Today and tomorrow the Chief Justices of the High Courts and Supreme Court of India are having a conference in Delhi on how to expedite the disposal of cases. Although the meeting is not public, in a welcome sign of transparency and information dissemination the Supreme Court website has not only posted the agenda for the conference on its website, but also some of the background reading for the conference. This reading gives a helpful status report on many of the reforms proposed or undertaken to improve the efficiency of both the high courts and lower judiciary. It also addresses quality concerns, especially discussed in relation to the lower courts.
Topics included involve caseload management, and the progress in setting up of fast-track courts, gram nyayalayas, and alternative dispute resolution forums. When discussing efforts to speed up the cases of under-trial prisoners it notes that between June of 2006 and June of 2007 India’s prisoner population increased almost 22% (p. 53). This seems like a phenomenal increase and determining the cause deserves more study (i.e. is it just more accurate statistics are now available, has the judiciary slowed down, has the rate of prison incarceration sped up, are sentences longer, etc.). According to the statistics provided in this document it doesn’t seem most of the under-trial prisoners are in jail for petty crimes or eager to confess their guilt – two ways their case can get fast-tracked – but again the statistics might not be accurate.
Related to a recent post on this blog about where High Court judges should be recruited from, this conference document discusses what it reports to be the long-standing demand by judicial officers that they be promoted to be one half of High Court judges from the present third. In analyzing this issue it interestingly compares the disposal rates of High Court judges promoted from the subordinate judiciary and those who were promoted from the bar (p. 67). I counted that in 12 of 19 states judges promoted from the bar had a higher disposal rate than those from the subordinate judiciary (often by quite a bit). It’s difficult to know what other variables might be playing into these statistics, and I would be very wary of trying to conflate a judges performance merely with their disposal rate, but is interesting to think about why these differences might occur.
There is a lot of other useful information in the document to those interested in judicial efficiency that I didn’t mention and I encourage you to read it yourself.