Backlog of cases: Judges should devise solutions instead of waiting for Parliament, Justice DY Chandrachud
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Backlog of cases: Judges should devise solutions instead of waiting for Parliament, Justice DY Chandrachud

Murali Krishnan

The Supreme Court’s Justice DY Chandrachud today said that the courts in the country are facing the threat of dysfunctionality due to heavy backlog of cases.

He said that judges themselves have to think of ways to address the problem, rather than wait for Parliament to bring about changes through legislation.

Justice DY Chandrachud was speaking at the launch of the book How to Save A Constitutional Democracy by Tom Ginsburg and Aziz Z Huq. Also on the panel discussing the book were Senior Advocate Arvind Datar, Payal Chawla, and author of the book, Tom Ginsburg.

Chandrachud J said,

“We can speak of judicial reforms from two perspectives – one, reforming the structure of judiciary, and two, making the judiciary more functional in terms of its ability of efficiency in disposing of cases.”

He proceeded to narrate the example of how the Supreme Court of India has to deal with transfer petitions relating to divorce cases.

“Every judge in Supreme Court hears these transfer petitions which are essentially petitions filed by one of the spouses to transfer the case from the State where the other spouse has filed a petition for divorce to another State where the spouse who has moved the Court is residing.”

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The Supreme Court has to hear these matters because of the federal structure in place, since a High Court cannot transfer a case from one state to another.

“Why should the Supreme Court hear these cases? That’s is a problem of the federal structure because a High Court cannot transfer the case from one State to another.”

He then stated that solutions have to be devised for these problems, lest the courts become dysfunctional due to the large volume of cases.

“We need to evolve solutions to make our courts more functional otherwise the great threat that our courts are going to face is the threat of dysfunctionality simply because of the large volume of cases that the judges have to deal with.”

He also made it clear that it will not be an easy task since our legal system is based on “broadening of access to justice”.

“It is a difficult choice because one way to do it is to exclude judicial review as we go higher which a lot of systems across the world do. Our model is based on broadening of access to justice. That is how the Supreme Court can deal with a case where there is an imprisonment of 3 years or 5 years. Many legal systems will not have their final courts of appeal dealing with the kind of cases which the Supreme Court of India hears.”

So, should the Supreme Court hear these cases or should it not?

“It is Hobson’s choice. If you say that you are not going to hear a certain category of cases, you are going to make the work easier in that you are going to reduce the burden of cases, but then you are going to face the possibility of undealt with errors in the judicial process.”

As a solution, Justice DY Chandrachud called upon the judges to indulge in judicial policy making instead of waiting for reforms to be brought in by the Parliament.

“I think the answers to all of these is not necessarily in terms of legislation but in terms of judicial policy making itself where judges talk to judges and you deal with means to deal with the problem. There is no point in saying that ‘Lets hope for Parliament to bring about a change in the legal system’.

Parliament will do it and Parliament keeps on doing it, for example, changes in the Arbitration and Conciliation Act.”

There are a lot of things that judges themselves can do. It is important for the judiciary to address those problems itself, Justice Chandrachud said, with specific stress on the use of technology.

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