As pendency of cases in various courts continued to be a major concern of the Ministry of Law & Justice, the focus of pendency reduction drive this year has been to make our judicial system ‘five plus’ free i.e. to dispose of cases that are more than five years old. Simultaneously, emphasis was laid on increasing the number of judges in subordinate judiciary by filling the existing vacancies and creating additional posts so that disposal of cases is expedited by setting up of additional courts.
The year 2012 proved to be a milestone year for the Ministry of Law & Justice as probably for the first time, as per information received from the High Courts, the net pendency in all courts was reduced by over 6 lakh cases. Out of them about 1.36 lakh cases were of the targeted groups such as senior citizens, disabled, minors and marginalized sections of society. This was the result of a pendency reduction drive undertaken in the second half of 2011 in a campaign mode approach for clearing long pending cases and cases relating to marginalized sections of the society in High Courts and Subordinate Courts under their jurisdiction. Encouraged by that success, another similar drive was launched during 2012 as well: from July to December 2012. The focus of pendency reduction drive this year is to make our judicial system ‘five plus free’.
On the recommendations of 13th Finance Commission, the Government has sanctioned Rs. 5000 crore as grants to the States for 5 years between 2010-15 for undertaking various initiatives to increase access to justice. An amount of Rs. 595 crore was released as central assistance to States / UTs for infrastructure development of subordinate judiciary during 2011-12. Out of budget of Rs 660 crore in the current financial year, Rs. 557 crore has been released to States / UTs till 30th November, 2012.
National Mission for Justice Delivery and Legal Reforms:
Besides, the Government has set up a National Mission for Justice Delivery and Legal Reforms with the twin objectives of increasing access by reducing delays and arrears in the system and enhancing accountability through structural changes and by setting performance standards and capacities. The Mission has been pursuing a coordinated approach for phased liquidation of arrears and pendency in judicial administration which, inter alia, involves better infrastructure for courts including computerisation, increase in strength of subordinate judiciary, policy and legislative measures in the areas prone to excessive litigation, re-engineering of court procedure for quick disposal of cases and emphasis on human resource development. The National Mission has a time frame of five years (2011-16) to pursue them.
The Mission has taken several steps in the strategic areas towards fulfilment of its objectives. An Inter-Ministerial Group (IMG) has been constituted to suggest necessary amendments to the Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881 along with other policy and administrative measures to check increasing litigation relating to cheque bounce cases. For the re-engineering of court procedures and court processes for early disposal of cases, a National Court Management System has been notified by the Supreme Court for addressing the issues of case management, court management, setting measurable standards for performance of the courts and the National System of Judicial Statistics in the country.
Infrastructure development for the subordinate judiciary is a major thrust area for the National Mission. With a view to enhancing the resources of the State Governments, the Government has increased the central share by revising the funding pattern from 50:50 to 75:25 (for States other than North Eastern States) under modified Centrally Sponsored Scheme for development of infrastructure facilities for the judiciary. The funding pattern for North-Eastern States has been kept as 90:10.
e-Courts Mission Mode Project:
In order to improve the justice delivery system, the Government is implementing the e-Courts project in a mission mode, since 2007. The project envisages computerisation of 14,249 district and subordinate courts as well up gradation of the information and communication technology infrastructure of the Supreme Court and the High Courts in the country, so that citizen centric eServices can be initiated to make justice delivery more affordable and transparent. A total of 11,165 district & subordinate courts have already been computerised under the on-going project; another 3,084 district and subordinate courts would be computerized in the next 15 months. Once computerised, the courts are envisaged to provide a host of eServices to litigants and public at large though a website, such as – case filing, certified copies of orders and judgments and case status. Similarly, the advocates can access the cause lists online under this project.
Re-engineering Court Procedures and Court Processes:
An important aspect of the judicial reforms relates to re-engineering court procedures and court processes for early disposal of cases. A comprehensive scheme of National Court Management Systems (NCMS) has been formulated and notified by the Supreme Court of India on 2nd May 2012. Under the NCMS, a National Framework of Court Excellence (NFCE) is being prepared, which will set measurable standards of performance for courts addressing the issues of quality, responsiveness and timeliness. A Case Management System (CMS) will be developed to ensure the user friendliness of the judicial process to the stakeholders. The Policy and Action Plan of National Court Management System was released by Chief Justice of India on 27.09.2012. The National Mission would coordinate with the NCMS and would render necessary assistance in achieving the goal of reducing pendency in courts.
The Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill:
The Government continued its efforts to get the nod of the Parliament for the path-breaking legislation: the Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill. The Bill, was introduced in the Lok Sabha on 1.12.2010. It was discussed in the Parliamentary Standing Committee (PSC), and the recommendations made by the PSC have been considered and taken into account in finalizing the Bill. The Bill was considered and passed in the Lok Sabha on 29.3.2012. It is now pending for consideration and passing in the Rajya Sabha. The Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill has been prepared after holding wide ranging consultations and after holding discussions with legal experts, eminent Jurists, Non-governmental Organisations (NGO) etc.
The Bill will go a long way in empowering the citizens and establishing the confidence and faith of the people in the judicial system without exposing them to unnecessary risk. It will also meet the aspirations of the people in a functioning democracy like India, having a functioning judiciary. The Bill does not seek to infringe on the independence of the Judiciary which is the hallmark of Indian democracy and which is guaranteed under Constitution. Instead, it will enhance the accountability without affecting the independence of the judiciary in anyway.
No polity can claim to be just if it cannot provide access to justice for all the sections of its population. For it to have any meaning, justice must be available to all, but particularly to the most marginalized and the vulnerable person in our society. Free legal aid is crucial to ensure that people are able to access justice delivery institutions irrespective of their income criteria.
Unlike many other countries, India has a very progressive legal aid law that provides free legal services for a wide variety of people – women, children, workers, people living with disability, SCs, STs, those earning below Rs. 1 lakh per annum etc. Legal aid is available for both criminal and civil matters. The Legal Services Authorities Act is the key legislation to assist the marginalized people in accessing a host of rights and entitlements. Avenues to access legal aid under the Act are available from the Supreme Court down till the district and taluka level.
The Government will now be focusing its efforts to establish Legal Aid Clinics even at the village level so as to ensure access to justice for the people at their door steps. Paralegals will be trained across the country to empower and assist the marginalized people in accessing their rights and entitlements, and to man the legal aid clinics.
Good practices from other parts of the world are being studied with a view to adapt them to our context. With UNDP support, the Ministry of Law & Justice sent 4 delegations to Indonesia, South Africa, Malawi and Sierra Leone to study good practices on legal aid and empowerment. An international conference was held on 17-18 November 2012 to discuss this subject. Based on the learnings from the conference, the Ministry will be exploring mechanisms to work closely with law school based legal aid clinics so as to utilise the services of law students in providing access to justice for the poor people. The Ministry will work closely with the National Legal Service Authority and the State Legal Service Authorities to strengthen the paralegals as an institution in the country.
The Gram Nyayalayas Act, 2008 has been enacted to provide for establishment of Gram Nyayalayas at the Inter Mediate Panchayat level by State Governments in consultation with respective High Courts so that speedy and affordable justice could be provided to the common man at his doorsteps. The Act has come into force w. e. f. 2nd October, 2009.
As per the information available, till beginning of December 2012 a total of 168 Gram Nyayalyas have been notified by 7 States namely Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Orissa, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Jharkhand and Goa of which 151 have become operational. The difficulties faced by the States in setting up of Gram Nyayalayas were discussed in the meeting of Law / Home Secretaries of the States and Registrar Generals of the High Courts in New Delhi on 19-20 April, 2012.
A meeting to discuss the issues pertaining to Gram Nyayalayas was convened by the Prime Minister’s Office on 16.10.2012. Considering that implementation of Gram Nyayalayas Act is a thrust area of the Government, it was decided that issues effecting the implementation of the scheme may be placed before the Chief Justice of India and Chief Justice of the High Courts in the meeting to be convened shortly. It is pertinent to mention here that complete implementation of Gram Nyayalaya scheme would result in addition of around 5,000 courts at intermediate panchayat level affording quick and inexpensive justice for common man.