The Law Commission has come out with its 245th Report, titled “Arrears and Backlog: Creating Additional Judicial (Wo)manpower.” The Report largely reflects the submissions made by the Law Commission to the Supreme Court as per the Court’s directions in Imtiyaz Ahmad v. State of UP. This case started as a petition against delays in criminal trials. The Supreme Court directed the Law Commission to study the issue and submit its recommendations on the following point:
“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.”
Apart from various findings on adequate judge strength for the subordinate judiciary, the report highlights the abysmal state of data available about the functioning of the judiciary, which makes evidence-based judicial reform efforts an extremely difficult task. Therefore, any numbers that get thrown around about the problem of ‘pendency’ are likely to be grossly off the mark. The report also advocates shifting from a focus on “pendency” of cases as the parameter to evaluate the performance of the judicial system, to focusing on those pending cases which are delayed. Currently we have no rational yardsticks by which we can measure whether a case is delayed or not. The general fall back mechanism has been to adopt ad-hoc and impressionistic timelines, which are often very unrealistic given other resource constraints.
For me, the Supreme Court’s call for “rational” and scientific” approaches to policy making for the judicial system is a much needed and a very welcome step. It remains to be seen how the government and the Court respond to the report.
Nick Robinson and I, apart from many others, contributed to the report.