The Indian legal system – rigmarole indeed!!

Recently, at a hospital I accidentally noticed “The Week” in one of the chairs in the waiting area.  For years I have been its admirer for the depth in news coverage. You do feel sometimes that the magazine provides undeserving attention to issues affecting Kerala, the parent company’s state of domicile. Otherwise, the magazine is largely informative.

The recent edition had a cover story on the Indian Legal system. The headline of the cover story “over 3.11 crs cases pending in Indian courts” is dismayingly true.

A cover story is ought to be detailed.  It contains the interview of the Chief Justice of India, the minister of law and justice, the key highlights of the national litigation policy etc.

Without digressing much, let’s return to the issue at hand. 3.11 crs cases pending, sounds myriad right? It did to me as well, at the first instance. A bit of introspection led to some awakening. Applying theoretical economics, it’s seems to be a classic case of demand supply mismatch. Why? Let’s evaluate.

High courts have over 40 lakhs cases pending, sub-ordinate courts have over 2.7 crores and the Supreme Court has approximately 59000 cases pending.

Let’s evaluate some benchmark metrics.  United States (US) has 151 judges per million of population and mind you, US has a jury system. India has 12 judges per million without a jury system.  Any case in the US has an average lead time of 3 years to closure. We don’t have such a practice and it would be absurd to compute an average since averages are susceptible to distortions caused by outliers. In the Indian context, the outliers can be significantly high.

Justice Thakur rues in his interview that there are over 5000 sanctioned vacancies that cannot find befitting judges. Also, the national litigation policy was biting dust in parliament for 3 years or so awaiting an affirmation.

Last week, the Government of Karnataka was seen clamoring for attracting over 1.31 lakh crs investments into Karnataka.  So what’s the connect? Unlike other sectors, legal institutions cannot attract investments from multinationals for improving their infrastructure. It is the prerogative of the government to improve the infrastructure which it never does and the results are glaring. A lawyer and a professor had regretfully admitted the governments apathy in a class on business law at B-school over a decade back.

Successive governments have focused only on the sectors that can attract private investment and have heavily depended on institutions to churn out manpower that can be employed by the private sectors. Under these conditions, it is no surprise that we have a burgeoning technical and managerial education sector.  On the contrary, the number of law schools in India is a mere 100 whereas there are over 6800 B-schools and 3000+ engineering colleges.

Apart from the Justice Department, police, crime branch, forensics, criminology is all mired in manpower paucity leading to unfathomable delays in the process to justice.

The advent of data analytics is intriguing people to identify patterns and make predictions across sectors. Will legal cases have no patterns? It would be disregarding to say so. Beyond doubt, it’s an onerous exercise. However, it would be edifying for sure.

Imagine a system containing an erudite panel that scrutinizes each case, scores the complexity and prescribes the set of steps to be undertaken along with step wise and overall lead times for closure. Sounds like a production line? Precisely, the need of the hours is to adopt a surgical approach to eliminate pendency and infuse objectivity.

The honorable finance minister remarked recently that the IT sector flourished in India due to government’s non-interference.  They know the solution to the problem. Don’t they?

Data source: The Week, dated February 7th 2016

Disclaimer: views expressed in the article are the personal opinion of the author.

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