Last Saturday, Justice Ranjan Gogoi of the Supreme Court did well to dwell on long judicial delays in India caused mainly by frivolous and meaningless litigations that consumed unnecessary court time leading to judicial delays in important cases. Speaking on “Challenges Faced by the Indian Judiciary” at Ravindra Bhawan in Guwahati, Justice Gogoi pointed out that there were 65,000 pending cases in the Supreme Court, 44 lakh in the 24 high courts and three crore in the subordite courts of the country. He claimed that a majority of such cases were frivolous in ture. Citing an example, he said that several bail petitions had been moved by Sahara chief Subroto Roy and that every time the application was accompanied by a prayer for a change in the bench. The Sahara case, he said, consumed 83 days of the Supreme Court besides several hundred judge hours (time taken to write the orders). He added that due to the pressure of such frivolous cases, deserving cases got delayed. He quoted a Bombay High Court observation that a resourceful litigant could keep cases pending for very long. He suggested that the legislature should frame laws with provisions that anyone who initiates and continues litigations senselessly, pays for the same. “And the costs should be made prohibitive to act as a deterrent,” he added. “The reasons for judicial delays should be understood, not for the justification of the reason, but for addressing them,” Justice Gogoi said and pointed out that in many countries, one cannot go to the court directly. “The court is a resort only in exceptiol cases, and depending on the intrinsic merit of the case,” he said.
The other major challenge faced by the judiciary was a shortage of judges, according to Justice Gogoi. He said that in 1987, the judge-to-population ratio was 10 per million. That year, the Law Commission had recommended the enhancement of the ratio to 50 per million by 1992 and 107 per million by 2000. But unfortutely, the ratio is still 14 judges per million. Justice Gogoi pointed out that in addition to the very low judge-to-population ratio, there were also 250 seats vacant in the high courts and 4,000 courts were vacant at the district level. “Going by the pattern of cases, there will be 15 crore pending cases in 2040 and this will require 75,000 judges.
He had three major suggestions for reducing the law’s delay and the number of pending cases in addition to the one of hefty fines referred to earlier. The first was the optimum use of the available manpower and infrastructure resources. “For example, why can’t we send the summons over fax or email? Some courts have already done it. It should save a lot of time,” he said. His second suggestion was to reduce the length of the proceedings without compromising on the jurisprudence and principles. He said that a time limit could be fixed for oral arguments and that the courts could insist on written arguments. His third suggestion was for the introduction of “plea bargaining”, a practice whereby the accused in a lesser crime admits his crime and the judge disposes the cases accordingly, generally by commuting his punishment. Filly, Justice Gogoi was of the view that it was necessary to shed the fat from judgements and dispense with long judgements that the common man could not understand.
While Justice Gogoi raised the vital issue of the law’s delay that is often making a mockery of judicial processes in India and made important suggestions to remedy the present situation, there are two other measures to drastically reduce the number of frivolous cases. One is to cut out the leniency with which adjournments are granted by judges. The other is to discipline the most frequent litigant, mely the government. Government departments file frivolous court cases that can well be resolved departmentally. This does not happen for two reasons. First, departmental heads are quick to file court cases because the government pays for them. Secondly, it is vindictiveness and a perverse desire to show off power that impels many officers to file cases against their subordites in the department instead of settling disputes out of court. It is, therefore, important that the Supreme Court should crack down on departmental heads of the government for filing frivolous cases before extending the measure to all litigants. The apex court would do well to send a circular to all government departments warning them of the high cost of filing frivolous cases that would have to be paid for by the officers concerned who file such cases and not the government.