Why in news?
Statistics on Pendency:
- On November 16, 2018, the Women and Child Development Ministry of the Central government had approved the proposal to set up 1,023 FTSCs (16 in Delhi) to dispose off pending cases of rape and POCSO Act across the country.
- The project is expected to have a total financial implication of ₹767.25 crore from Nirbhaya Fund.
- But despite over 10,000 cases of sexual assault against women and children, including rape pending in special courts in New Delhi, the Delhi government is yet to reply to the nine-month-old Union government proposal to set up 16 more fast-track special courts (FTSCs) in Delhi to dispose such cases.
- Pendency in courts has increased over the years; 87% of all pending cases are in subordinate courts, followed by5% pendency before the 24 High Courts.
Year wise pendency of Cases:
- Overall, 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.
- The primary reason for growing pendency of cases is that the number of new cases filed every year has outpaced the number of disposed of cases. This has resulted in a growing backlog of cases.
Under – trails in Prisons:
- In the High Courts, over 8.3 lakh cases have been pending for over 10 years. This constitutes 19% of all pending High Court cases.
- Similarly, in the subordinate courts, over 24 lakh cases (8%) have been pending for over 10 years.
- Overall, Allahabad High Court had the highest pendency, with over seven lakh cases pending as of 2017.
- Despite high pendency, some High Courts have managed to reduce their backlog.
- Between 2006 and 2017, pendency of cases reduced the most in Madras High Court at a rate of 26%, followed by Bombay High Court at 24%.
- Conversely, during the same period, the pendency of cases doubled in the Andhra Pradesh High Court, and increased by 5 times in Karnataka High Court.
- As a result of pendency, number of under-trials in prison is more than double that of convicts.
Vacancies in Courts adding to the Problem:
- Over the years, as a result of growing pendency of cases for long periods, the number of undertrials (accused awaiting trial) in prisons has increased.
- Prisons are running at an over-capacity of 114%.
- As of 2015, there were over four lakh prisoners in jails. Of these, two-thirds were undertrials (2.8 lakh) and the remaining one-third were convicts.
- The highest proportion of undertrials (where the number of inmates was at least over 1,000) were in J&K (85%), followed by Bihar (82%).
- Uttar Pradesh had the highest number of such undertrials (1,364) followed by West Bengal (294).
About Fast Track Courts:
- Between 2006 and 2017, the number of vacancies in the High Courts has increased from 16% to 37%, and in the subordinate courts from 19% to 25%.
- As of 2017, High Courts have 403 vacancies against a sanctioned strength of 1,079 judges, and subordinate courts have 5,676 vacancies against a sanctioned strength of 22,704 judges.
- The highest proportion of vacancies was in Karnataka High Court at 60%, followed by Calcutta High Court at 54%.
History of Fast Track Courts in India
- Fast-track courts (FTCs) are created primarily to deal with the judicial backlog.
Pendency in FTCs
- The 11th Finance Commission had recommended a scheme for the establishment of 1734 FTCs for the expeditious disposal of cases pending in the lower courts.
- FTCs were to be established by the state governments in consultation with the respective High Courts.
- An average of five FTCs were to be established in each district of the country.
- The judges for these FTCs were appointed on an adhoc basis. The judges were selected by the High Courts of the respective states.
- FTCs were initially established for a period of five years (2000-2005).
- However, in 2005, the Supreme Court directed the central government to continue with the FTC scheme, which was extended until 2010-2011.
- The government discontinued the FTC scheme in March 2011.
- Though the central government stopped giving financial assistance to the states for establishing FTCs, the state governments could establish FTCs from their own funds.
- As of September 3, 2012, some states such as Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Kerala decided to continue with the FTC scheme.
- However, some states such as Haryana and Chhattisgarh decided to discontinue it. Other states such as Delhi and Karnataka have decided to continue the FTC scheme only till 2013.
- Some notable fast track cases- Best Bakery Case, Jessica Lal Murder Case, 26/11 Mumbai case.
- However, questions have been raised over the slow and inefficient working of FTCs.
- Since inception, close to around 39 lakh cases were transferred to the Fast track courts (FTCs) out of which, 6.5 lakh cases are still pending with Fast track courts (FTCs) .
Need to address Systematic Issues:
- At the end of March, 2019 there were 581 FTCs operational in the country, with approximately 9 lakh pending cases.
- Uttar Pradesh has the greatest number of cases.
Solutions for Pendency:
- Mere increase in the number of judges may not necessarily lead to a direct reduction in pendency of cases.
- Inadequate staff and IT infrastructure, delay in getting reports from the understaffed forensic science laboratories, frivolous adjournments and over-listing of cases need to be addressed on priority.
- Considering the huge backlog of vacancies in the lower and subordinate judiciary, it has to be seen whether States will appoint additional judges for FTCs or appoint them from the current pool of judges because, as it would increase substantially the workload of the remaining judges.
- Involving States - States must engage with the principal and senior district judges to get stock of issues the courts are facing in various districts and due attention must be given to both the metropolitan and far-flung non-metropolitan areas.
- The government needs to double the number of judges to at least 50,000 from the current 21,000.
- All India Judicial Service must be created immediately.
- More courts such as Fast Track Courts, Lok Adalat’s, and Gram Nyayalayas must be set up.
- Addressing the Issue of Vacancies - The 120th Law Commission of India report for the first time, suggested a judge strength fixation formula.
- Supreme Court and High Courts should appoint efficient and experienced judges as Ad-hoc judges in accordance with the Constitution.
- Having a definite time frame to dispose the cases by setting annual targets and action plans for the subordinate judiciary and the High Courts
- Better Court Management System & Reliable Data Collection - There is an urgent need for collecting case data in a structured and standardised format across the various courts in India. This will enable deeper insights and precise policy prescriptions.
- Use of Information technology (IT) solutions- The use of technology for tracking and monitoring cases and in providing relevant information to make justice litigant friendly.
- Electronic filing of cases: e-Courts are a welcome step in this direction.
- Revamping of National Judicial Data Grid by introducing a new type of search known as elastic search, which is closer to the artificial intelligence.
- District courts can learn from each other's successes and failures. For example, Chennai courts may learn from Ariyalur courts how to better dispose of civil cases, and may learn from their own experience with disposing of criminal cases.