Judiciary needs to use lockdown period for hearing old cases : The Tribune India

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Judiciary needs to use lockdown period for hearing old cases

The judiciary needs to use the lockdown period for opening new doors to old cases. Its unique initiative to accord virtual hearing to urgent and fresh matters during the lockdown phase has displayed its resilience and extraordinary capabilities to adapt it to adverse circumstances. It now needs to carry forward the experiment for hearing, and deciding, legacy cases covered under the dust of time.

The High Court is currently experiencing judicial slowdown and is working in a restricted mode in view of the Covid threat. It had on March 24 declared that the hearing of “extremely urgent cases” only would be carried out through video-conferencing or video-calling facility.

As the threat of Corona outbreak is turning into a sordid reality and the virus is showing confirmed signs of further tightening its grip in the coming days, any assumption regarding the early opening of Courts will only result in a loss of contact with the actuality.

Months may pass before the lawyers succeed in making a tectonic shift from virtual to actual hearing. Already, indications are that the lockdown may eventually merge into the summer vacations, which would mean continuation of little-work period well into July.

The cascading effects Covid-19 pandemic will create ripples that will take at least a year to settle down. The number of hearings per case has already come down drastically. Some matters are at times on an average heard just thrice in a year. It may, under the circumstances, take years, even decades, before a matter is decided.

A Bench hearing criminal appeals, headed by Justice Rajiv Sharma, in just about a year managed to decide matters pending since 2001 and is now hearing pleas filed in 2010. But the alacrity with which it was functioning is likely to suffer a setback because of the judicial slowdown brought about by the virus.

National Judicial Data Grid figures reveal that the High Court, as of now, has more than 5.6 lakh pending cases. It is suspected that many of the petitioners are no more there to pursue their grievances. When some of these cases are suddenly listed, the counsels are often at a loss in the absence of complete records or instructions.

Even though the High Court has been making concerted efforts to bring down the pendency, the number of old pending cases has been piling up progressively; and with the Covid lockdown and shortage of Judges, the piles are unlikely to shrink easily. The High Court, as of now, has 55 Judges against the sanctioned strength of 85.

Behind every case is a set of individuals, which is in no small measure. For them and their families, the problem of pendency travels beyond numbers. It is a matter of justice, a right not enforced, freedom arrested in the shackles of prejudice or due not given. He could be a man behind bars waiting for the Courts to decide his fate or a retired employee seeking his dues to build up a house. For him, the quest for justice is almost like a wild goose chase where the goose refuses to budge. It’s a hope against hope hopen.

In March alone, no less than 1,07,079 cases were filed. The disposal was only 77,450 cases, indicating an addition in arrears. The situation will only worsen in the coming months with few cases being listed and fewer being decided with the Covid bug afflicting the system. Post lockdown period will see an obvious surge in filing and a corresponding reduction in disposal due to amplified pressure on the justice delivery mechanism.

The Courts, under the circumstances, cannot be seen waiting for the times to change. Justice cannot be kept in a state of suspended animation. Not only must Justice be done, it must be done expeditiously. It has the ability to transform itself into a mere judgment, if delivered at a time when it loses its meaning.

Meaningless justice can, in fact, be worse than injustice because it takes away from the litigant the hope for fair dealing. Justice Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud of the Supreme Court is believed to have said that the need of the hour, to mitigate the pendency problem, is to think out of the box.

Justice Chandrachud’s assertion reportedly came in context of recruiting judges to decrease the pendency of cases. The concept now needs to be applied in a different sense so that the reality of lockdown does not remain as worrisome as it appears to be.

The Judges could, with the consent of the advocates, hear and decided the legacy cases during the lockdown. It does not require special equipment. A Bench of Justice Jitendra Chauhan and Justice Archana Puri switched over to WhatsApp calling due to some disruption in audio during the hearing of a case through videoconferencing, displaying how cases can be heard and decided even during adverse phases.

In any case, the High Court has been relying on technology. Justice Hemant Gupta of the Supreme Court only recently disclosed that 10 crore pages of the Punjab and Haryana High Court record stood scanned during the journey of the judicial system from ‘Courts to e-Courts’.

The Judges could hear pending cases on a day-to-day basis through videoconferencing and carryon with the process of virtual hearing on Saturdays and during the June break. Judiciary is what judiciary does and it needs to maintain its image of a mechanism that delivers.

Law, and the order
One-year imprisonment not must for parole application
by Saurabh Malik

  • The Punjab and Haryana High Court has reiterated that a convict’s application for temporary release on parole cannot be declined on the ground that he has not completed a year of his imprisonment after conviction.
  • Although the Courts have made it clear earlier also that such an order would suffer from material illegality and was liable to be set aside. But the applications for the same were still being dismissed on this ground
  • Refusing to accept the argument, the High Court had asserted the restriction of one year imprisonment after conviction, to be eligible for temporary release, had been imposed by way of the rules. But these could not supersede the provisions of the Haryana Good Conduct Prisoner’s (Temporary Release) Act, 1988.

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