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∙ Inclusivity: India’s highest court presently has only three female judges (9.3%) out of its working strength of 32 judges, as of October 1, 2023.

∙ In high courts, out of 767 permanent and additional judges in the high courts across India, only 103 are female judges (i.e 13.42%).

∙ The district judiciary, however, shows considerable improvement with the strength of 36.33% female judges.

Measures/Recommendations

∙ To clear mounting pendency: In 1987, the Law Commission of India, in its report on ‘Manpower Planning in Judiciary: A Blueprint’ recommended the use of the ratio of judges’ strength per million population as the criterion to plan the judicial staffing.

∙ Judicial appointments: Ensuring an independent and transparent process for appointing judges.

∙ Infrastructure and technology: Upgrading court infrastructure and adopting advanced technologies for efficient case management.

∙ Judicial performance evaluation: Implementing a fair and transparent system for evaluation.

∙ Enhancing Accountability: Increasing transparency through live streaming or recordings of hearings or open court proceedings.

Recent steps taken

∙ Leveraging Information and Communication Technology (ICT):

∙ The Electronic Supreme Court Reports (e-SCR) project is an initiative to provide the digital version of the apex court’s judgments.

∙ Virtual court system: The regular court proceedings are being carried out virtually via videoconferencing. 

∙ eCourts portal: It is a one-stop solution for all stakeholders like the litigants, advocates, government agencies, police, and common citizens.  

∙ E-filing: E-filing, also known as electronic filing, is a facility that provides filing of cases through the internet. 

∙ National Judicial Data Grid (NJDG): The statistics of cases pending at the national, state, district and individual court level are now made accessible to the general public, researchers, academicians and the society at large.

∙ National Mission for Justice Delivery and Legal Reforms (2011):  It was launched with the objectives of increasing access by reducing delays and arrears in the system.

∙ Alternative Dispute Resolution(ADR): Lok Adalats, Gram Nyayalayas, Online Dispute Resolution, etc., are used to ensure timely justice. 

∙ Commercial Courts Act 2015 stipulates mandatory pre-institution mediation and settlement of commercial disputes.

∙ Fast Track courts: Fast track courts are being set up to expedite the justice delivery and reduce the pendency of cases involving heinous crimes, senior citizens, women, children, etc.

Way Ahead

∙ Balancing reforms with judicial independence is crucial.

∙ Achieving consensus on contentious issues requires political will and stakeholder involvement.

∙ Further, implementing reforms effectively requires sustained commitment and resource allocation.

Context

∙ In an effort to bring greater transparency to the Indian judiciary, the Union government is considering the establishment of rules for judges to declare their assets annually. 

About

∙ This is in response to the ‘action-taken report’ from the Parliamentary Standing Committee (PSC) on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law, and Justice. 

Major Recommendations of PSC’s 133rd Report

On declaration of assets of Judges: 

∙ The PSC recommended legislation mandating judges of the higher judiciary (Supreme Court and High Courts) to submit property returns annually.

∙ This will bring more trust and credibility into the system.

∙ Currently, no Supreme Court judge has disclosed their asset details on the official website.

Increase Retirement age for Judges:  

∙ The committee recommended that while considering an increase in the retirement age, judges’ performance should be reassessed based on health conditions, quality of judgments, and other criteria. 

∙ However, the Department of Justice cautioned against linking performance evaluation to retirement age, suggesting it may lead to undue favoritism and put a strain on limited resources. 

On Social Diversity:

∙ Focus should be on diversity, it will enhance the representation of women, minorities etc in the higher Judiciary.

Vacations in the Supreme Court and High Courts:

∙ The Committee noted that the entire court going on vacation at once leads to the higher judiciary shutting down for a couple of months per year. It observed that the demand to eliminate vacations in Courts stems from: (i) pendency of cases, and (ii) the  inconvenience faced by litigants. 

On Regional Benches:

∙ The Committee stated that the demand for establishing regional benches of the Supreme Court is based on the fundamental right of access to justice.

∙ As per Article 130 of the Constitution, the Supreme Court will sit in Delhi or in such other place or places as the Chief Justice of India, with the approval of the President, may appoint.

Annual reports of High Courts: 

∙ The Committee likened the publication of an annual report to an assessment of the institution’s performance over the past year. Presently, the Supreme Court publishes its annual report, which also depicts work done by all High Courts.

Indian Judicial System

∙ The Indian judicial system is a single, integrated system with three tiers:

Other Challenges in Indian Judiciary

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∙ Pendency of cases: As of October 2023, the ‘State of the Judiciary’ report points out that there are over five crore pending cases across all higher and subordinate courts in India.

∙ To handle them, however, there are only 20,580 judges working in the Supreme Court, the high courts and district courts.

∙ Access to justice: Many people in India cannot afford legal representation or are unaware of their legal rights.

∙ Infrastructure: Many courts lack basic infrastructure and technology, which can hinder their efficiency.

∙ As per the National Judicial Data Grid, 19.7% of district courts did not have separate toilets for women as of September 25, 2023.

∙ Judicial vacancies: There are a large number of vacancies in the judiciary, which can contribute to delays in cases being heard.

∙ As on October 1, 2023, against the sanctioned strength of 1,114 judges in the high courts across the country, as many as 347 positions are vacant.

∙ Similarly, in the district judiciary, out of the total sanctioned strength of 25,081 judges, as many as 5,300 district judges’ positions are vacant. 

∙ Issues in appointment: The appointment of judges through the collegium system is drawing criticism for lacking transparency.

∙ Also, even after a batch of names is recommended by the collegium at one time, the government segregates it and makes selective appointments.

∙ Inclusivity: India’s highest court presently has only three female judges (9.3%) out of its working strength of 32 judges, as of October 1, 2023.

∙ In high courts, out of 767 permanent and additional judges in the high courts across India, only 103 are female judges (i.e 13.42%).

∙ The district judiciary, however, shows considerable improvement with the strength of 36.33% female judges.

Measures/Recommendations

∙ To clear mounting pendency: In 1987, the Law Commission of India, in its report on ‘Manpower Planning in Judiciary: A Blueprint’ recommended the use of the ratio of judges’ strength per million population as the criterion to plan the judicial staffing.

∙ Judicial appointments: Ensuring an independent and transparent process for appointing judges.

∙ Infrastructure and technology: Upgrading court infrastructure and adopting advanced technologies for efficient case management.

∙ Judicial performance evaluation: Implementing a fair and transparent system for evaluation.

∙ Enhancing Accountability: Increasing transparency through live streaming or recordings of hearings or open court proceedings.

Recent steps taken

∙ Leveraging Information and Communication Technology (ICT):

∙ The Electronic Supreme Court Reports (e-SCR) project is an initiative to provide the digital version of the apex court’s judgments.

∙ Virtual court system: The regular court proceedings are being carried out virtually via videoconferencing. 

∙ eCourts portal: It is a one-stop solution for all stakeholders like the litigants, advocates, government agencies, police, and common citizens.  

∙ E-filing: E-filing, also known as electronic filing, is a facility that provides filing of cases through the internet. 

∙ National Judicial Data Grid (NJDG): The statistics of cases pending at the national, state, district and individual court level are now made accessible to the general public, researchers, academicians and the society at large.

∙ National Mission for Justice Delivery and Legal Reforms (2011):  It was launched with the objectives of increasing access by reducing delays and arrears in the system.

∙ Alternative Dispute Resolution(ADR): Lok Adalats, Gram Nyayalayas, Online Dispute Resolution, etc., are used to ensure timely justice. 

∙ Commercial Courts Act 2015 stipulates mandatory pre-institution mediation and settlement of commercial disputes.

∙ Fast Track courts: Fast track courts are being set up to expedite the justice delivery and reduce the pendency of cases involving heinous crimes, senior citizens, women, children, etc.

Way Ahead

∙ Balancing reforms with judicial independence is crucial.

∙ Achieving consensus on contentious issues requires political will and stakeholder involvement.

∙ Further, implementing reforms effectively requires sustained commitment and resource allocation.

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