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The Overburdened Courts: An Analysis

While responding to the respondent's argument for asking for the adjournment of the case due to the non-availability of the senior council, CJI Uday Umesh Lalit highlighted the case burden of the courts in his remark. "Matters do come up but they don't get disposed of, so they keep adding to the burden," the CJI said. This opens the eyes to various aspects of court management and the speedy disposal process of Indian courts.

According to an article in The Hindu, 4.7 crore cases are still pending at the different levels of the judiciary. As on August 2022, in a statement by Law Minister Kiren Rijiju in Rajya Sabha, Supreme Court has 71,411 pending cases of which 56,365 are civil matters and 15,076 are criminal cases. Out of these, around 10,491 are in line for disposal for over a decade, 18,134 between five and ten years and around 42,000 are pending for less than five years.[1] The statistics were presented by the Minister based on data from the Supreme Court.

This is not just a case for the Indian judicial system. The burden of cases is not less in the world anywhere in which the pandemic has contributed to a large extent. In USA courts, according to the statistics of US courts, USA courts have 50,258 cases pending which is 24.7% more than the last year.[2] In the OECD area, the average length for disposal of a case is 240 in the first instance, in which some cases last more than 7 years.[3]

India is leading the world in the pendency period of cases which is at an average of 1446 days (approximately 4 years), when we accumulate the data of 21 High Courts, the average comes at 1,128 (2 years and 1 month) and in the case of subordinate courts, the pathetic state of affairs shows that it takes around 2,184 days (six years) for disposal of cases. This means that to get your justice from the apex courts, starting from the subordinate courts, you will complete your adulthood.

Over pendency of cases displays the dickey situation of the Indian judiciary. Many factors contribute to the low rate of disposal of cases in the judiciary.

Firstly, the Judge-Population ratio in India is very low. In February, in a written reply, Cabinet Minister of Law Kiren Rijiju in Rajya Sabha, the Judge-Population ratio of the Indian judiciary stood at 21.03 per million. Indian judiciary has to fight with the vacant seats of judges. Case backlogs and excessive caseloads are signs that there are judicial vacancies, which is an issue. In High Courts, a total of 336 seats out of 1108 seats are vacant. But this problem is seeming to be settled as in 2021, former Chief Justice of India, Justice Ramana, recommended the appointment of 9 judges in the Supreme Court which was accepted on 17th August last year.

Secondly, every district court, high court, and the lower court in the country shall monitor the static data on a weekly, monthly, quarterly, biannually, and annual basis. This duty should ideally fall to a designated managerial specialist who is equipped to gather and analyse pertinent data locally.

Despite the present efforts to fix the issues of the judiciary, there are still serious flaws, like the lack of standardisation and uniformity throughout many regional courts. For reasons of tradition, history, and heritage, high courts throughout the nation utilise a dizzying array of nomenclatures and acronyms to refer to the same thing. For instance, at least ten high courts have various descriptions of writ petitions. The need for standardisation and consistency is critical and urgent. In the lack of any homogeneity, a comparative analysis is impossible. The same homogeneity assumption also underlies technology-based raw data analysis.

Lastly, the pandemic has caused the caseloads multiplier. The COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 significantly increased the number of pending cases, and the Court had to deal with both the sick judges and the absence of physical sessions. In the initial waves of the pandemic, the virtual courts were not widely set in place, and got notably affected by this effect. The number of cases which were pending, increased by 14.7% from March 2021 (61,142) to February 2022 (70,154) when the lockdown was imposed.

However, the early months of the national lockdown and the operating restrictions in the courts did not have an impact on the pendency. Pendency was basically unchanged between March 2020 and June 2020. This can be linked to a sharp decline in the number of court cases filed. However, former CJI S. A. Bobde introduced an electronic filing system in May 2020 to allow litigants to remotely submit cases and pay court fees. In the following months, there were more cases submitted, which caused the backlog to expand proportionately.

Article 21 declares that "no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to the procedure laid by law."

When addressing the bail petition in Babu Singh v. State of UP, Justice Krishna Iyer made the following observations:
"Our justice system even in grave cases, suffers from slow motion syndrome which is lethal to 'fair trial' whatever the ultimate decision. Speedy justice is a component of social justice since the community, as a whole, is concerned in the criminal being condignly and finally punished within a reasonable time and the innocent being absolved from the inordinate ordeal of criminal proceedings."[4]

The idea of right to speedy trial is becoming more and more important because the delay is case disposal implies neglecting the access to justice in the correct sense to the common man.

The Bombay High Court while hearing the petition on the death of Stan Swamy said that the "Right to speedy trial is a Fundamental Right". NCRB data highlights that many incarcerated dies in the prison in the long last wait for justice. The concept of speedy trial not only awards justice in the true sense but also relieves the court's burden, therefore, the right to speedy trial as a fundamental right can't be neglected.

Many scholars and judges have remarked their opinion on the pendency of cases in recent times. Recently, former CJI N.V. Ramana in his farewell speech regrated that he could not contribute much to the problem of pendency of cases in his tenure. He said that the use of AI and technology might be the probable solution to tackle this situation but he also reminded about the secrecy of court proceedings and dissonantly expressed his regret that "we could not make much progress". Justice Ramana said that the needs of the judiciary are different from the rest.

Mr. Dushyat Dave, President of the Supreme Court Bar Association was of the opinion that the power to assign the list of cases should not lie in CJI's hand but it should be fully automated system of allocation of the cases in the court. This problem of selection of cases is largely faced by young lawyers in getting their cases listed.

The pendency especially in the cases of economic matters and cases related to commercial matters affect the economic growth of a country. It discourages investment and can also create an impact on tax collection.

Additionally, the 12th Law Commission of India stated its worry about the court system's incapacity to provide prompt justice due to the number of judges being out of proportion to the population, which has led to a significant backlog of cases, in its 245th Report.[5]

Therefore, case burden is a major problem for developing India which is aspiring to see itself as a global power in the future. Indian economy is one of those major economies which even flourished at the time of the pandemic but for the sustainable growth of the country, the judicial system has to work efficiently. The use of technology can put much help in binding the pendency but simultaneously, we have to take care of the integrity and security of the courts, as Justice Ramana has pointed out in his farewell speech. The development of a country is also determined by the manner in which the judicial system is working and how effective it is.

In order to ease the rapid disposal of criminal cases and to lessen the burden on the courts, the Law Commission of India and the Malimath Committee proposed that the concept of plea bargaining should be implemented in the Indian criminal justice system. However, the system is failed to ensure the speedy disposal of cases. The system needs many changes at the management level as it creates the whole process lengthy which, as a result, wastes the time of the courts.

The system has to adopt technological changes and govt has to ensure the fulfilment of vacancy of judges in courts to reduce the judge-population ratio in the nation. A nation's power lies in the hand of the judiciary which determines the actual position of a common man in society and if a common man will not get justice promptly, then it will adversely affect the progress of a nation.

  4. Babu Singh v. State of UP [1978 AIR 527]
  1. Sumeda, Explained | The clogged state of the Indian judiciary, The Hindu, May 10, 2022, 11:30 IST,
  2.,, last visited Date: Nov 10, 2022
  3.,, last visited date: Nov 10, 2022
  4. Babu Singh v. State of UP, 1978 AIR 527
  5. 12th Law Commission of India, Report No. 245

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