We live in an age where everything is available at the flick of a finger, where door-step, speedy deliveries are the norm. Amazon, Uber, Flipkart, Swiggy, Airbnb and other such new age companies have revolutionized the way we shop, be it products or experiences. These companies have taken customer satisfaction to new heights.
Delays in delivery of services, or even a slight deficiency in service are taken very seriously by consumers. Any mis-step has the potential to go viral, thanks to 140 characters. In this age of instant gratification and drone delivery, people find it hard to acclimatize to the traditional justice system.
They expect similar rapid service from the justice system with quick turnarounds and resolutions. Many of my colleagues, and I face impatient clients, who look for quick solutions to their problems. They do not want to wait months or years for their problems to be resolved. I understand the urgency but expecting resolution of complicated cases within a span of few months is not possible. Let me explain.
Cases vs. Judges
That is the total number of cases pending across India. In Bangalore alone, around 250k cases are pending in the trial courts where there are just 148 trial court judges (includes all judges barring the High Court of Karnataka) to decide these cases. Let’s just analyse a day in the Trial Courts.
Courts work for 5 ½ hours daily, starting at 11 a.m., and breaks for lunch for an hour between 2 p.m. to 3 p.m., and close for the day at 5:30 in the evening.
As I write this, 11533 cases were listed today (October 25, 2018), which means that each judge on an average had 78 cases listed before his/her court. Now, this also means that the Court has roughly about 4.2 minutes per case!
That is not humanely possible. At 11 a.m., as the proceedings start all the cases listed for the day are called in the first hearing, most of them are adjourned for assorted reasons, including issuance of summons, notices, or when the lawyers seek for time, etc. etc.
Typically, the first hearing takes around 45 minutes to an hour, this effectively means that the actual working hours of the court are reduced to 4 ½ hours. During this time, the judge records evidence of the litigants, which also includes lengthy cross examination of witnesses in complicated civil and criminal cases. And the judge also hears arguments from the lawyers. On any given day, a judge can at best record evidence in 4-5 cases and hear arguments in 10 cases. This is a best-case scenario.
All courts have Second Saturdays each month off, and civil courts have Summer, Dasara, and Christmas vacations.
This sounds bad isn’t it? How is that we work for over 9 hours a day, and judges get away by working only for five and a half hours a day and get summer and Christmas vacations!!
Well… judges can hear only a few cases a day. Recording of evidence is a complicated and an important process, one that requires time, patience, and diligence, and it takes a chunk of their time.
Similarly, when lawyers present their arguments, judges must make notes (of all the cases that are argued on any given day), and take the files back home, for deliberation, before they pass the judgment in the case.
This effectively means that judges are working for 10 hours a day, if not more. Some trial judges work on Sundays too, as the police produce the accused before judges after arresting them. A judge must accommodate hardcore criminals when they are produced by the police, and sometimes, at odd hours at night!
Judges are overworked, underpaid, understaffed and there is an immediate need to hire more judges if we have to address the pending case problem in the country.
It is physically impossible for judges to hear nearly 70 cases a day, and pass judgments on each one of them within a span of even one year. This is the reason why sometimes months pass before a case comes up for hearing before the Court.
The cases that are litigated include gory murder trials, badly fought matrimonial cases, child custody cases etc. When people believe they are right, they expect justice to be delivered at the earliest, and few clients refuse to understand that there is an appeals process, and every losing party has the right to appeal!
Unless we have more judges we cannot have speedy justice delivery system, until then, I can only say have patience.