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This article on “Burden of Backlog of Cases: Reforms and Measures” looks upon the potential for clearing up the backlog of cases which has become the Achilles heel of the Judiciary.
I. Introduction – The Burden of Backlog of Cases
The recent survey conducted by the government of India in 2018 revealed some shocking data that gave the whole judiciary a much-needed step back. The data that had caused such chaos was that there were more than 3 Crore cases pending in different courts of India. To top it up, many of these cases had been pending for more than 10 years!
The approximate number of cases pending in Supreme Court, High Courts and District and Subordinate courts in India are beyond any man’s imagination; Around 60,000 cases pending in Supreme Court, 42 lakh cases in different High Courts and around 2.7 Crore cases in District and Sub-ordinate Courts.
What needs to be realized is that one of the most abundant resources of the country i.e. the law students remain unutilized and what the need of the hour is the introduction of some major structural changes in the curriculum of the universities which will allow these youngsters to utilize their potential and contribute their share in clearing up the backlog of cases which has become the Achilles heel of the Judiciary.
II. Suggested Reforms for easing the backlog of Cases
1. Formulation Of Guidelines Requiring Services Of Law Students And Usage Of The Concept Of Lok Adalat
In this article, the major reforms have been divided into four broad categories and have been discussed intensively. One of the first reforms is the formulation of guidelines which should be introduced by law universities where law students of 3rd, 4th and 5th year are required to provide their services in Lok Adalat for at least one semester.
The idea of Lok Adalat was mainly advocated by Justice P.N. Bhagwati, who was a former Chief Justice of India and a revolutionary in the field of law. In a layman’s term, Lok Adalat is a non-adversarial system, where mock courts (which are popularly called as Lok Adalats by the general public) are held by the State Authority, District Authority, Supreme Court Legal Services Committee, High Court Local Services Committee, or Taluk Legal Services Committee. The first Lok Adalat was held on March 14, 1982 in Gujarat.
Coming to the position of authority, Lok Adalats have already been given statutory status under the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987. Under the said Act, the decision made by the Lok Adalats is treated equivalent to the decision of a civil court and is final and binding on all parties and no appeal against such an award lies before any court of law. The nature of Cases that the Lok Adalat take in include any case pending before any court or any dispute which has not been brought before any court and is likely to be filed before the court. This shows that the intention behind bringing up the concept of Lok Adalat was to speed up the whole judicial system which was overburdened by the ever-increasing number of cases.
Now coming to the question as to why only 3rd, 4th and 5th-year students should be involved in the Lok Adalats? Why can’t 1st and 2nd-year law students who have way less pressure of academics and internships be involved in it? If we look at the statistics we realize that most of the cases are motor accident related disputes settled through Lok Adalats.
The Lok Adalats majorly deal with Civil Cases, Matrimonial Disputes, Land Disputes, Partition/Property Disputes, Labour Disputes etc., and other compoundable criminal Cases and these topics are not covered until 3rd year, so the 1st and 2nd-year students will be lacking the in-depth knowledge of the acts. The other benefits include that the 3rd, 4th and 5th-year students will be getting hands-on practical experience which is a crucial ingredient for every law student’s exposure to how the real world operates.
Many public sector entities like Public sector Banks, Electricity Dept. also take benefit of Lok Adalats to settle their recovery related matters. This leads to them getting faster access to justice as well as the courts not getting crowded.
These Lok Adalats are generally headed by retired judges, social activists, or other honourable members of the legal profession which creates a rather not so formal environment for the law students as there are no reprimanding judges who rebuke the advocates for minor disobedience of the ethical code of conduct, making them all the more comfortable in these mock courts. This comfort will eventually lead to law students opening up more, gaining confidence and giving it their best shot at these platforms.
2. The method of Alternative Dispute Resolution
The second reform supports the strengthening of the concept of ADR i.e. Alternative Dispute Resolution in the current curriculum. Alternative dispute resolution, or ADR, refers to ways of addressing and settling disputes outside of court and its traditional, age-old rituals and atmosphere. These processes can be used to solve any type of dispute like Family Law Disputes, Workplace Disputes, environmental disputes, Business Disputes and the list goes on and on.
The courts in India should recommend them as a first step, over immediately going to a court to order a resolution. Many courts in other countries actually require alternative dispute resolutions to be pursued before they will begin litigation, such as mediation and arbitration. Settling disputes outside of courts can save time and money, and often the processes are less formal and more flexible than those in the trial court but the biggest benefit will be that law students will be able to contribute in these matters as they don’t require a formal code of procedure to be followed thus not barring the undergraduates from it.
Now the question arises as to how can students be made to excel in this field. The answer is simple, colleges need to introduce this subject as a major part of the curriculum, organize competitions based on such concepts which will automatically give ADR a respectable enough position when compared to other likes such as that of moots or debates which are considered to be the bane of law school. Some types of alternative dispute resolution are case evaluation, collaborative law, divorce coaching, and private judging. The two most common types are arbitration and mediation.
Arbitration takes the help of a neutral third party and is similar to an informal trial. After hearing each side, the third party issues a decision that the disputing parties may agree to be binding or non-binding. When binding, the decision can be enforced by a court and is considered final. Although the arbiter plays the role of a facilitator and pronounces the decision, the arbitration process is still less formal than an outright trial due to many of the rules of evidence not applying.
If we compare firsthand, mediation and arbitration are incredibly similar. One of the main differences is that a mediator, or impartial third party, cannot force the parties to agree and is not allowed to decide the outcome of the dispute. The mediator works with the parties to come to a solution that is made mutually, and the agreements are generally non-binding. Courts can mandate that mediation be required, but the process itself is still voluntary, therefore allowing the parties to refuse to come to an agreement. While in mediation, the parties maintain significant control over the process. Mediation is completely confidential and, since it is non-binding, parties retain the right to pursue litigation following the mediation process.
Coming to the major problem at hand, the main reason as to why the lawyers do not promote the concept of arbitration and mediation is because of the financial loss they suffer because of it. The lawyers charge fees for every single hearing, no matter how short the time period of appearance may be, and the rate of case disposal of the Indian judiciary is very well known throughout. So what happens is that these cases tend to be extended for years and years and the lawyers end up earning quite a large sum of money through this process.
The introduction of arbitration and mediation provides a shorter, quicker way of resolution which is way cheaper than the litigation process and thus is not favoured or promoted by advocates and remain far from the awareness of the general public.
3. Empowerment of Legal Aid Cells
The third change proposed is empowering the legal aid cell in every Law College. CLAT 2019 had witnessed the participation of 20 NLUs with the addition of Dharmashastra National Law University, Jabalpur (MPDNLU). These 20 NLUs have offered a total of 2420 seats to over 50,000 test-takers of law. The number of increasing NLU / private law colleges along with the increase in the number of test-takers calls for attention, because these students, filled with enthusiasm and motivation, act as a harbinger of change. If given a proper platform, these young blood can help in clearing up the backlogs.
Recently, NLSIU Bangalore’s legal services clinic (LSC) had won a $5,000 award as runner-ups in the MacJannet Prize of Global Citizenship, whereas Members of NLU Delhi’s legal aid committee have won their first release of an undertrial prisoner languishing in Tihar jail for two years for the theft of a Rs 1,000 wallet. All of these developments indicate that the legal aid cells run by the student community do have the capacity to solve the legal problems faced by the society and if empowered enough i.e. if given a position of authority and a minimal amount of judicial power, they have the capacity to do wonders.
4. Participation of Professors and Students in Tribunals
The fourth reform that is proposed here is increasing the participation of professors and students in tribunals. Tribunals were added in the Constitution by Forty-second Constitution Amendment Act, 1976 as Part XIV-A, which has only two articles viz. 323-A and 323-B. While article 323-A deals with Administrative Tribunals; article 323-B deals with tribunals for other matters. In a general sense, the ‘tribunals are not courts of normal jurisdiction, but they have a very specific and predefined work area.
The administrative tribunals were not originally the invention of the Indian lawmakers but rather were a product of democratic countries like Europe and the United States of America which India took from them.
Basically, an administrative tribunal is a multimember body which hears proceedings on cases filed by the staff members who claim non-observation of their terms of service or any other related matters and the tribunal passes judgments on those cases.
We all know that the government employs a large workforce to carry out its diverse activities. Managing such a large number of personnel is a herculean task. Most of the government employees are better educated and enough awareness to be insistent on their rights. There are times when the disputes between the employer (Government) and employees over service matters can arise. This may also lead to litigation between the employees and the government. An employee can though approach the court for redressal of grievances for, the protection of the law is guaranteed to every citizen including government servants. But the judiciary is already overburdened with cases. Then, the court procedure is extremely cumbersome, costly and time-consuming.
Due to the huge number of employees, the judicial remedy stands practically ruled out and there arises a need for some alternative forum. Thus, the basic objective of the administrative tribunals is to take out certain matters of disputes between the citizen and government agencies of the purview of the regular courts of law and make the dispute redressal process quick and less expensive.
Now the most beneficial usage of this tribunal system would be if the professors of particular law subjects dedicate a part of the semester towards trips to these tribunals and ask the students to form groups of 5 or 6 and work towards a particular case.
The number of cases to be assisted by each group should be defined and the greater the number of cases resolved, the higher marks will the students of that group get. Also, the minimum number of cases to be resolved by each group shall be fixed, ensuring that nobody slacks off and the process of case disposal runs smoothly. This will lead to the development of students as they will be well aware of the functioning and the environment of the tribunals. It would be better if they work for the administrative tribunal because the applicants coming in those tribunals are government employees who have sufficient knowledge of the law, which will act as an extra aid for the students in case they start faltering. This will lead to a balance as the applicant will be well aware of his/her rights beforehand, all that the students will be required to do is thorough research which will lessen the hassle of the applicant.
Conclusion | The Burden of Backlog of Cases: Reforms and Measures
Apart from these, there are other numerous ways through which law students can clear up the backlogs. For eg; if the universities fix the number of hours the students are required to do pro bono work, this will eventually lead to increased participation of students interning for courts and tribunals in their initial years rather than going for big corporate law firms.
All in all, it’s in the hands of the universities and the students whether they want to bring the winds of change, otherwise, the age-old practice of delays and adjournments will continue and rust up the whole system. In the end, it all comes down to whether the system and the students are willing to take a step forward towards this new path, for the reforms aren’t made to look good on just papers but rather to be implemented.
By – Shreya Shrivastava
The author is a student at RMNLU – Dr Ram Manohar Lohiya National Law University, Lucknow.
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