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Pendency of Case and Virtual Courts (13 August 2020)

Pendency of Case and Virtual Courts (13 August 2020)

Why in News:

Mounting pendency of cases from the Supreme Court to the lower courts has Vice President M. Venkaiah Naidu worried as he expressed concern on the issue. Naidu also urged the government and the judiciary to ensure faster justice.

Context:

He was addressing the Platinum Jubilee meet of Dr B.R. Ambedkar College of Law, Andhra University on the occasion of its 76th Foundation Day. Naidu underscored the need to make delivery of justice speedier and affordable. Citing adjournment of cases over long periods, he observed that justice was becoming costly and referred to the well-known proverb “justice delayed is justice denied”. In a significant statement, the Vice President remarked that Public Interest Litigations (PILs) should not become private interest litigations for personal, pecuniary and political interests.

Background:

The pendency of cases has increased significantly at every level of the judicial hierarchy in the last decade.  Between 2006 and now, there has been an overall increase of 22% (64 lakh cases) in the pendency of cases across all courts. 

As of August 2019, there are over 3.5 crore cases pending across the Supreme Court, the High Courts, and the subordinate courts.  Of these, subordinate courts account for over 87.3% pendency of cases, followed by 12.5% pendency before the 24 High Courts.  The remaining 0.2% of cases are pending with the Supreme Court.

Summary of the Debate

Efforts taken to reduce pendency of the cases in the courts are:

  • The infrastructure of the courts has been improved right from the Supreme Court to lower courts.
  • The in-service training and orientation program for the judges to acquaint themselves with the latest development of the law and the new laws which are coming up.
  • A mobile application “Justice App” has been introduced by the government for judges across the country to help them track how many cases are pending before them.
  • The government has also upgraded the judicial infrastructure by introducing Information Communication Technology (ICT) to more and more courts in the country.
  • The government has been placing focus on tackling the pending litigation because the burden to reduce pendency is not only on the judiciary but also on the central government as 40 percent of the litigation is of the government.

Challenges of the Virtual courts:

  • The technical glitches, definitely the network issues in most parts of the country.Can a full-strength Supreme Court dispose its pile of pending ...
  • Majority of lawyers and members of the judiciary, especially subordinate judiciary who are not well versed with the operating a machine or operating a computer.
  • It is very different, how to share your screen while arguing or how to look into a document simultaneously when you are also hearing an argument.
  • There was an apprehension usually that how things are going to turn out, because in usual court hearing arguing counsel used to get an opportunity to interject or to offer arguments during the counter-arguments, so at several aspects, the beauty of arguments which lawyer used to always enjoy may be missing.
  • It has been started around 2005-06 to digitize the entire program and the entire system and to interlink the entire judicial system which started very earlier has not been completed.
  • Even the basic things like e-filing have not taken place. In 2017, Justice J. S. Khehar, then CJI has declared that after a couple of months it going to be all paperless court at least S.C, but still papers are being used.

Way Forward:

  • Judge population ratio need to be Increase and vacancies must be filled up.
  • Use of ICT (Information and communications technology) in the Judiciary.
  • Implementation of law in the spirit in which it was enacted will also help in reducing pendency.
  • Courts need to exercise restraint and apply some sort of checks and balances and genuine PILs must be entertained while the frivolous one must be curtailed, even if courts are forced to impose heavy costs or fines on the petitioners, because the court time is meant for genuine litigants.
  • The existing system must be used to the benefit of genuine litigants.
  • All cases cannot be conducted through virtual courts; it has to be a hybrid model of the virtual court as well as physical court.
  • Technical glitches need to be sorted out so that the digital divide can be avoided which is existing as of now and it will also expedite the disposal of cases.

Important points made by the Guests

P. K. Malhotra, Former Secretary, Ministry of Law & Justice 

  • According to the latest data available on the National Judicial grid, today in the Supreme Court (S.C), there are more than 60,450 cases which are pending. There are 45,12,800 cases are pending in the High Court, out of which 85 percent cases are pending for more than one year. Similarly, in the district and sub-ordinate court 2,89,96,000 cases are pending and 80 percent of these cases are pending for more than one year.
  • To dispose of these case, we have 34 judges in the Supreme Court, we have 1079 sanctioned judges in the High Courts, out of which 390 posts are lying vacant and in the district and subordinate courts there are 22,677 sanctioned judges, out of which 6000 posts are lying vacant and this problem of vacancy of judges is a permanent feature because of the delay which is taking place in the appointment of judges
  • Judge population ratio in the country in spite of the best efforts has not increased to the desired level as it is in the developed world or other advanced countries.
  • In spite of all the steps taken at various levels, we have not been able to reduce pendency.
  • This covid-19 situation has come as a blessing and disguise in the sense that use of Information and communications technology (ICT) in the courts earlier was basically computerization of the court, listing the cases on the computer, posting the judgments on the internet and filing of the petition was also done on the network. But so far as the hearing of the cases in the court was concerned that was not taking place, most of the advocates were reluctant for hearing through video conferences or through virtual court.
  • Similarly, the kind of confidence which should be generated among the litigants so far as the functioning of the virtual court is concerned because of the glitches in the technology was another factor because of which it was not taking place.
  • The S.C after the COVID-19 passed an order under Article 142 of the Constitution, mandating all courts including the High Courts and the District Courts to frame the guidelines under which, virtual courts can take place and hearing can continue even in this COVID-19 situation where physical distancing and social distancing became very important so that courts are not crowded and the spreading of the disease can be contained.
  • With the kind of acquaintance which judges has acquired, the advocates are also appearing through virtual courts, a time will come when most of the cases which are either repetitive in nature or remand cases, family court cases, motor vehicle cases, etc. All these cases can be heard through virtual courts and which is only very important cases where the recording of evidence is very important or some very important constitutional cases are involved, probably normal court functioning will required.
  • This virtual court has come as a big boon to all of us which will definitely help us in reducing pendency by use of artificial intelligence as well as by saving the time of traveling of the advocates because sitting in the comfort of their house they can argue cases not only in one court but may be in the two three courts on the same day through the use of information technology.
  • In the provision of the Civil Procedure Code (CPC), a specific provision was made way back in 1992 that the court will not grant more than three adjournments, in case they are granting more than three adjournments then cost will be put on the party who is seeking adjournment but this practice is also not being followed strictly.

Satya Prakash, Legal Editor, The Tribune 

  • The Bar Council of India which regulates legal profession in India, the Supreme Court Bar Association and the Advocates on Record Association; all three major bar associations have requested the S.C to go for a physical court hearing as soon as possible. In fact Bar Council of India went to the extent of saying that because of the virtual court system, the entire system is being hijacked by a very small group of lawyers and they said 95 percent of the lawyers are going to become briefless.
  • So this COVID-19 situation has exposed the digital divide in the legal profession, there are people who have access to all these gadgets, they can operate these gadgets and hence they can access the court, but there are others who simply don’t have the gadgets or they have the quality of gadgets and the wifi connection or the internet connection is such that they cannot access the court.
  • In fact, Bar Council of India tried to address it by having some arrangements where they provide the basic gadgets to lawyers to approve. So, they tried to solve it to the extent possible but it is not practically feasible to provide electronic gadgets to thousand of lawyers in Delhi or may be lakhs of lawyers across India, so this has to be worked out.
  • This is a completely different situation, so we need to fall back on technology and to the extent possible, the Supreme Court and the High courts and even trial courts have tried to use technology, but unfortunately, Judiciary has been a very slow learner.
  • At some level there is also a question of mindset, there is a generation gap between the judges and lawyers, the younger judges who are pretty well with all these gadgets barring a few older ones who are not comfortable.
  • In the legal profession the youngsters who are pretty well versed in all these gadgets and they know how to use it, for youngsters it is very comfortable and some of the older generations also know how to operate it , but at the larger level i.e. Judiciary in general across India and bulk of the pendency in the trial court, if we want to address that, this judicial divide in the Judiciary has to be addressed unless that is addressed in situations like this the pendency is going to multiply.
  • The study conducted by the National Court Management System of the Supreme Court in 2012 says “As the literacy rate and the income standard go up, the number of cases being filed in the courts will drastically increase” and in the next three decades the courts will have around 15 crore cases.  

Piyush Singh, Advocate, Supreme Court   

  • Initially the legal fraternity especially the lawyers resisted for virtual court throughout before the COVID-19 situation. But it has been a blessing and disguise for most of the lawyers for two primary reasons; one is accessibility to all courts throughout the country so, a lawyer can appear sitting in Delhi for a matter which is in Bombay high court also in Kolkata high court or may be in any district court.
  • Also for the clients who used to travel for every date of hearing from different parts of the country for a particular date of hearing and the matter may get adjourned, the matter may be heard or may not be heard.
  • So, for all the three pillars, for judiciary also it has turned out to be very convenient because even the court files are digitised and for judges also.
  • One of the biggest advantages of the virtual court is that even the evidence can be taken virtually and it can be absolutely as seamless as it is done in day to day hearing.
  • With virtual hearing, even the special courts can be able to be very well equipped to deal with the pendency.

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