President Pratibha Patil on Saturday said the large number of pending cases in courts was a matter of concern. It had a cascading effect on people's expectations and impacts on their perception of the judiciary, she pointed out.

The President was delivering the inaugural address at a conference on “Access to Justice and Socio-Economic Development Programmes in the North-eastern Region,” organised by the National Legal Services Authority and hosted by the Gauhati High Court here.

She said that along with socio-economic policies and programmes, a holistic approach to access to justice was required. “It is a legal system that is structured on timely delivery, affordable justice and non-cumbersome procedures, which is best designed to provide access to justice. The large number of cases pending at various levels of our judiciary is an issue of concern.”

Ms. Patil reminded the judiciary that a case not decided on time resulted in a situation of being “in limbo” for years together. “In the event of criminal cases, it leaves many families worried and also results in undertrials [languishing] in jails. In civil matters, it cripples the litigants' ability to take important decisions in their lives. Hence, timely dispensation of justice is a cardinal principle of justice.”

There was need to make justice more affordable to the poor and disadvantaged. “Litigation is not an in-expensive option. For the poor and disadvantaged sections of society, approaching courts without legal aid is not possible. We must look at how to make justice more affordable whether it is in terms of court fees or lawyers' fees. At the same time, we need to make our legal aid system robust, effective and competent,” she said.

Equitable access

The President cautioned that lack of opportunities for equitable access to justice could create a division of those who “have” and those who “do-not have” access to justice.

She stressed the need for using the potential of information and communication technology to improve the courts efficiency. “Many High Courts place their cause lists and case status on their websites. This needs to percolate down to all subordinate courts as well. Such steps will make judicial processes more transparent and predictable.”

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