New Delhi: With the backlog of pending cases mounting each day, the problem of judicial delay is one that the Indian judicial system is constantly grappling with.
More often than not, judicial delay is attributed to failure to achieve a full-strength judiciary, lack of embracing technology and judicial inefficiency.
Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy, an independent legal policy and advisory group, has now sought to demonstrate a link between inefficiencies in court functioning and those exhibited by counsel which results in case delays in the Delhi high court (DHC).
In a report titled, ‘Inefficiency and Judicial Delay- New Insights from the Delhi high court’, Vidhi Centre has analyzed 8,086 individual orders in 1,129 cases filed between 2011 and 2015 in the DHC across eight case types.
The cases studied were a representative sample of all cases in the eight selected case types filed in 2011-2015 in the DHC, totaling 121,245 cases which would be a significant indicator of the state of functioning of the Delhi high court. A total of 202,595 cases were filed between 2011 and 2015.
While identifying causes for delay, the report noted that ‘delay’ and ‘pendency,’ which are often refused interchangeably, were not the same. The report found instances of inefficient behaviour in nearly 97% of delayed cases and identified the types of inefficiency that affected cases most often: adjournments, and the absence of counsel and judges.
Among these, court-side inefficiencies included insufficient time being given to a case for hearing or absence of a judge. counsel/litigant-side inefficiencies saw absence or repeatedly asking for time by the counsel. In comparison, it was recorded that court-side inefficiencies far outweighed counsel/litigant–side inefficiencies.
Adjournments, in particular, occur in alarming proportions in delayed cases. 91% of delayed cases involved at least one adjournment, and 70% involved more than three. In total, inefficiencies attributable to the counsel made up for 80% of all inefficient behaviour, whereas inefficiencies attributable to the court made up for 20%.
Further, the frequency of counsel seeking time and remaining absent reach disturbingly high thresholds in delayed cases, occurring multiple times within the same case. Out of all delayed cases, counsel sought time more than thrice per case in almost 70% of cases, and more than six times per case in nearly 30% of cases. Counsel remained absent more than once in nearly 40% of delayed cases.
To address repeated adjournments, it was suggested that some limit for the number of adjournments per case be maintained by the court or cost be imposed for excessive adjournments.