Context: Inadequacies in the justice delivery system extends beyond the Supreme Court.
What are the various issues faced by the judiciary?
- Spending on judiciary: It is equated with a call for increasing the salaries of judges and providing better court infrastructure. Such perceptions are unfortunate.
- Issues under The Legal Services Authority Act of 1987: Under this law, all women, irrespective of their financial status, are entitled to free legal aid.
- Free legal aid: Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes and children too are entitled to free legal aid. This means that a significant proportion of the population falls under a free legal aid regime.
- Lack of well-trained individuals: There has been little effort on the part of successive governments to provide a task force of carefully selected, well-trained and reasonably paid advocates to provide these services.
- The system of legal aid in the U.K. identifies and funds several independent solicitor offices to provide such services.
- The judge-population ratio: It provides one of the most important yardsticks to measure the health of the legal system.
- The U.S. has about 100 judges per million population. Canada has about 75 and the U.K. has about 50.
- India has only 19 judges per million population. Of these, at any given point, at least one-fourth is always vacant.
- Hardly any attention is focused on this gaping inadequacy in lower courts which is where the common man first comes into contact with the justice delivery system.
- In All India Judges Association v. Union of India (2001), the Supreme Court had directed the Government of India to increase the judge-population ratio to at least 50 per million population within five years from the date of the judgment. This has not been implemented.
- Other issues:
- Increasing tribunalisation of the justice delivery process;
- the extortionate court fees payable to access justice in civil suits in some States; and
- the poor integration of technology into the system are some issues that readily come to mind.
What can be done?
- Access to justice: Though ‘access to justice’ has not been specifically spelt out as a fundamental right in the Constitution, it has always been treated as such by Indian courts.
- In Anita Kushwaha v. Pushpa Sadan (2016), the Supreme Court held clearly that if “life” implies not only life in the physical sense but a bundle of rights that make life worth living, there is no justice or other basis for holding that denial of “access to justice” will not affect the quality of human life.
- Further, the court pointed out important components of access to justice:
- Existence of adjudicatory mechanisms.
- Conveniently accessible in terms of distance and
- The process of adjudication must be speedy and affordable to the disputants.
- National policy: The executive, judiciary and the legislature are yet to draw out a national policy and road map for clearing backlogs and making these concepts real.