A staggering five lakh cases, both civil and criminal, were pending in the Madras High Court when 2012 ended. With only 47 Judges at present against the sanctioned strength of 60, and a half-a-dozen more set to retire during this year, the pendency is likely to go up further when 2014 dawns unless steps are taken to fill up the vacancies, advocates say.

At the Principal Seat, as on December 31 last year, nearly 3.70 lakh cases, including 44,000 criminal cases were pending. A total of 1.25 lakh cases, including 1,800 criminal cases, were awaiting disposal at the Madurai Bench. Nearly 2.70 lakh cases were instituted in the High Court last year. About 2.40 lakh cases were disposed of. The pendency includes cases of past years.

Backlog of cases in the High Court has increased over the last five years. From nearly 4,28,832 cases in 2007, it rose to nearly 4.51 lakh in 2008, slightly dipped to 4.31 lakh in 2009 and increased again to 4.48 lakh the next year and 4.73 lakh in 2011.

Insufficient number of Judges, frequent adjournments, inordinate delay by governmental authorities in filing their response to petitions and boycott of courts by advocates have all contributed cumulatively to the docket explosion over the years, advocates say. This has happened despite a set of guidelines being framed by the High Court for filing Public Interest Litigation (PIL) petitions. However, there is no dearth of PILs as the judiciary still remained the last hope of the common man.

Besides these, the government for its part adds to the docket explosion by not complying with court orders leading to filing of contempt petitions. More needs to be done by the government to redress grievances at its level itself, instead of driving the common man to the court even in matters of public interest, points out an official.

Cut up with the official attitude in not obeying court orders in several cases, the High Court went to the extent of observing that “irrespective of the party coming to power, the officials remain the same.”

In 2012 alone, nearly 2,400 contempt petitions had been filed, the court observed.

“In the High Court alone, a large number of writ petitions and civil suits are being filed every day. When a writ petition is admitted, it takes a minimum of five years for its disposal. Courts alone are not to blame for the situation. Frequent adjournments and delay by official authorities in filing their counter should be avoided so that disposal of cases would speed up,” says S. Prabakaran, president of the Tamil Nadu Advocates Association.

He suggests that a time limit could be fixed for disposal of petitions and that specialised training to judicial officers and staff in time management, court management, workload management and time-bound delivery could be given. The backlog can be reduced to a great extent if the parties concerned evince interest in getting the cases disposed of. Once an interim relief is obtained, the matter is virtually forgotten, explains an official.

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