the reasons for delays in court cases. In civil cases in Odisha, the commonest cause in as many as 26.53% of the cases was that the case remained unattended. In criminal cases, 64.81% of the cases were delayed because presence could not be secured.
Justice Ranjan Gogoi as a part of the 2018 Supreme Court initiative stressed on the need for filling vacancies in lower judiciary. He noted the need for consistent judicial policy regardless of change in judges. This would go a long way in reducing pending cases. He also advised writing judgements in brief and simple language to save time of judges. The eminent legal expert Prof NR Madhav Menon advised Judges should not be sent to non-judicial positions. This is good advice for Odisha where judges from lower courts are sent by the government to perform duties like managing government run temples, which has no relation with the administration of justice.
The role of the government is of great importance in reducing pending court cases. In his book on Justice delayed and denied in India, Doctor V V L N Shastri notes the immense fault of government in increasing pending court cases. As governments do not readily and speedily honour a judgement against it, this leads to new cases in an attempt to get the government to implement the judgment of the court.
(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same. The author is an Orthopedic Surgeon and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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