IT would be unfortunate if the exhortation of the President, Ms Pratibha Patil for fair but speedy justice ends up as one more rhetoric from political leaders on the issue of judicial reforms. We are far too burdened with backlog of cases in all tiers of the judiciary, so much so that cases take a good part of the litigants’ short life to be decided eventually by the Supreme Court. Many times, cases take years and years even in the lower courts.
The saddest part is that huge delay in a final judicial decision has created an environment in which people are trying to avoid the judicial process. It is a bad commentary on not only our judiciary but also on our democracy, which never tires of affirming equality before law, fair play and justice to all, blah, blah. The truth is an increasing number of citizens dread the thought of approaching the judiciary, because even though they might be sure that they have a strong case against the party they feel wronged by ( say, an individual, a company) they are not sure whether they would get justice within their lifetime. So, there is an increasing number of citizens in this democracy who prefer to suffer injustice rather than go to the judiciary. This cannot be an indicator of the health of justice, can it be? Because if ordinary people dread to approach judiciary, wrongdoers are the ones whose morale is being constantly boosted. Delay in justice is therefore encouraging wrongdoing.
Wrongdoers – strong, shrewd and dominating individuals, groups or organizations – are actually getting a double benefit out of judicial delay. While they get away without punishment for their own crimes because those wronged by them do not approach courts, these strong and powerful forces file cases against those who are poorer and weaker and use judicial delay to harass and persecute them for many, many years. With lawyers’ fees and other costs involved, quite a few of those harassed and persecuted by such litigation give up, which means defeat and surrender. Even if they go on till the last, defeat can come as a consequence of the unequal skills and experience of the lawyers of the two sides. And even if the decision is in their favour, the huge delay would have sometimes made the gains not as much important and relevant to their life as a quicker decision in their favour would have been.
Many times when we glorify our judicial system, reaffirm our faith in judiciary and portray it as ‘the saviour’ we tend to shut our eyes to the fact that an erosion of faith in judiciary is taking place by the effluent called judicial delay. Even though Indians as a whole have faith in the judiciary insofar as their belief that the judiciary is impartial and independent and beyond influences of power or pelf goes, their faith in getting the impartial, independent, unpurchasable and fearless courts to deliver justice fast is being eroded.
Such erosion can only mean perpetuation of injustice and inequity in society and hence be detrimental to judiciary, whose role it is to put an end to injustice and inequity of all kinds. Such erosion can only mean that the strong will become stronger, the powerful become more powerful, the wicked will become more wicked.
That is why we say: Political leaders, stop your rhetoric and implement all those recommendations for judicial reforms that have been gathering dust. We do not say, you have not made efforts. Fast track courts, family courts, labour courts, consumer courts – there are many steps taken to reduce the backlog of cases and speed up disposal of cases. Yet these are not enough. Compared to the size of the problem we have, we have done very little.