There was an article published in your newspaper yesterday which talked about how our justice system is coming apart at its seams. It pointed out that we have currently 3.3 Crore cases pending in various courts across India ( with almost 1 cr of them over 5 years old) and how that number is set to climb to 15 Cr in next couple of decades. It also made a mention of the open vacancies for judges at various levels and how that is contributing to this massive pendency pile up. Finally it concluded by implying that justice in India can be bought but cannot be served.
As a sitting judge of Supreme Court I would like to rebut some of these charges with facts and data. Now starting with appointment of judges, there is a charge that collegial system currently followed for judge selection and transfers lacks transparency and leads to formation of an exclusive club which is difficult for a new entrant to get into.
There is some merit to the argument against letting a jury of judges decide this all by themselves and that is why new norms of a judicial college are being considered. I agree that a broader representation should guide the process of appointment of judges however we have to be very careful in state or executive having a say in this.Judiciary is the last bastion of hope in a democracy and if political inroads are made into it, it will lead to as Murphy never pointed out, a system, which can be corrupted will be corrupted.
Secondly though out of 18, 928 sanctioned posts of judges, 2 at SC level, 195 at High Court level and 3000 at trial court level are still vacant however it is not due to the appointment system alone. Do you know that salaries of MPs have been revised 9 times since independence while for judges it has been raised 3 times only. This has led to a situation where Chief Justice of India only gets 1L/month while Chief Justices of high courts get only Rs 90,000/- month.
Allegations of corruption apart don’t you see how underpaid our judges are and no wonder than we have so many vacancies left open. People prefer to stay lawyers rather than take a pay cut to become justices. Mark my words this problem of judge deficiency will escalate as we will need 35,000 judges by 2020 as opposed to current 15,000. This is when we just have 13 judges for a population of every 10 lacs while other countries have this ratio of 40-50 judges per 10 lacs.
Likewise when you look at the workload of judges you will be amazed to know that every SC judge handles almost 2000 cases at one time, while a high court judge has this number at 6000 and a trial court judge at around 1800. So no wonder the dates per case are so wildly staggered that it takes on an average 15 years to conclude a civil trial and about 6-7 years for a criminal one to get over. Do you think we are happy with this workload or with this situation where undergoing a trial is perceived as the bigger punishment than actually serving a sentence.
Now who do you think benefits from such a broken system of justice.
1) Society. Of course not as a society in which justice is not quickly delivered is a lawless one.
2) Under-trials, no again, as they are the true victims of this system.
3) Judges, I would have to say no again considering their pay and workload.
Now that only leaves one constituency to consider. Lawyers.
If you look around you will see lawyers are some of the best paid people, can choose their workload and have a choice to walk away from all of it to enter politics and become ministers. So I would perforce have to conclude that legal system in India is tipped towards its intermediaries.It only serves them.
This in conclusion reminds of me the gold rush that happened in California at the turn of 20th century. Who do you think benefited the most from that outing. Not the gold hunters who dug the ground for yellow metal or their financial backers but people who opened shops to sell shovels and pickaxes.
Thanking You, I remain