Arrears and Backlog: Creating Additional Judicial (wo)manpower
GOVERNMENT OF INDIA
LAW COMMISSION OF INDIA
Report No. 245
The 20th Law Commission was constituted for a period of three years from 1st September, 2012 by Order No. A-45012/1/2012-Admn.III (LA) dated the 8th October, 2012 issued by the Government of India, Ministry of Law and Justice, Department of Legal Affairs, New Delhi.
The Law Commission consists of a full time Chairman, four full-time Members (including Member-Secretary), two Ex-officio Members and five part-time Members.
Hon’ble Justice A.P. Shah
Justice (Mr.) S.N. Kapoor
Prof. (Dr.) Mool Chand Sharma
Justice (Ms.) Usha Mehra
Mr. N.L. Meena, Member-Secretary
Mr. P.K. Malhotra, Secretary (Department of Legal Affairs and Legislative Department)
Prof. (Dr.) G. Mohan Gopal
Mr. R. Venkataramani
Prof. (Dr.) Yogesh Tyagi
Dr. Bijai Narain Mani
Prof.(Dr.) Gurjeet Singh
The Law Commission is located in
14th Floor, Hindustan Times House,
New Delhi-110 001
Mr. N.L. Meena
Dr. (Smt.) Pawan Sharma : Joint Secretary & Law Officer
Shri A.K. Upadhyay : Additional Law Officer
Shri S.C. Mishra : Deputy Law Officer
Dr. V.K. Singh : Deputy Legal Adviser
The text of this Report is available on the Internet at :
© Government of India
Law Commission of India
The Commission deeply appreciates valuable inputs received from the Group it had constituted in finalising the report on “Imtiyaz Ahmad v. State of Uttar Pradesh and Ors (Criminal Appeal No.s254-262 of 2012)” to the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India and the present report. The group that initially comprised : Prof. Theodore Eisenberg, Henry Allen Mark Professor of law, Adjunct Professor of Statistical Sciences at Cornell University; Prof. Sital Kalantry, Clinical Professor of Law and Director, International Human Rights Clinic, University of Chicago Law School; Prof. Sri Krishna Deva Rao, Registrar, National Law University, Delhi (as representative of NLU Delhi); and Mr. Nicholas Robinson, Fellow at Centre of Policy Research was expanded when Dr. Aparna Chandra and Mr. Utkarsh Saxena, Consultant to Law Commission of India joined it. Mr. Madhav Mallya and Ms. Vrinda Bhandari, Research Associates, National Law University and Mr. Saral Minocha and Ms. Sonal Sarda, students of National Law University also helped in analysing and compiling the data. Enthusiasm and dedication apart from research inputs of Dr. Aparna Chandra deserves special mention.
Denial of ‘timely justice’ amounts to denial of ‘justice’ itself. Two are integral to each other. Timely disposal of cases is essential for maintaining the rule of law and providing access to justice which is a guaranteed fundamental right. However, as the present report indicates, the judicial system is unable to deliver timely justice because of huge backlog of cases for which the current judge strength is completely inadequate. Further, in addition to the already backlogged cases, the system is not being able to keep pace with the new cases being instituted, and is not being able to dispose of a comparable number of cases. The already severe problem of backlogs is, therefore, getting exacerbated by the day, leading to a dilution of the Constitutional guarantee of access to timely justice and erosion of the rule of law. The present report is aimed at addressing this scenario that demands a multi-prong approach including more sensitive and rational judicial (wo)manpower planning.
It may be acknowledged that the present report is largely driven by the Hon’ble Supreme Court when in the matter of Imtiyaz Ahmad1 it directed the Commission to undertake an inquiry and submit its recommendations in relation to the following:
“I. Keeping in view that timely justice is an important facet to access to justice, the immediate measures that need to be taken by way of creation of additional Courts and other allied matters (including a rational and scientific definition of “arrears” and delay, of which continued notice needs to be taken), to help in elimination of delays, speedy clearance of arrears and reduction in costs. It is trite to add that the qualitative component of justice must not be lowered or compromised; and
II. Specific recommendations whenever considered necessary on the above aspects in relation to each State be made as a product of consultative processes involving the High Courts and other stake holders, including the Bar.”
For arriving at informed understanding of the problem at hand and for making any meaningful suggestion(s), to deal with it, the Commission requested all the High Courts to provide data on litigation in each district within their jurisdiction. To facilitate orderly organization and supply of data, the High Courts were sent a prescribed format (Annexure I). Some very useful data was produced. However, most High Courts due to variety of reasons, could not fully provide the data / information sought.
Keeping in view insufficiency of the data received, after detailed in-house discussions and also involving experts that an additional questionnaire was sent to various High Courts. In response, no doubt, some relevant data was received. However, lack of scientific collection, collation and analysis still remained a
serious constraint. Despite these constraints, reading and analyzing data received very closely, especially in the light of different methods of data analysis available that the Commission gave its response to queries and matter raised by the Hon’ble Supreme Court and the same has provided the basis of this report.
While acknowledging that the problem of delay is not only enormous but complex, the Commission in the present report has remained confined to developing more informed understanding of as to whether problem of delay and strength of judges is a related one in some ways and if so how? In the report, an attempt has been made to suggest number of judges as are required to reduce delays. In a way, the report provides a roadmap for judicial (wo)manpower planning. While agreeing that there exists no clear ‘time standard’ or a ‘reference’ to which a case can be classified as ‘delayed’. How one defines ‘timeliness’ (and, therefore, how many cases are delayed) is crucial to suggest any kind of basis for computing how many additional judges are required to process cases in timely manner. Without arriving at some such definition, it is difficult to suggest any appropriate method for planning and computing additional resources required to contain problem of delay. Similarly, the Commission is fully aware as thus undermined in the report that terms, such as ‘arrears’, ‘pendency’ and ‘backlog’ which are so oftenly used in almost all kinds of discourse on working of justice administration system in India are used very vaguely and beg clear and precise definition. The report is an attempt to reflect and throw more light on some of these terms, and it is hoped that the policy makers and other stakeholders in the system may find these reflections and attempt to introduce some clarity by the present work of some use during their course of deliberations on judicial reforms.
As the pivotal issue for the report is to suggest some basis for computing as to how many additional judges are required to process cases in ‘timely’ manner to large extent, answer to this question depends on how one defines ‘timeliness’ (and, therefore, how many cases are delayed). As already mentioned in the foregoing paragraphs, it may be emphasized at the cost of sounding repetitive that without arriving at some such definition, it is difficult to suggest any appropriate method for planning and computing additional resources required to contain the delay. A significant portion of the report right at the start, after critical examination of various approaches to defining terms like ‘arrears’, ‘pendency’ and ‘delay’ as floating around in the literature on the subject incorporates Commission’s own reflections. These reflections, while may provide little more clarity to assigning meaning to above referred terms which have been generally understood so ambiguously, the Commission still views that it may not be possible to devise any perfectly scientific and uniform definition of these concepts. Acknowledging such definitional limitation and of inadequacy of data received, present report culminates in making some suggestions on the additional resources required to dispose of the current pendency, and to prevent the backlog in future.
DEFINING KEY CONCEPTS: PENDENCY, DELAY,
ARREARS, AND BACKLOG
There is no single or clear understanding of when a case should be counted as delayed. Often, terms like “delay,” “pendency,” “arrears,” and “backlog” are used interchangeably. This leads to confusion. To avoid this confusion and for the sake of clarity, these terms may be understood as follows:
a. Pendency: All cases instituted but not disposed of, regardless of when the case was instituted.
b. Delay: A case that has been in the Court/judicial system for longer than the normal time that it should take for a case of that type to be disposed of.
c. Arrears: Some delayed cases might be in the system for longer than the normal time, for valid reasons. Those cases that show unwarranted delay will be referred to as arrears.
d. Backlog: When the institution of new cases in any given time period is higher than the disposal of cases in that time period, the difference between institution and disposal is the backlog. This figure represents the accumulation of cases in the system due to the system’s inability to dispose of as many cases as are being filed.
Therefore, as is evident, defining terms like delay and arrears require computing “normal” case processing time standards. How should the normal time frame be determined? It may be noted that since the Supreme Court had directed the Law Commission to recommend a “rational and scientific definition of “arrears” and delay,” the Commission clarified to the Hon’ble Court at the outset that there exists no single “objective” standard or mathematical formula by reference to which “normal” case processing time and hence delay can be defined or calculated. However, Commission is of the view that various methods, drawing on statistics, social science research techniques and experiential inputs can help make “rational” determination of “normal” case disposal times, and hence of delay. Based on a survey of various jurisdictions and previous reform efforts in India it is revealed that two approaches, and combinations thereof, are generally used in computing rational timeliness requirements.
The first approach, which can be called the Practice Assessment Approach, involves studying the patterns of current filing, disposal, case-length and pendency. A comparative analysis of these patterns inter se and between jurisdictions, can help policy makers determine whether a particular Court takes more or less time compared to either a system-wide average, or the median case in the system. This analysis does not tell the policy maker whether a particular Court or type of case is delayed. However, it does allow for a relative assessment of which Courts are taking longer than others, such that they may require targeted intervention in terms of greater allocation of resources, etc.2 When a Court is a complete outlier in terms of its case processing time, the policy maker (or superior Court) may be able to draw an inference that cases in that Court are unacceptably delayed and are, therefore, in arrear. 3 Further, while current practice assessments are inadequate for defining delay, they can reveal when and where (in which Court and in which types of cases) backlog is being created, so that targeted intervention is possible to address the issue. In the absence of other measures, this is the approach that the Commission has adopted in examining the question of adequate judicial strength for the Subordinate Judiciary.
Another approach, which may be called the Normative Assessment Approach, is to fix time standards for the disposal of cases. Cases that are disposed of within such time are not delayed; cases beyond such time are delayed; cases which exhibit unwarranted delay are in arrears. One of the means by which such standard setting can take place in a rigorous and rational manner is to begin by studying the current patterns of filing, disposal, pendency, length, etc. Based on this study, the policy maker can determine the average or median time taken for processing various types of cases. Studies based on interviews with stakeholders, examination of the life cycle of sample cases, etc, can then be undertaken to understand whether these time frames reflect an optimal standard for timely disposal. A committee of experts, drawn from persons with extensive experiential knowledge of the system, can then review the current patterns to determine optimality, keeping in mind resource constraints, Court cultures, system goals and constitutional and statutory requirements. The Normative Approach therefore, relies on an amalgam of past and current statistics, social science research techniques and experiential inputs to make a “rational” determination of “normal” case disposal times, and hence of delay.
One method of defining delay through the Normative Assessment Approach is by determining the normal time frame within which cases of a particular type should be processed through a Court. If a case takes longer than this time frame, then the case is delayed. Time frames can be in the nature of mandatory time limits, or they can provide general guidelines that are normally to be followed, but can be departed from in exceptional circumstances.
Countries like the US have limited mandatory time frames, for example under the US Speedy Trial Act, 1974.5 However, India does not have general statutory time limits comparable to the US Speedy Trial Act. While the Civil Procedure Code, and the Criminal Procedure Code, have time frames for completing certain stages of the case, these statutes generally do not prescribe time limits within which the overall case should be completed, or each step in the trial should be concluded.6
On the judicial side, setting of mandatory time limits was attempted by the Supreme Court in a series of cases.7 However, in 2002 a seven judge bench of the Court in P. Ramchandra Rao v. State of Karnataka8 held that mandatory time limits could not be prescribed by the Court.9 Though the Court was not in favour of mandatory time limits, it did not find problematic the use of time frames as guidelines for the Court. The prescription of such non-binding, directory guidelines has been a common means of defining normal time frames and evaluating delay, both in India and abroad.10 In India, previous Law Commissions and various Governmental Committees have suggested various directory time frames both as guidelines to Courts for the timely disposal of cases, and as standards by which delay in the system can be measured.11 However, all these suggestions are based on ad-hoc prescriptions rather than grounded in empirical analysis and observation. And thus the concern raised by the Hon’ble Supreme
It is neither advisable, nor feasible, nor judicially permissible to draw or prescribe an outer limit for conclusion of all criminal proceedings. The time-limits or bars of limitation prescribed in the several directions made in Common Cause (I), Raj Deo Sharma (I) and Raj Deo Sharma (II) could not have been so prescribed or drawn and are not good law. The criminal Courts are not obliged to terminate trial or criminal proceedings merely on account of lapse of time, as prescribed by the directions made in Common Cause Case (I), Raj Deo Sharma case (I) and (II). At the most the periods of time prescribed in those decisions can be taken by the Courts seized of the trial or proceedings to act as reminders when they may be persuaded to apply their judicial mind to the facts and circumstances of the case before them and determine by taking into consideration the several relevant factors as pointed out in A.R. Antulay’s case and decide whether the trial or proceedings have become so inordinately delayed as to be called oppressive and unwarranted. Such time-limits cannot and will not by themselves be treated by any Court as a bar to further continuance of the trial or proceedings and as mandatorily obliging the Court to terminate the same and acquit or discharge the accused.
Court in Imtiyaz Ahmad, viz., of providing “a rationale and scientific definition of ‘arrears’ and ‘delay’ demands deeper study and rigorosity in terms of data.
Time frames serve as performance benchmarks and provide guidance to Courts as well as other stakeholders on what constitutes the timely disposal of a case, and enable them to determine both whether an individual case is being processed in a timely manner; and whether a Court or system as a whole is providing timely justice. Where time frames are not mandatory, they can be departed from, but only in limited circumstances, and often with the requirement of justification for why such departure from the time frame is necessary. This provides the flexibility needed to individualize case processing, while at the same time, taking care of the systemic concerns over timeliness.
Though general time frames of this type serve a useful benchmarking purpose, and are well suited as a time template for the run of the mill or average case, they require further fine tuning for cases which require less or more time. A standardized time frame is likely to be both over and under inclusive in determining the requirements of timely justice. The intention behind benchmarking performance is not to have all cases processed at the same time. Each case is different and might have different requirements. Therefore, apart from general guidance there is a requirement for case-specific determination of what would amount to a timely disposal of the case. Case-specific time tables are generally adopted to meet this object of individualized timely justice. Such time tables are fixed by the judge hearing a particular dispute, generally at a scheduling hearing held towards the start of proceedings, so that all parties know who has to perform what activity, and by when. Setting individualized time-tables allows the judge to mould the general time frame to suit the requirements of the individual case, while at the same time keeping in mind the needs of the overall case-load before the judge. The time table set at the beginning of the case proceedings then becomes the benchmark by which the timeliness of the proceedings is measured. Unforeseen events may de-rail the time-table, but the case, though delayed, would not be counted as an arrear, if the delay was warranted.
Case specific time-tables are used as timeliness standards, delay reduction methods, and yardsticks for measuring delays in the system in various jurisdictions around the world, including U.S.,12 U.K.,13 and Canada.14 In India the Supreme Court has also recently advocated the use of case-specific time tables for the timely disposal of cases, in the case of Ramrameshwari Devi v. Nirmala Devi.15
As a staple part of systematic case management strategies, such timetables provide clear time frames for dispute resolution, define litigant expectations of timeliness, and thus impact the litigant experience of delay. They allow the judge flexibility to take into account the specific aspects of an individual case in framing a time schedule for that case. When accompanied by general time frame guidelines, the possibility of abuse of the power by setting long time frames can be avoided.
When case-specific targets cannot be met because of systemic delays the system needs to take responsibility for allocating proper resources. Where the delay is because of the conduct of parties, the judge can provide sanctions for such behavior, including, dismissing the application, imposing costs, etc.
The Normative Assessment Approach requires state level studies to determine optimal time frames. High Courts are best placed to take into account state level concerns and circumstances in determining adequate time standards. Within the frame work of these time standards, individual Subordinate Court Judges can set time frames for individual cases. For this system to work, a strong monitoring frame work would be required, whereby the timeliness of the caseload of individual judges can be supervised by High Courts. Annual reporting of disposal
and timeliness data will also ensure public scrutiny and add another layer of accountability towards timeliness goals and standards.
As a beginning however, the Normative Assessment Approach requires extensive and sustained study over a period of time in order to provide a rational and scientific definition of delays and arrears. In the meantime, in the absence of such time frames, and for the purposes of the study of adequate judicial strength in India’s Subordinate Judiciary, the Commission has examined the current patterns of institution, disposal and pendency, to address the question of whether more judicial resources are required (and where they should be targeted) in order to clear the current pendency and prevent the accumulation of backlog in the future.
COMPUTING JUDGE STRENGTH
A. Overview of Data and its Limitations
Lack of complete data was a great handicap in making critical analysis and more meaningful suggestions as responses to questionnaires received from many High Courts16 were incomplete. However, data supplied by High Courts of Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Delhi, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Kerala, Punjab & Haryana, Sikkim, and Uttarakhand proved very useful in furnishing the basis for the present work. The analysis in this report is based on the data received from these High Courts.
High Courts have provided data for the period 2002 to 2012. All the data received has been computed on an annual basis. Therefore, for example, each High Court has provided data as on 31st December of each year, under the categories of institution, disposal, pendency, etc.
Some High Courts provided data that was disaggregated into two categories: Higher Judicial Service and Subordinate Judicial Service. Other High Courts provided data disaggregated by cadre, i.e., Higher Judicial Service, Civil Judge (Senior) Division, and Civil Judge (Junior) Division. For uniformity of analysis, all the data has been analysed in the two broad categories of Higher Judicial Service and Subordinate Judicial Service.
It is important to note that the data on institution, disposal and pendency does not indicate the actual number of cases in the system. High Courts count data in various ways. Some High Courts such as those of Himachal Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir, Orissa and Sikkim count interlocutory applications before Subordinate Courts as separate institutions, disposals and pendencies. Kerala even counts committal proceedings as separate for purposes of institution, disposal and pendency. Therefore, a single case may be counted multiple times in some High Courts. Thus, the number of cases pending, instituted or disposed of by the Courts is significantly smaller than the overall pendency, institution or disposal figures would suggest.
Further, the multiplicity of approaches in tabulating data make a cross-comparison between different High Courts problematic. For example, in the High Courts of Delhi, Andhra Pradesh, Bombay, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh,
B. Analysis of Data
The data shows that overall, institution, disposal and pendency have all been on the rise in this category in the last decade.
The data shows that while the annual rate of institution, disposal and pendency has increased overall in the 2002-2012 period, in the last few years, pendency has been on a decline whereas institution and disposal are largely constant.
The data for the Higher Judicial Service also indicates that in the 2002-2012 period, by and large, more cases have been instituted than have been disposed of in any given year. As a result, a backlog is being created in the system.
12. Backlog Creation Rate is the ratio of institution to disposal in any given year. If the ratio is greater than 1, this implies that more cases are being instituted than are being disposed of. If the ratio is less than one, then more cases are being disposed of, than are being instituted. A number less than 1, therefore, indicates that the judicial system is being able to handle new institutions.
As the figures indicate, the Higher Judicial Service is disposing of fewer cases than are being instituted. As such, it is adding to the backlog of cases in the system. On the other hand, in the Subordinate Judicial Service, the disposal rate is higher than the institution, implying that the backlog is being reduced. It should be pointed out here that the backlog creation analysis does not indicate whether the same cases that were filed in a given year were disposed of in that year. Rather, it takes a systemic perspective and looks at how many new cases are coming in, in relation to how many cases are going out. A low backlog creation rate, therefore, indicates that the system as a whole is incapable of dealing with the recurring annual demand for Judicial Services, and is, therefore, in need of additional resources.
As mentioned realier, the Backlog Creation Rate focuses on the number of cases going in and out of the system in a given year and does not take into account the already backlogged cases that carry forward from year to year.
To understand how well Courts are handling the already backlogged cases, the Pendency Clearance Time is useful. This figure is arrived at by dividing the pendency at the end of the year by the disposal that year, and indicates the amount of time it would take to dispose of all pending cases if no new cases were filed. The following figures indicate the annual pendency clearance time in the 2002-2012 period for the Higher Judicial Service and the Subordinate Judiciary, respectively.
Overall, for both the Higher Judicial Service and the Subordinate Judicial Service, the time it would take to clear pendency has declined in the 2002-2012 period. This implies that overall, the system is processing cases faster at the end of 2012 than it was in 2002. While these figures do not indicate the types of cases that are being processed through the system, the figures do provide an overall picture of the system and indicate the broad trajectory of the system in the past decade.
The data also indicates that in the High Courts under consideration, in the last three years 38.7% of institutions and 37.4% of all pending cases before the Subordinate Judicial Services were traffic and police challans.19 An additional 6.5% and 7.8% cases account for institution and pendency respectively of Section 138 Negotiable Instruments Act, matters.20 Annexure V provides the numerical data and the following figures provide State-wise breakup of institution and pendency including data on traffic/police challans and Negotiable Instrument Act matters.
Cases of traffic and police challans generally do not require much judicial involvement. However, given the high volume of such cases, they cumulatively take up a significant amount of judicial time. The bulk of these cases deal with the payment of fines and are usually uncontested by parties. For such cases, automation of the system through the ability to pay fines online or at a designated counter in the Court complex, can significantly free up valuable Court time. For the remainder, the Commission considers that the creation of separate Special Traffic Courts, over and above the regular Courts, may significantly reduce the burden on regular Courts. These Special Courts can sit in two shifts (morning and evening). Since most such cases are not contested and do not involve lawyers, the shift system is not likely to inconvenience other stakeholders. In fact, the evening Court shift is likely to assist parties to come to Court after work hours and pay their fines. Recent law graduates can be recruited on a temporary basis (e.g., for 3 year periods) to preside over these Courts.21 However, cases in which there is a possibility of imprisonment, should be tried by regular Courts.
Thus, a simple analysis of data supplied shows that there is a large amount of double counting of institution, disposal and pendency figures in the Subordinate Judiciary, such that the total volume of cases being processed through the system is significantly less than the figures supplied by the High Courts. Tit is also evident from the data that a high proportion of cases before the Subordinate Judicial Service comprises of petty matters like traffic and police challans. As already suggested, it is reiterated that these petty matters can better be dealt with by special morning and evening Courts over and above the regular Courts. The burden on the regular Courts will be significantly reduced as a result.
C. Methodologies for Computing Adequate Judge Strength
Most oftenly referred methods in most discussions for computing adequate judge strength are: the judge-population ratio, the judge-filing ratio, the ideal case load method, time based methods, and the rate of Disposal Method. Briefly analyzing these methods and looking into their pros and cons the report finds greater favour with the rate of Disposal Method.
1. Judge to Population Ratio & Judge to Filing Ratio
One method commonly advocated for determining how many judges are required in the judicial system is the judge to population ratio, i.e., the number of judges per million persons in the population.22 The Commission finds this method very wanting because there is no objective number by reference to which we can determine whether the judge to population ratio of any State is adequate. It is known that filings per capita vary substantially across geographic units. Filings per capita are associated with economic and social conditions and can vary across India’s States by as much as a factor of 50.23 The justice needs of different societies thus vary, and no universal standard can be prescribed in this regard. Therefore, while population might be the appropriate metric to measure the availability of other essential services like health care and nutrition, it is not an appropriate standard for measuring the requirement for Judicial Services.
Another similar method oftenly referred to on various discussions is to look at the Judge to Institution Ratio.24 This would tell how many judges a State has relative to the existing pattern of demand for judicial services within that state. Here, again, however, there is no ideal number of judges per 1000 instituted cases, by reference to which one can determine whether or not a State needs more judges and by how much. Further, institution figures often vary depending upon the issue area and the social identity of those instituting cases. Socially marginalized groups are likely to have lower institution rates for reasons of lack of access to Courts.25 Institution figures may also vary depending upon the geography. Far-flung areas, where physical access to Courts is a problem, may have low institution figures compared to the population. No doubt, while these are not by themselves reasons to discard the judge to institution ratio method but they do caution that merely meeting some ideal ratio will not necessarily fulfill the justice needs of a society.
2. The Ideal Case Load Method
Another method sometimes advocated for fixing the appropriate judge strength is the ideal case load method. This method requires a determination of the ideal number of cases that a judge should have on his/her docket. The total caseload (existing pendency plus new institutions) can then be divided by the ideal case load to estimate the number of judges required by the system. Where the number of cases per judge is disproportionately higher than the ideal case load, additional judges are required to be recruited.26
The ideal case load method seems difficult to implement in practice. One is absence of any exhaustive study, one does not find any fixed criteria for determining what the ideal case load should be. Generally, ideal case loads are fixed on an ad hoc basis. To give one illustration, the Law Commission vide letter no. 6(3)/224/2012-LC(LS) dated 28.05.2012 had asked High Courts to provide “reasonable workloads that each category of Courts (DJ, Sr. Civil Judge, Jr. Civil Judge/Magistrate) can bear in order to establish better and speedy access to justice.” However, the information received from various High Courts revealed that measurements of ideal case load for each cadre of judge varies widely across states. Thus for instance, the reasonable workload for the Higher Judicial Service was suggested to be 120 in Madhya Pradesh, 500 in Andhra Pradesh, 750 in Jammu and Kashmir and 1000 in Orissa. This wide variation across states is a result, in part, of the lack of a rational basis for determining the ideal case load.
Second, different types of cases require different amounts of judicial time. A murder trial is generally likely to consume much more time, for example, than a summary trial in a petty offence. An ideal case load approach that looks only at the number of files before the judge, will treat both cases as equal even though a judge with 500 murder cases is likely to be over-stretched and one with 500 summary trials, under-utilized. To be fruitful, the ideal case load method requires some analysis of the types of cases likely to come up before a judge. Also, there is need to analyze as to the amount of time each type of case normally takes. Such analysis may probably give an idea of what should constitute ‘ideal case load’ before a judge. However, there is need to be cautious because the existing case mix can change fairly quickly, for instance, through the emergence of new laws and increased rights awareness. For example, The present section 138 of the Negotiable Instruments Act, was a result of an amendment in 2002 vide the
Negotiable Instruments (Amendment and Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 2002 (55 of 2002). This provision has been wide used and has drastically changed the number and type of cases in the case mix before the Subordinate Judiciary.
Finally, if we were to do the study into the case mix and case times required to operationalize the ideal case load method, this information can be directly used to determine the appropriate number of judges required by the system. The via media of ideal case load would not be required. The method to determine the appropriate number of judges by using case mix and case times is discussed below.
3. The Time Based Method
Another model often used, as for example in the US, for determining the number of judges required by the judicial system is the Time Based Method.28 Broadly speaking, this method determines the time required to clear the existing judicial caseload. It then determines the time available per judge for judicial work. Dividing the first number by the second provides the number of judges required to deal with the existing caseload.
In more detail, the time based method involves determining the ideal or actual time taken by judges in deciding a particular type of case on average. Then it requires determining the average number of cases of that type being instituted and pending in the Courts. Multiplying the number of cases with the time required per case, gives the number of judicial hours required to deal with cases of that type. Dividing this by the number of judicial hours available per year gives the number of judges required to deal with cases of that type. Adding this information for all types of cases that a particular category of judges deals with gives the number of judges required for disposing of the caseload.
In the United States where this approach is followed, the National Centre for State Courts (“NCSC”) conducts studies to determine the number of minutes it takes judges to resolve certain cases. Judges are interviewed and are often required to keep time sheets in order to determine the time value of each type of case.
The Time-Based Method, as followed by the NCSC computes the number of judges using four pieces of data:
1) The number of cases instituted by Court, district, and type of case
2) The average bench and non-bench time a judge requires to resolve each type of case within the Court
3) The amount of time a judge has available to complete case-related work per year
4) The number of active judges by Court and district
All the information required to run this model for Indian Courts is not available. In India, the system does not have any information about the time required by judges to resolve each type of case. This lack of information points to a larger systemic problem. Any effort at delay reduction has to first determine how many cases in the system are delayed. This requires determining what the normal time frame for a particular type of case should be, such that anything beyond this time frame is considered delayed. The judicial system has no such benchmark and, therefore, has no data on how many cases are delayed (as opposed to pending).
One proxy for time could be units. Since judges are required to complete a certain number of units per month, and one knows the time available per judge for judicial work per month, and can calculate the time value of each unit. One can then determine the time value of each type of case by looking at the number of units allotted to that type of case. This would give the data required in point 2 above.
However, two problems arise:
1. Units are not a good proxy for time. Units serve as performance benchmarks for judges. As such they are used for different purposes. Often units are used to incentivize the quick disposal of certain types of cases, for example, cases pending for a certain number of years. Second, they are used to incentivize greater productivity. Therefore, for the same type of case, more units per case is sometimes awarded if a judge completes a certain number of such cases. Therefore, the allocation of units is not based solely on time.
2. The data about institution, disposal and pendency that High Courts record, often do not map well against the information available on units. For example, while it is known that the number of Section 302, IPC cases instituted and pending before the Sessions Courts of Delhi, it is not clear how many witnesses are required to be deposed in each case. Units though are awarded, inter alia, on the basis of the number of witnesses in a particular case. Hence, even if one knew the time value of each unit, one would not know the unit value of each murder case instituted or pending before the Court.
For these reasons, the Commission feels that any approach that uses “unit as a proxy for time” may not be a sound approach. There is no other proxies for time and further no scientific data in this regard is available. The time Based Method as practiced elsewhere may not be applicable or feasible in Indian context.
4. The Rate of Disposal Method
In the present scenario, especially in the absence of complete and scientific approach to data collection that the commission finds the use of the Rate of Disposal Method to calculate the number of additional judges required to clear the backlog of cases as well as to ensure that new backlog is not created as more pragmatic and useful. This method generally speaking addresses two important concerns: (a) a large existing backlog of cases and (b) new being instituted daily which are adding to the backlog.
To address both these concerns, the Rate of Disposal Method can be applied to provide for two sets of judges: (a) Number. of judges required to dispose of the existing backlog and (b) Number of judges required for ensuring that new filings are disposed of in a manner such that further backlog is not created.
It may not be out of context to briefly explain what constitutes “Rate of Disposal Method”. Under the Rate of Disposal Method, one first looks at the current rate at which judges dispose of cases. Next one determines how many additional judges working at a similar level of efficiency would be required so that the number of disposals equals the number of institutions in any one year time frame. As long as the institution and disposal levels remain as they currently are, the Courts would need these many additional judges to keep pace with new filings in order to ensure that newly instituted cases do not add to the backlog.
Second, working with the current rate of disposal of cases per judge one is also required to look at how many judges would be required to dispose of the current backlog. Backlog, for the present, has been defined as those cases which have been pending in the system for more than a year.30
It has to be noted that in the past the Law Commission and other Committees have suggested that since the judges required to dispose of the backlog are needed only till the backlog is cleared, therefore, short-term ad hoc appointments be made from among-st retired judges, for the purpose of clearing backlog. Most recently, the National Vision Statement and Action Plan presented by the Law Minister in October 2009, also recommended that retired judges and eminent lawyers may be appointed as ad hoc judges for a period of one year for dealing with arrears.32 However, as previous experiences with appointing ad hoc judges has shown, there are serious concerns about such appointments, especially the lack of accountability in the functioning and performance of ad-hoc judges, since these are short term appointments.
Further, even if ad hoc judges were to be appointed, additional infrastructure for these Courts would have to be created. Though the National Vision Statement recommended adopting a shift system to overcome the infrastructure problem,33 this proposal has been resisted by members of the Bar since it significantly increases their working hours.34
Significantly, the Central Government, the Conference of Chief Justices and Chief Ministers, and the Advisory Council of the National Mission for Justice Delivery and Legal Reforms, have all proposed the doubling of the current judge strength.35 As per the information supplied by the Department of Justice to the Law Commission indicate that consultations are currently underway between the Central Government, the State Governments, and the High Courts, on formulating memoranda to be presented to the 14th Finance Commission regarding funds required for doubling the judge strength. The Commission recommends that since this decision to double judge strength has already been taken, the judges required for disposing of the backlog can be drawn from the new recruitment itself. Once backlog is cleared, these judges can be deployed for disposing of freshly instituted cases, which will also increase over time.
Given the vast resources required to double the existing judge strength, the time that it will take to complete selection and training processes, and the funds and time required to create adequate infrastructure, the Commission is of the opinion that the Rate of Disposal Method should be used to indicate how many judges should be appointed on a priority basis for the interim period. Tables I- XII below, provide data for how many judges need to be hired to dispose of the backlog in one, two, or three years.36
The Rate of Disposal Method provides an approximation- a rough and ready calculation- based on current efficiency levels of the Subordinate Judiciary, of the adequate judge strength required to address the problem of backlog in the judicial system. The formula as proposed below has been evolved largely based on the data that the Commission could gather. With more precise data, the formula indicated below can be fine-tuned to provide a more exact estimation of the additional judges required. Keeping in view concerns expressed about other methods and other analysis as carried out here, the Commission is of the view that the method proposed here could provide a reasoned basis (as opposed to ad-hoc) for determining adequate judge strength.
The method is as below:
1. The method aims at calculating the number of judges required in each cadre of Subordinate Court Judges, i.e., Higher Judicial Service, Civil Judge Senior Division and Civil Judge Junior Division. For evolving the method, a separate analysis of figures for institution, disposal and the working strength of judges in each of these three cadres from 2010 to end 2012 was carried out.
2. Disposals for one cadre of judges (e.g., Higher Judicial Service) is divided by the working strength of judges in that cadre. Working strength refers to sanctioned strength minus vacancies and deputations. This division gave the annual Rate of Disposal per judge in a cadre for each year from 2010 to 2012. The average of these annual rate of disposal figures gave the Average Rate of Disposal per judge in that cadre.
3. An average of the annual institutions before each cadre of judge for the years 2010-12 was taken.37 The average institution was divided by the
Average Rate of Disposal per judge for that cadre to give the number of judges required to keep pace with the current filings, and ensure that no new backlog is created. This figure has been described as : The Break Even Number.
4. Subtracting the current number of judges from the Break Even Number gives us the Additional Number of Judges required to ensure that the number of disposals would equal the number of institutions.
5. The backlog for a particular cadre of judges (defined as all cases pending before that cadre of judges for more than a year) was then divided by the rate of disposal for that type of judge. This gave the number of judges required to clear the backlog within a year. Dividing this number by 2 gives the number of judges required to clear the backlog in 2 years, and so forth.
Based on application of these formulae, the following tables were generated. These tables indicate the additional number of Subordinate Court Judges required to breakeven, and the number of Subordinate Court Judges required to clear the existing backlog for the High Courts of Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Delhi, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Kerala, Punjab & Haryana, Sikkim, and Uttarakhand.
The method can easily be illustrated with an example. Table I shows the rate of disposal analysis for the Andhra Pradesh Subordinate Courts. As this data shows, in 2010 Andhra Pradesh had 129 judges of the Higher Judicial Service who disposed of 109085 cases, at an average of 109085/129 = 845.6 cases per judge. Similarly, in 2011, 139 judges disposed of 111892 cases at an average of 111892/139 = 805 cases per judge; and in 2012, 136 judges disposed of 106997 cases at an average of 106997/136 = 786.7 cases per judge. On average, therefore, judges of the Higher Judicial Service disposed of (845.6+805+786.7)/3
= 812.4 cases per judge per year in this time period. This is the Average Rate of disposal per judge.
Now the average institution per year from 2010-2012 in the Higher Judicial Service cadre is (112209+112710+113250)/3=112723. If each judge is disposing of on average 812.4 cases per year, then the number of judge required to dispose of 112723 cases is 112723/812.4 = 138.7. This is the breakeven number, which implies that if there were 138.7 Higher Judicial Service judges then in any given time period, all new institutions would be disposed of without adding to the backlog. Since currently there are 136 judges of this cadre, there the need is 138.7- 136=3 (rounding off to the higher number) additional judges to reach the breakeven number. The breakeven number deals with the current institutions.
There is also a huge backlog of cases. In the case of the Higher Judicial Service, 98072 matters are pending for more than a year, as on 31.12.2012. If one judge disposes of 812.4 cases per year on average, then system would need 98072/812.4 = 121 judges to dispose of all pending matters in one year, or 121/2=61 (after rounding off), or 121/3=41 (after rounding off) for disposing of all pending cases in 2 and 3 years respectively.
A closer look at the foregoing analysis of the data and evaluating various methods as discussed the Commission considers it important to emphasize the following:
1. Appointment of judges on a priority basis: As this data indicates, the situation is indeed grim, and is getting worse by the moment. In all states, there is a significant backlog of cases which requires a massive influx of judicial resources even if one takes a 3 year time frame for clearing backlog. Bihar, for example, requires an additional 1624 judges to clear backlog in three years. The problem of backlogs is compounded by the fact that in some states, Courts are unable to even keep pace with the new filings, thus adding to the already huge backlog. As the data shows, even where the Courts are breaking even, the system is severely backlogged and requires urgent intervention.38 Given the large number of judges required to clear backlog and the time it will take to complete selection and training processes, the Law Commission recommends that the recruitment of new judges should, therefore, focus, as a matter of priority, on the number of
judges required to breakeven, and to dispose of the backlog in a 3 year time frame. This has to be dealt with on a priority basis, otherwise the already severe problem of backlogs will only get worse.
2. Special Traffic Courts: The figures for institution and disposal do not include traffic challans/police challans. As mentioned in Part III A above, the Law Commission recommends that these cases be dealt with by Special Courts, over and above the regular Courts. The Special Courts can function in morning and evening shifts. Much of the work of these Courts is likely to require very little judicial involvement. Therefore, recent law graduates can be appointed for short durations, e.g., 3 years, to preside over these Courts. Providing online facilities for the payment of fines, or separate counter facilities in Court precincts for this purpose, can ease the work load of these Courts considerably. In order to ensure fair process, Special Traffic Courts should deal only with cases which involve fines. Where imprisonment is a likely consequence, the matter should be heard by a regular Court. Staffing such Courts with recent law graduates will also have the added benefit of providing such graduates with a meaningful stepping stone for careers in litigation or the judicial services.
It is to be noted that the Backlog figures do not exclude traffic challans. Data on what proportion of pending traffic/police challans were more than a year old were not available. However, given that these cases generally do not require much judicial involvement, most of these cases are not likely to be backlogged.
3. Periodic Needs Assessment for the Judiciary: The present work is based on analysis of institution, disposal and pendency data for the time period 2010-12. Institution and disposal trends can and will change over time. New laws, greater awareness of rights, changing social circumstances, and even the reduction of judicial delay are likely to lead to an increase in the number of cases being instituted. At the same time, better infrastructure, more support staff, access to time-saving technology and better training are likely to increase the efficiency levels (and hence, rate of disposal) of judges. Since the method of calculating Additional number of Judges depends on these figures, the Law Commission recommends that the trend of institutions and disposals should be constantly monitored by the High Courts, in order to meet the evolving needs of the judiciary. Using the formula provided above, judge strength should be increased periodically, particularly when institution rates start climbing over disposal rates. The Commission also recommends that in order to engage in this analysis, High Courts should put in place reliable and regular data collection and management systems.
4. Efficient Deployment of Judicial Resources: The Commission recognizes that apart from increasing the judge strength, there is also need for efficient deployment of the additional judicial resources. While the rate of Disposal Method indicates how many additional judges are required it does not indicate how these additional judicial resources should be allocated (e.g., which Courts, which districts, what types of cases) to best meet the goal of delay reduction. Further, the Commission also recognizes that the most efficient allocation of resources will depend upon various local factors and micro level analyses, for which pan-India recommendations may be inappropriate. Therefore, the Law Commission recommends that once appointments are made, High Courts should make appropriate allocation of judicial work, keeping in mind the following factors:
a. In this report, all cases pending for less than a year have been treated as current cases. All cases pending for more than a year have been categorized as backlogged cases. The Commission recognizes that this division is ad hoc. However, as elaborated earlier in this report, we do not have any established metric for determining when a case can be considered delayed for purpose of counting only delayed cases in the backlogged category. In the absence of this information, a time frame of one year has been taken as the period for considering a case as current or backlogged. It is possible that a Court with high pendency of backlogged cases might have many recently filed pending cases whereas another Court with a relatively
lower backlog may have a high proportion of very old pending cases. High Courts should, therefore, allocate more resources for Courts with more old pending matters than those with relatively new case loads.
b. It is also important to note that not every case requires the same amount of judicial time or resources. A petty case may be considered delayed if it takes more than 3 months whereas a murder case may be considered disposed of well in time if it takes 6 months for disposal. However, the rate of Disposal Method does not take this complexity into account. The Commission has taken one, two and three years as the time frames within which pending cases should be disposed of. However, one year might be too much time for some cases, and too little for others. A benchmark to determine delay and the requisite age wise break up of cases by subject area, can help to determine what percentage of cases are delayed and hence require targeted intervention. On the general principle of first in, first out for each type of case, High Courts should allocate more resources for Courts with more delayed pending cases.
c. Similarly, even if a Court has a relatively high rate of disposal, some cases in that Court might be very old and moving at a very slow pace, compared to the bulk of the case load, which may be simpler and moving at a much faster rate. Since the overall rate of disposal averages out the rate of disposal of specific types of cases, a high overall rate of disposal may mask the fact that some cases such are stagnating for long periods within such a Court. Therefore, even if some Courts have a very high rate of disposal, the High Court should not re-allocate judicial resources in those Courts, without first determining how current their case loads are.
d. Relatedly, even though the general picture that emerges lets system know how much extra judicial time is required to clear up the backlog and prevent the system from getting backlogged in the near future, the Rate of Disposal Method does not tell anything about how judicial time and effort should be spent so as to cater to the needs of the socially and legally marginalized who are often likely to need more judicial resources in order to meet their basic legal needs. The method does not provide a way to tailor judicial resource allocation based on the different needs of different groups. It treats all cases as similar from the point of view of delay reduction regardless of the nature of the right being asserted or the person making the assertion. Therefore, High Courts should provide guidelines to Subordinate Courts to ensure that older or more complex or more priority cases (for example, those relating to sexual violence) do not stagnate in the system.
e. Finally, even if judges of a particular category are disposing of cases at a high rate, this indicates nothing about the quality of decision-making of such judges. The focus of the method is on the quantitative output without compromising the current qualitative standard. However, there might be trade-offs involved between the quantity and the quality of decision-making that the model does not take into account. If some judges are actually compromising on the quality of decision-making and are thus being able to dispose of more cases, the model will recommend a lesser number of additional judges, compared to the additional judges that would be required to dispose of the same number of cases in a more qualitatively sound manner. The Commission, therefore, recommends that in allocating the additional judicial resources, High Courts should pay heed to the quality of decision making in the Courts concerned.
In sum, therefore, the rate of Disposal Method described in this report should be seen as giving an approximation of required judicial strength that can then be adjusted and allocated on the basis of other considerations, which can include, but are not limited to:
(1) adjustments made for inaccuracies in available data; (2) a particularly large number of cases that have been pending for an excessive period of time which may indicate a need for more judicial resources and (3) relevant feedback about pendency and judicial functioning in the State and particular districts from stakeholders.
6. Timely filling of vacancies; increase in age of retirement of the Subordinate Judiciary: As Table XIII indicates, most High Courts have a high vacancy in Subordinate Courts. Additionally, every year many vacancies are created through retirement. It takes time to select and train new judges to replace the retiring ones. In the meantime, the backlog piles up. To deal with this concern, the Commission recommends that in addition to recruiting new judges, the age of retirement of subordinate judges be raised to 62 in order to meet the need for a large number of adequately trained judicial officers. The benefit of increase in the retirement age can be made available to judicial officers in terms of the directions of the Supreme Court in All
India Judges’ Association v. Union of India.40 Further, the directions of the Supreme
Court in Malik Mazhar Sultan v. U.P. Public Service Commission,41 regarding the time bound filling of vacancies, needs to be strictly adhered to.
7. Need for system wide judicial reforms: From a litigant’s point of view, what matters is not just the timely disposal of his/her case at the trial Court level, but at all levels of the judiciary. Therefore, judicial reform targeted at delay reduction is required not only in the trial Court, but throughout the judicial system. In particular,
a. If the number of judges in the trial Courts increases significantly the number of cases being disposed of by the trial Courts will rise sharply. The total number of cases being appealed to the High Courts will also increase. The case load of High Courts will, therefore, increase. If a corresponding increase is not made in the judge strength at the High Court level, the system as a whole is likely to remain backlogged.
Data obtained from the Supreme Court publication Court News shows that High Courts are already backlogged and are not being able to keep pace with new filings. The recent annual data from Court News is for the time period 01.10.2011 to 30.9.2012. In this time period, though 1909543 fresh institutions were made in High Courts, only 1764607 matters were disposed of. The backlog, therefore, increased by 144936. On average, in this time period, High Court judges disposed of 2821.07 cases per judge. As of 30.9.2012, 4407861 matters were pending before all the High Courts. At the current rate of disposal, High Courts require an additional 56 judges to breakeven and an additional 942 judges to clear the backlog. It is relevant to note here that the sanctioned strength of the High Courts is 895. As on 31.12.2012, 31.4% of these positions were vacant. Therefore, there is already a massive shortage of judges in the High Courts. The increase of judge strength in the Lower Judiciary is likely to further exacerbate the problem.
b. Without adequate infrastructure or support staff, an increase in judge strength will not be effective as a delay reduction strategy. A systemic perspective, encompassing all levels of the judicial hierarchy, is, therefore, needed for meaningful judicial reform.
c. Other approaches like encouraging Alternative Dispute Resolution methods, where appropriate, can divert cases outside the Court system and lead to an overall reduction in pendency in the judicial system.42 Therefore, a piecemeal approach to delay reduction should be eschewed in favour of a systemic perspective.
CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
In conclusion, it would not be wrong to say that at general level and in nutshell, the present report in a way deals with the issue of arrears and delay and problem of judicial (wo)manpower planning - a problem that for quite many years remained ignored. Undermining this, the Law Commission, in its 120th Report: “Manpower Planning in Judiciary: A Blue Print” had observed, “The Commission was of the view that the question of judicial manpower planning had generally been ignored in India’s planned development. The developing science of manpower planning has not attracted the attention of policy opinion makers in the field of administration of justice in India. All reorganization proposals are basically patch work, ad-hoc, unsystematic solutions to the problem”. Importantly, the report, while confessing its limitations and inability said: “Commission itself is in no position, given the fact of its present structure, to provide this kind of technical analysis only on which sound programme of change can be envisaged. Of course, the Commission has done the next best thing and elicited extensive opinion of those knowledgeable in the field and the general public. But we must admit that, all said and done, this is a very poor substitute for sound scientific analysis.” The Commission, thus, while being expressly conscious of limitations inherent in suggesting any scientific method to deal with problem of arrears and delay relied on the judge population ratio method as a way for judicial manpower planning. In making such suggestion, the Commission was inspired by prevalence of such method in few other countries. The Commission in its report recommended that there was strong justification to increase the then existing ratio from 10.5 judges per million to at least 50 judges per million of Indian population. Thus, it is primarily because of non-availability of data and their scientific analysis, that the Commission simply adopted the simple approach of Judge-Population Ratio. In fact, the report had no occasion to analyse strengths, weaknesses and relevance of adopting Judge-Population Ratio method in Indian context especially the context that has its own peculiarities different in many respects from the systems where Judge-Population Ratio method prevail.
No doubt, in recent years, the issue of arrears and delay and problem of Judicial (wo)man power planning has attracted attention of almost all major stakeholders including the judiciary, executive, media, policy makers, and public in general. However, despite this spurt of rising attention, it is largely due to the dearth of any uniform and scientific approach to data collection and its analysis that arriving at more scientific and futuristic suggestions with regard to judicial (wo)manpower planning to deal with issue of arrears and delay still remains a challenge.
However, the present report, while fully realises the frustration expressed by the Commission and consequent failure in making deeper analysis of the problem when submitting 120th Report, is an attempt to deal with the problem somewhat more analytically and scientifically. As the Commission, in the process of preparing the present report and response submitted to the Hon’ble Supreme Court adopted every possible venue and opportunity that could be thought of for collecting data including through questionnaires and personal interviews and subjecting information thus collected to rigorous analysis adopting various tools of data analysis available in the domain of research methodology.
Analysis of data and information thus made was then examined in light of various methods of judicial (wo)manpower planning practised in many other systems while keeping in view peculiarities of Indian judicial and profession’s culture. Adopting this approach, the Commission has finally arrived at making following suggestions and recommendations:
Rate of Disposal Method
That, given the existing availability of data, the Rate of Disposal Method and formulae be followed for calculating adequate judge strength for Subordinate Courts, instead of Judge-Population or Judge-Institution Ratio, Ideal Case Load Method or the Time Based Method.
Number of judges to be appointed on a priority basis
That, data obtained from High Courts indicates that the judicial system is severely backlogged, and is also not being able to keep pace with current filings, thus exacerbating the problem of backlogs. The system requires a massive influx of judicial resources in order to dispose of the backlog and keep pace with current filings. The data indicates the need for taking urgent measures for increasing judge strength in order to ensure timely justice and facilitate access to justice for all sections of society.
That, as per the resolution of the Advisory Council of the National Mission for Justice Delivery and Legal Reforms, the resolution of the Chief Justices and Chief Ministers Conference, 2013, and public addresses of the Prime Minister and the Law Minister, the current judge strength is being doubled over the next five years. Given the large number of judges required to clear backlog and the time that it will take to complete selection and training processes and to create adequate infrastructure, the Law Commission recommends that the recruitment of new judges should focus, as a matter of priority, on the number of judges required to breakeven and to dispose of the backlog, in a 3 year time frame.43
Increasing the age of retirement of Subordinate Court Judges
That, in order to meet the need for a large number of appropriately trained Subordinate Court Judges, the age of retirement of Subordinate judges be raised to 62 The benefit of increase in the retirement age be made available to judicial officers in terms of the directions of the Supreme Court in All India Judges’ Association v. Union of India.44
Creation of Special Courts for Traffic/Police Challan Cases
That special morning and evening Courts be set up for dealing with Traffic/Police Challan cases which constituted 38.7% of institutions and 37.4% of all pending cases in the last three years, before the Subordinate Judicial Services. These Courts should be in addition to the regular Courts so that they can reduce the case load of the regular Courts. In addition, facilities be made available for online payment of fines as well as the payment of fines at designated counters in the Court complex. This measure will further reduce pendency before such Special Courts. Recent law graduates may be appointed for short durations, e.g., 3 years, to preside over these special traffic Courts. These special Courts should only deal with cases involving fines. Cases which may involve imprisonment should be tried before regular Courts in order to ensure fair process.
That, if Special Traffic/Police Challan Courts are not created, the number of judges required in the regular cadres should be further increased to take into account traffic and police challan cases.
Provision for Staff and Infrastructure
That, adequate provisions be made for staff and infrastructure required for the working of additional Courts.
Periodic Needs Assessment by High Courts
That the present work is based on analysis of institution, disposal and pendency figures upto 2012. Needless to say, over time these figures are likely to change, affecting the requirement for additional Courts to keep pace with filings and disposals. The Law Commission does not have sufficient information to predict by how much institution is likely to vary in the coming years.46 Therefore, the High Courts may be required to carry out Periodic Judicial Needs Assessment to monitor the rate of institution and disposal and revise the judge strength periodically, based on institutions, disposals, pendency and vacancy, using the formula given above.
That, in the light of revelation before the Commission about the lack of uniformity in data collection and concerns with the quality of data recorded and provided by High Courts, the Commission strongly recommends that High Courts be directed to evolve uniform data collection and data management methods in order to ensure transparency and to facilitate data based policy prescriptions for the judicial system.
Need for system-wide Reform
That a systemic perspective, encompassing all levels of the judicial hierarchy, is needed for meaningful judicial reform. Taking measures for the timely disposal of cases at all levels of the judicial system, including by monitoring and increasing judge strength throughout the system; encouraging Alternative Dispute Resolution Methods, where appropriate and more efficient allocation and utilization of resources is required to fulfill the goal of providing timely justice to litigants. In particular, the Commission emphasizes the urgent need to increase judge strength in High Courts to ensure that appeals/revisions from additional cases disposed of by the newly created Subordinate Courts, are dealt with in a timely manner, and that the already heavy backlog in the High Courts is adequately addressed. Therefore, a piecemeal approach to delay reduction should be eschewed in favour of a systemic perspective.
That, as the Supreme Court recognized in its order in Imtiyaz Ahmad dated February 1, 2012, the creation of additional Courts is one amongst various measures required to ensure timely justice and facilitate access to justice. The Commission recognizes that apart from increasing judge strength, many other measures have to be undertaken for reducing delays, including the application of good judicial management practices such as putting into place timeliness and performance benchmarks. As discussed earlier in this report, the Commission emphasizes the need for establishing, based on rational criteria, non-mandatory time frames for the resolution of different types of cases.48 Unless judges and litigants have clear expectations of how soon their cases are likely to resolved, there will be little accountability for delays, and systemic problems are likely to increase. Therefore, the Commission seeks to highlight an urgent need to fix rational, non-mandatory time frames for different types of cases, and use such time frames as a basis for setting judge performance standards, litigant expectations, and making more robust policy recommendations for the judiciary.