By Janaki Murali
While the many delays plaguing our legal system have been well documented and several legal experts have bemoaned the large pendency of cases, a recent report by the Times of India showed exactly why the situation is so grave. Reporting on a study carried out by Bangalore-based NGO Daksh, the newspaper said the average pendency of a case at the Allahabad High Court is over three-and-a-half years, easily the worst in the country. Bombay High Court, at 1,245 days, came second. The study, which looked at 21 high courts across India, also said the oldest case still to be disposed of was registered on 1 January, 1959.
Firstpost talked to Daksh co-founders Kishore Mandhyam and Harish Narasappa about the legal system in India and their organisation's purpose.
The Daksh study about high courts taking over three years to decide cases is alarming. Did the law ministry order this survey?
The law ministry has not ordered any survey. This is a Daksh initiative. The department of justice has funded a number of studies. One such study funded by the department is a Daksh project called ‘Canonical reason for pendency’.
Tell us more about this project?
We have four stages in this project: Collect data; analyse it to identify the problem; find solutions; and go back and back up the solution with data.
The basic idea was to find out whether our solutions will work on the field. For example, say we find a solution that might reduce pendency. It involves sending all government-to-government cases to one court. But what if these take up only 3 per cent of a judge’s time? The solution may not be the right one.
Our project started about a year ago, and we have finished the first stage of data collection. Now we are in the second stage and hope to complete this by end of 2016. We will move to the third stage in 2017 and we should come up with solutions that work by end of 2017 or in early 2018.
Tell us why you set up Daksh and what do you hope to achieve? Also, what is the rule of law project that we keep reading about?
Daksh was set up to improve accountability in the functioning of institutions. We embarked on the rule of law project in 2014 in order to evaluate judicial performance, and in particular, to study the problem of pendency of cases in the Indian legal system. This project is based on quantitative research that will map the administration of justice in India.
What is the goal of Daksh?
Our goal is to help develop sustainable solutions based on data analysis, so as to address the issue of judicial delays. We are doing this of our own accord. We have met both the government and senior judiciary to discuss our work. We are also looking at whether we can achieve the objective of cases being resolved in a reasonable time frame as defined by litigants in relation to pendency. Our objective is to identify causes of pendency and recommend changes.
Why is it that Sikkim has the lowest pendency rate in the country, with the Sikkim high court taking just 281 days to clear a case on average?
Sikkim High Court is fairly new and was set up only in 1975. Moreover, there are fewer cases being heard at the Sikkim High Court and this could be another reason.
Conversely, why do the Allahabad High Court (1,337 days) and Bombay High Court (1,245 days) take so long to clear cases? What causes such large pendency in courts?
Although judges work hard, there are oft-cited reasons like procedural inefficiencies, lack of focus on the part of the court administration, easy adjournment culture, etc. Daksh is currently conducting a study to identify factors specific to the different courts and the different factors causing pendency.
The pendency is even higher at district courts (1,953 days as against 1,128 days in high courts). Why is so?
The process at district courts is longer as they deal with the original trial and there are many more stages at that level.
What is the norm around the world regarding pendency in courts?
Our study is still ongoing.