The overflowing docket of court cases is a positive sign of people’s faith in the judiciary. Everyone involved in the justice delivery system has to work for nurturing this confidence. This can be achieved with the sincere efforts of all stakeholders—Bar, Bench and the Government
With 30 million cases pending in various courts and an average time span of 15 years to get the dispute resolved through court system, our judicial system can hardly be described as satisfactory. Delay in delivery of justice is in fact one of the greatest challenges being faced by our legal system. Inordinate delay in disposal of cases not only brings frustration amongst the litigants, but also weakens the very capability of the system to impart justice in an efficient and effective manner. Long delay also has the effect of defeating justice in quite a number of cases as in many cases issue becomes irrelevant with time.
Common man want inexpensive and expeditious justice and denial of the same may lure him to take law in his own hands instead of taking recourse to law. Of course, a common man is not expected to be conversant with all the intricacies, niceties and technicalities of law and the Constitution, but his common sense often enables him to perceive instinctively some of the facets of reality that often escape the notice of learned experts. He often wonders, for example, when the unprecedented arrears of cases is an obvious fact – why time period is not prescribed by law for deciding a case in time bound manner, why number of courts are not being increased, why courts are still continuing with the colonial practice of long summer vacations, why the courts are so liberal in granting adjournments, why getting justice has not become cheap even after seven decades of Independence, why British era laws which have become outdated and irrelevant in the present times are still there on the statute book?
After assuming office, Modi Government in 2014 took initiative and formed a committee headed by R Ramanujam, Secretary to the Prime Minister's Office, to re-examine all Acts recommended to be repealed by the committee appointed by Atal Behari Vajpayee government in 1998. The result is that present government has weeded out as many as 1,159 obsolete laws in two years. It is indeed a welcome step, which would go a long way in giving quietus to the litigations pending under the said obsolete laws.
There are many more laws, which need re-look according to the changing times. However, there are certain laws which concern the common man and call for urgent attention of the legislature for giving impetus to the expeditious disposal of cases. Rent Laws of different states are invariably loaded in favour of the tenants. It is very difficult, if not impossible, for the landlord to get a let-out premises vacated from the tenant. Even in the case filed by the landlord on the ground of bonafide need, on an average it takes about 10-15 years time to eject a tenant. The landlord who is retiring or has retired from service and wants his property back from the tenant on the ground of bonafide need may live for 10-15 years to enjoy his property. Therefore, it is imperative that the entire process of deciding the rent cases be made time bound and summary procedures be provided for eviction of tenants on the ground of personal need.
Invariably the Revenue Laws of each state are of pre-Independence era. Revenue Laws deals with the agricultural land. Such laws are not only technical but are beyond the comprehension of those for whose benefit the said laws have been made. Beside that it takes unduly long time to decide the proceedings like, partition of agricultural land, sanction of mutation, correction of entries in the revenue records. The Indian society predominantly being agrarian, there is an immediate need to simplify the Revenue Laws which any farmer/agriculturist could understand with ease.
The three Procedure Codes in India—Civil Procedure Code, Criminal Procedure Code and Evidence Act—are more than 100 years old. They are also completely silent on the maximum number of days in which a case must be settled. The result is that cases drag on endlessly. It is very common in India that a civil litigation which originates with a suit from the court of Civil Judge may consume a generation or two till the time it finally culminates with a decision of the Supreme Court. Similarly, in a criminal case a person arrested for a particular offence may actually spend full term prescribed for such offence in jail before the conclusion of trial which may actually end with his acquittal. The delayed conviction of the accused for heinous crimes is also attributable to the lengthy procedures. The accused who has committed an offence never wants the trial to conclude. He often misuses the procedural laws for delaying the trial resulting into judicial delays and in the process justice becomes a casualty.
Labour Laws like Industrial Disputes Act, 1947 was enacted when the Socialist sentiments were dominant in the country but with the economy opening up the Labour Laws needs to be reviewed with an open mind. Consumer Protection Act has been enacted to redress the grievances of the consumers. Its Section 13(3A) provides that “every complaint shall be heard as expeditiously as possible and endeavour shall be made to decide the complaint within a period of three months from the date of receipt of notice by opposite party where the complaint does not require analysis or testing of commodities and within five months if it requires analysis or testing of commodities.” This provision has remained a dead letter in the Act as the first hearing of the consumer complaint after service of notice to the opposite party is invariably fixed after a period of three months. There has been no implementation of this provision in its letter and spirit. No one expects a case to be decided overnight but a reasonable time frame needs to be fixed for a disposal of case by each forum depending on the nature of case. Time is, in fact, ripe to make such provisions mandatory and to be incorporated in every statute.
In a judgment rendered by the Supreme Court on December 4, 2015, in the case of New India Assurance Co. Ltd. Vs. Hilli Multipurpose Cold Storage Pvt. Ltd. (Civil Appeal Nos. 10941-42) the apex court while interpreting Section 13(2)(a) of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 which provides for filing reply in a consumer complaint within a period of thirty days or such extended period not exceeding fifteen days as may be granted by the District Forum, held that the provision to be mandatory. It observed that consumer fora are bound to follow the procedure prescribed under the Consumer Protection Act as this provision is for having a speedy trial. If this period is not adhered to, it will defeat the legislative mandate to dispose of consumer cases within three months, or five months, where laboratory testing of goods is required. This landmark ruling will ensure that opposite parties do not delay filing their version to deliberately delay the proceedings in order to harass the consumer. To incorporate provisions like this in various statutes and procedural laws is the need of the hour.
It is sad, but true, that the litigants seek–and the courts grant–adjournments at the drop of a hat. In the cases where Judges are little proactive and refuse to accede to the requests of unnecessary adjournments, the litigants deploy all sorts of methods in protracting the litigation. In the case of Noor Mohammed Vs Jethanand, (2013) 5 SCC 202, commenting on the delay caused due to dilatory tactics adopted by the parties, the Supreme Court was compelled to say: “….Delay gradually declines the citizenry faith in the system. It is the faith and faith alone that keeps the system alive. It provides oxygen constantly. …Timely delivery of justice keeps the faith ingrained and establishes the sustained stability. Access to speedy justice is regarded as human right which is deeply rooted in the foundational concept of democracy and such a right is not only the creation of law but also a natural right. This right can be fully ripened by the requisite commitment of all concerned with the system.”
In a very recent judgment rendered by the Supreme Court on July 27, 2016 in Gayathri Vs M Girish, Supreme Court while coming heavily on the repeated adjournments stated that, “we are constrained to say the virus of seeking adjournment has to be controlled.”
Though the judicial pronouncements of the Supreme Court will go a long way in guiding the Indian Courts to discourage frequent adjournments but still it is high time that at least a provision may be incorporated in every procedural law that no adjournment shall be ordinarily granted by the courts unless sufficient cause is shown and the reason for the grant of adjournment is recorded in writing and making it further obligatory on the courts to impose cost on the party seeking adjournment.
The list of laws which needs to be reshaped or introduced with changing times is endless. Making of best laws and introduction of new procedures would not be sufficient to provide justice to a common man. No doubt the overflowing docket of court cases is a positive sign of people’s faith in the judicial system. But everyone involved in the system of dispensation of justice has to sustain and nurture that confidence of the common man in the
effectiveness of the judicial system. This can only be achieved with the sincere efforts of all the stakeholders–Bar, Bench and the Government. No system, not even judicial system, could be better than the men who man it. Dr BR Ambedkar, the Principal Architect of the Constitution said in his constituent assembly speech on November 25, 1949, “I feel, however good a Constitution may be, it is sure to turn out bad because those who are called to work it, happen to be a bad lot. However bad a Constitution may be, it may turn out to be good if those who are called to work it, happen to be a good lot.”
(The writer is Supreme Court Advocate)