A Delhi High Court’s pilot project report on the backlog of cases has said the Capital needed 43 more judges above the current strength of 143 to clear all the pending cases in one year. The ‘Zero Pendency Courts Project’ is a one-of-its-kind project in India aimed to study the life cycle of cases to come up with optimal timelines for cases.
‘Less credible system’
The report said with persisting delays the system becomes less credible as litigants have to wait for decades to get their cases resolved. With an increase in the number of filings over the years, the pendency of cases is bound to increase if no proper targeted steps are taken to overcome the issue.
As recently as in 2016, it was estimated that judicial delays cost India around 1.5% of its Gross Domestic Product annually, it said.
Prompted by the urgent need to ensure timely justice, the Delhi High Court started the pilot project from January 2017 in certain subordinate courts in Delhi.
The primary goal of the project was to study the flow of cases in the absence of backlog.
All the 11 pilot courts entered details under the Daily Work done template between January 2017 and December 2017. It contained information on time spent on hearings and flow of cases through different stages.
The report noted that the number of criminal cases in Delhi is far more than the number of civil cases. As on March 20, 2019, there were 5.5 lakh criminal cases and 1.8 lakh civil cases pending in subordinate courts in Delhi.
It said the highest amount of time per hearing on average was spent on the final arguments stage followed by the final order or judgment. A considerable amount of time is taken on dictation, researching on case laws etc. before pronouncing the final judgment. Thus, a lot of time is spent on each of the hearings, it said.
Reason for delays
The reason for delays, the report said was the absence of witnesses. Evidence stage forms an important of a case. Absence of witnesses during the evidence stage causes a serious impediment to the progress of the case. Also, unnecessary adjournments sought by the advocates or the parties at various stages in a case delay the proceedings, thus prolonging the case life. Additionally, there is a delay in the service of summons, especially to outstation parties.
The report said with a lesser number of judges, the workload of an individual judge would increase. "It is therefore important to arrive at an optimal judge strength to handle the cases pending in the system,” it said.
It suggested bumping up the current strength of judges from 143 to an “ideal” 186 judges to clear all the pending cases in one year.