The judicial system needs more than just fast-track courts to reduce common litigants’ travel time on the path to justice, which tends to meander its way through technicalities with twists, turns and dead ends. It also needs faster judges, who can act with promptitude and decide cases pending adjudication with alacrity. It needs T-20 Judges.
A system is as good as the person manning it and the justice delivery mechanism is no different. Any attempt to put it on the fast track with no visible obstructions may, on the face of it, appear to progress in the right direction even to a discerning mind looking for solutions to the perpetual predicament of pendency that has the tendency to slow down trials even in cases involving heinous crimes.
After all, the chances of losing track are directly proportional to the length of journey undertaken by a litigant. The longer the road to justice, greater the chance of losing track and a litigant may find himself facing an end that was not his perceived destination. More often than not the best he can get after a long drawn battle is — to use William Somerset Maugham’s expression — the bitterness of an end achieved.
Fast-track courts are appreciable, but not enough. Merely putting cases on the fast track by creating special courts assigned the task of expeditiously deciding the matters will not robotically result in overall augmentation of pace, unless the system’s efficacy is on the whole enhanced and is managed with greater competency.
The powers that be need to remember justice delivery mechanism does not, and cannot, run on an auto-pilot mode just by placing it on an aerodynamic judicial expressway perceived to be free from impediments. Besides the setting up of fast-track courts, the system itself needs to be controlled and managed by dexterous hands that know the fine art of allowing the hammer of justice to fall bang on time on unwarranted delays.
Figures released by the National Judicial Data Grid reveal that 6,15,777 cases are pending before the courts in Punjab alone. Out of the total 3,46,394 cases fall in the category of “criminal” where expeditious disposal is not confined to the realm of desirability by falls in the sphere of necessity. No less than 2,47,704 or over 71 per cent of these cases are more than one year old. The total number of criminal cases filed by women alone comes out to be 39,000.
In Haryana, things are hardly better with 8,15,740 pending cases, including 5,14,753 criminal matters. No less than 3,71,526 or more than 72 per cent of these cases are more than a year old. As many as 32,550 cases under the criminal matters category have been filed by women.
Faced with similar situations in other parts of the country as well, the Union Law Ministry is in the process of setting up more than 1,000 fast-track special courts across the country to deal with pending cases of rape.
The setting up of fast-track courts is a common practice. The concept is almost two decades old and the first ones were, in fact, set up way back in 2000. Its appropriateness may no more be in the domain of deliberation with positive results pouring in. But not all the cases are, or can be, transferred and the process involves substantially large sums of money and creation of additional posts to man these courts. It is otherwise also well established that an increase in the number of judges does not essentially result in a drop in the pendency of cases.
The solution lies elsewhere. In addition to fast-track courts and sanctioning more number of posts, the need of the hour is to spot and concentrate on issue plaguing the system to optimise its functioning for achieving maximum efficiency.
Justice Krishna Iyer, in the case of “Babu Singh versus the State of UP”, had remarked: “Our justice system even in grave cases, suffers from slow motion syndrome which is lethal to ‘fair trial’ whatever the ultimate decision”.
To begin with, the judges need to decry the slow motion syndrome affecting the system and get into proactive and decisive mode. Justice Rajiv Sharma of the Punjab and Haryana High Court decides in a single hearing criminal appeals pending for years. Kaithal District and Sessions Judge MM Dhonchak decided a murder case in about eight days, while trial in a case under same Section for the same offence may take up to two years for decision elsewhere.
The courts need to realise that repeated and unwarranted adjournments tend to retard pace in a setup where speedy justice is fundamental right and an integral component of the right of life ensured under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.
Each court needs to ensure culmination of at least two murder trials in a month. The Superintendents of Police are responsible for production of witnesses. In case of prosecution’s failure to produce them, they should be held personally accountable.
Attachment of property belonging to a witness and imposition of cost is provided for under Section 309 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973. But few judicial officers use these powers. The Judges, as such, need to at least order attachment of salary of official witnesses failing to turn up for prosecution evidence during criminal trials.
In cases where the accused are in various prisons and not produced by the jail authorities, they could be committed to a common jail till the conclusion of trial. The cases of proclaimed offenders arrested later should not be tagged with the existing trial. Delay in providing adequate staff, expeditious reports from forensic science laboratories, and better IT faculties too needs to be cut for ensuring delivery of speedy justice before it loses its meaning. It is fast Judges, and not just fast courts, that are needed.
Law and Order
‘Comply or pay’ directions to prevent multiplicity of litigation
The Punjab and Haryana High Court has come out with an exceptional way of ensuring the compliance of its directions without compelling the litigant to move the court again for the initiation of contempt proceedings. It has embarked upon the process of imposing costs in advance, to be payable in case its orders were not complied with. The ‘comply or pay’ directions for preventing multiplicity of litigation and to ensure observance of judicial orders entail directions to the respondents to decide the petitioner’s representation or pay costs. “This condition of imposing costs is only to prevent petitioner to run from pillar to post and avail remedy of contempt in case of non-compliance of directions issued by this court,” the Bench asserted in a recent order.
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