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Vidhi’s study on Inefficiencies and Judicial Delays in the Delhi High Court

Ashutosh Gambhir

Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy recently came up with a report, which comprehensively studies the reasons behind inefficiencies and judicial delays in the Delhi High Court. The  report also provides recommendations for the improvement of the judicial process and reduction of delays.

The report states that systemic problems are likely to be further exaggerated in the Delhi High Court, as it also has original jurisdiction in certain types of cases.

It also makes a reference to Daksh’s State of the Indian Judiciary report, which  noted that the number of days between hearings was longest in the Delhi High Court among all high courts, confirming inefficiencies in the court’s functioning.

Methodology

In a first-of-its-kind exercise, Vidhi extracted data on 1, 21, 245 cases (belonging to eight types) filed in the Delhi High Court between 2011 and 2015 and manually analysed more than 8,000 orders.

The cases were divided into two categories – normal (those which were disposed off within a span of two years) and delayed (those which spent more than two years in the court.)

Findings

Normal Cases

After examining the normal cases, the study initially revealed that not only were the majority of cases disposed of, but most of them were also disposed of extremely quickly.

Around 60% of all disposed cases were disposed off within six months (this is around 45% of all cases filed), and more than 81% of disposed cases were disposed off within the two-year benchmark (this is around 62% of all cases filed).

Nearly 60% of all disposed cases were disposed of within three orders, a clear indication of speedy disposal.

However, after a deeper analysis, it was found out that a large percentage of normal cases were disposed off quickly due to settlement, dismissal for non-prosecution, withdrawal, becoming infructuous and being classified as frivolous.

This suggests that the speedy disposal of a normal case may say more about the case’s relative simplicity, rather than the court’s ability to handle its entire workload. The data makes it clear that a high disposal rate does not mean that disposed cases have required a full hearing or a thorough application of judicial mind.

Delayed Cases

In the analysis of the delayed cases, instances of both court-side and counsel-side inefficiencies were found. In 91% of delayed cases, lawyers sought adjournments. Judges were absent in 51% of such cases. 60% of orders in these cases were effectively wasted, due to a lawyer or judge being absent, adjournments, permissive procedures etc.

The report also revealed that counsel-side inefficiencies far surpass court-side inefficiencies, both in normal and delayed cases. Out of all instances of inefficient behaviour (i.e. out of all orders in normal and delayed cases in which inefficiency was recorded), nearly 82% could be attributed to counsels, and 18% to courts.

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.

Frequency of counsel seeking time in delayed cases

Occurance Percentage of Cases
0 times8.89%
1-3 times32.53%
4-6 times38.45%
7-10 times23.36%
11-25 times5.60%

Frequency of absent counsel in delayed cases

Occurance Percentage of Cases
0 times36.43%
Once25.60%
Twice17.52%
Thrice9.43%
4-8 times11.02%

Recommendations

Improving counsel side inefficiencies:

  • Excessive Adjournments

It is recommended in the report that to discourage excessive adjournments, there should be strict imposition of costs.

  • Absence of Counsels

The report also suggests that solution to the problem of absence of counsels lies in the hands of the registry, which should ensure that cases with the same lawyer are not listed soon after one another. The Delhi High Court could consider assigning a unique identification number to lawyers, as the Patna High Court does for its Advocates-on-Record. This could help track the different cases a lawyer is involved in, both in the High Court, and in lower courts in the capital.

Improving court side inefficiencies:

  • Lack of sufficient time to hear a case

A major court-side inefficiency analysed in this report was the lack of sufficient time left to hear a case, which affected nearly 25% of delayed cases. Some legal practitioners who were interviewed for the purposes of the report cited some registry practices in need of reform, such as listing multiple complex matters in the same day, over-listing new cases, and so on to overcome such inefficiencies.

  • Lacunae in procedural laws

Also, legal practitioners highlighted how broadly-phrased sections in civil and criminal procedural law enable several less substantive cases to come before the court. They also need to be rectified.

  • Website and Data Management

The report made certain recommendations to improve the website of the Delhi High Court, to make it more user friendly for litigants as well as for researchers and handling of the data.

Read Vidhi Report

Inefficiency-and-Judicial-Delay-New-Insights-from-the-Delhi-High-Court-copy.pdf
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