Often off the mark, criticism against the judiciary has acquired a new pitch. Comments by President Pratibha Patil on Saturday and Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee on Sunday are part of the trend.
The President made a more general point about judicial adequacy in securing justice to all citizens. She said, “Admittedly, the realm of judicial administration is not without its own share of inadequacies and blemishes.” Her remarks came after a mob lynching in Bihar and echoed what many citizens experience every day. Judicial delays are painful, more so for those who approach courts after exhausting all other avenues.
The Speaker’s criticism, however, was much more strident. He questioned the link between the shortage of judges and delays in deciding cases. He also questioned the petitions admission policy of the judiciary. Both arguments are linked to procedure. There is no doubt that time-consuming legal procedures defeat the ends of justice, but at the same time “speeding up” the process may be dangerous. The chances that those with money and wealth would get their way would increase dramatically especially in a society as unequal and hierarchical as India. The neutrality of justice would be shaken.
The adequate balance between “speed” and judicial efficacy is difficult to achieve in any society. The US, for example, is known for speedy judicial procedures, but has not been able to eliminate crime and other violations of the law.
Usually this balance is achieved only if the three wings of the state act in unison, a condition that does not obtain in India. The massive backlog of cases can partly be blamed on a dysfunctional executive and legislation with loopholes. In this context, the criticism levelled at the judiciary is off the mark.
There is no quick way of solving the problem. The quality of judges is an issue that needs to be addressed. This is something best handled by judges. Contrary to what Chatterjee says, a larger number of judges would go some distance in addressing the issue. But beyond all these matters, a well-functioning executive is a must if the burden on the courts is to be reduced.
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