Speedy Justice is a Myth?

Justice delayed is justice denied is not just a saying anymore. If justice is not delivered on time, justice is not delivered. Justice Anand has rightly said that “People want justice, pure, unpolluted, quick and inexpensive and they have the right to receive the same.”

The speedy trial cases are one of the objects of administration of criminal justice. Various provisions have been made in the Code of criminal procedure, 1973 and the Police Act for expeditious disposal of matters at various stages. The Constitution of India, 1950 does not specifically guarantee the fundamental right to a speedy trial but it has been included implicitly in the Article 21 due to judicial activism showed in respect of Article 21 which deals with the fundamental right to life and personal liberty.

Speedy Justice is a Myth?

The number of pending cases across Indian Courts has been increasing. As of July 2009, 53,000 cases are pending with the Supreme Court, 40 lakhs with High Courts and 2.7 crores with lower courts. This is an increase of 139% for the Supreme Court, 46% for High Courts and 32% for lower courts from their pendency numbers in January 2000.

In 2003, 25% of pending cases with High Courts had remained unresolved for more than 10 years. In 2006, 70% of all prisoners in Indian Jails were undertrials. Fresh cases do outnumber those being resolved. There is a shortfall in the delivery of justice. There is also the weight of the backlog of older cases dragging down efficiency and creeping upwards every year.

Speedy Justice is a Myth?

The shortfall in deciding as many cases as are filed in a year is dwarfed by the weight added by pending cases. Since fresh cases exceed the number of cases getting resolved, this leads to an increase in pendency. Interestingly, the number of cases that are resolved each year has increased substantially over the last decade. However, this has not kept pace with the increase in fresh filings.

The Supreme Court and the High Courts of India have time and again reiterated the importance of the timely delivery of justice. Some of these decisions have already been mentioned in the preceding sections. We briefly highlight a few of the important cases below. The Supreme Court of India made it clear more than three decades ago that “speedy trial is of the essence to criminal justice and there can be no doubt that the delay in the trial by itself constitutes a denial of justice” Hussainara Khatoon v. State of Bihar (AIR 1979 SC 1364). In Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India (AIR 1978 SC 597), the Supreme Court added that “[t]here can, therefore, be no doubt that speedy trial, and by speedy trial, we mean a reasonably expeditious trial, is an integral and essential part of the fundamental right to life and liberty enshrined in Art 21.” In State of UP v. Shambhu Nath Singh (2001 4 SCC 667), the Supreme Court laid emphasis on the mandatory nature of the provisions against adjournments under Section 309, CrPC.

Speedy Justice is a Myth?

Article 21 of the Indian Constitution is the broad cornerstone of the right to life, liberty and due process. For this reason, it should not be surprising that this same provision that has given meaning to a fair trial and timely justice would also pose some restraints on legal reform. Thus, it should be noted that P. Ramachandra Rao v. State of Karnataka [(2002) 4 SCC 601-602], the same bench that reaffirmed the observation that “justice delayed is justice denied” warned that prescribing a time limit for trials would be an overbroad interpretation of Article 21, and indeed would amount to an impermissible form of legislation by the court. Thus, at least in the context of criminal trials, the imperative of “speedy justice” cannot include arbitrary termination of cases. Questions remain on whether the civil procedure can be reformed in such a manner, and counter-models of foreign jurisdictions adopting mandatory “milestones’ and time limits will be discussed in the “Comparative Assessment” section below.

Speedy Justice is a Myth?

These are the causes identified by past commissions and studies

  1. Societal causes- litigation explosion, population explosion, radical changes in the pattern of litigation, increase in legislative activity, loopholes in the law itself
  2. Inefficiency- Inefficient police investigation methods, redundant and voluminous paperwork
  3. Lack of Resources- lack of infrastructure at various levels, the inadequacy of judge strength, delays in filling vacancies in high courts, the inadequacy of staff attached to high courts, Inadequate overall budget
  4. Obstacles to Speedy Adjudication- Unclear law, unavailability of precedents on the spot, increased specialization of law, increase in legislative activity
  5. Particular bottlenecks in the procedure- Service of process, adjournments, interlocutory orders, non-appearance of witnesses and accused
  6. Burdens on Judicial Officers- Additional burden on account of election petitions, accumulation of first appeals, the continuance of ordinary original civil jurisdiction in some high courts, the inadequacy of accommodation, failure to provide adequate forms of appeal against quasi-judicial orders
  7. Advocates- Speculative appeals used as pressure tactic lack of priority for disposal of old cases, failure to utilize grouping of cases and those covered by rulings, granting of unnecessary adjournments, inordinate delay in supply of certified copies of judgments and orders, failure to take advantage of ADR.
  8. Appointing Authorities- Unsatisfactory appointment of judges, unsatisfactory selection of government counsel, the plurality of appeals and hearing by division benches
  9. Government- Indiscriminate closure of courts, the appointment of sitting judges on commissions of inquiry, government as a compulsive litigant, hasty and imperfect legislation, legislation creating new causes of action without budgeting for increased need
Speedy Justice is a Myth?

Recommendations towards the timely delivery of justice

  • Empirical research and data collection to be conducted on the functioning of lower courts, the regional and disaggregated data, and performance of various courts.
  • Restatement Project: Clarification of Precedents and Laws.
  • Encourage ADR measures and pre-trial counselling/ dispute resolution measures.
  • Restructuring Incentives and imposing sanctions on various stakeholders, introducing penalties and costs on parties that contribute to delay after a prescribed time frame.
  • Targeted amendments to legislation and codes. An amendment to be made in the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1966 to better ensure the quality of justice and finality of tribunals.
Speedy Justice is a Myth?
  • Introduction of the case management system, provision of adequate training in a decentralized manner, conducting a periodic assessment, administrative support and development.
  • Recruitment of more judges, an increase in resources to attract a competent judiciary at a greater strength and their distribution in a targeted manner to areas with the highest arrears.
  • Introduction of Internet technology in reduction of paperwork on the model of e-courts in New Delhi.
  • Introduction of specialised as well as fast track courts.
  • Implementation of a National Litigation Policy and implementation of a National Arrears Grid.


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