Observations from a recent study of the Bengaluru Rural Courts point to a sad reality - that many of the most basic and foundational things needed for efficient delivery of justice are missing. The authors of the research report identify specific and urgent measures to address this.
12 August 2019 -
Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy and DAKSH have collaborated in producing their first report in a series aimed at better understanding the litigation landscape of Bengaluru. The objectives of this first effort were to understand the structure andfunctioning of the subordinate judiciary, specifically in the Bengaluru Rural District, and also to propose measures to improve the status quo based on ascientific analysis.
To ensure accurate assessment of the manner in which the subordinate judiciary is presently functioning,the researchers conducted extensive interviews with court staff and judges in the Rural Courts. The researchers also conducted an in-depth analysis of case-data across three years - from 2015 to 2017 - along with a time-and-motion study of five court halls to get both an overview as well as real-time data of case-load management in these courts.
The key findings are as follows:
- Cases in general remain pending for an average of 1,300 days (3.5 years), and land acquisition cases show the highest pendency average of 2,390 days (6.5 years).
- At a Police Station (PS) level, it was found that there is a wide variation in the number of days cases remain pending - Madanayakanahalli PS (1,483 days), Nelamangala Town PS (1,452 days), and Thalaghattapura PS (791 days).
- Most of the civil and criminal cases are pending at the stage of notice/warrants/summons indicating the need for drastically reimagining how this task is performed.
- The number of fresh cases allocated to different judges has no co-relation with their already existing case-load. The uneven distribution of workload is leading to inefficiency and delay.
- Devanahalli courts have an average of 8 hearings per case with a gap of nearly 258 days between each hearing (in civil cases). This inordinate delay in case progression is a direct result of multiple concerns such as unmanageable case-loads, inefficient procedures, and vacancies.
- Sessions cases take the maximum amount of time per hearing, with 20.5 minutes being spent per such case. Similarly, regular appeals and miscellaneous cases were heard for an average of 16.6 minutes and 12.7 minutes respectively. While creating the case list for a day, judges can consider the average time spent on certain stages and case types, and accordingly list cases to optimise judicial time and ensure effective hearings.
- The current system of calling out all the cases listed for the day in front of the presiding judge in the first round of hearings is leading to a massive loss of time that could otherwise be used for substantive hearings. It is essential that a more efficient manner of recording the attendance of the lawyers/parties be explored, either through delegating this power to shirastedars or through technological solutions. Many other studies have also pointed to the need for this kind of clear separation between tasks that need to be performed by judges, and other things that could be performed even by others.
- Data suggests that with more number of cases listed per day, the time spent on a case decreases. This finding should serve as a guiding principle to all the judges to list only a manageable number of cases so that the cases progress faster through the system. Karnataka Case Flow Management Rules, 2005 provides for procedures to be followed while listing cases. Tools and staff required to implement the Rules need to be provided on priority to courts.
A number of steps can be quickly taken to simply speed up how different stages in a case are gone through. This requires both simplification of processes and adoption of technology.
Human Resource Management
The average vacancy of 58 per cent as of 5 May 2018 across all staff positions indicates that there is a pressing need for reforms in the recruitment process. There is an anomalous bifurcation of recruitment power between the District Courts and the Karnataka Public Services Commission (KPSC). This has resulted in undue delay in filling up of vacancies since KPSC, an executive body, conducts examinations based on the combined needs of the executive and the judiciary.
It is therefore recommended that the power to appoint administrative staff be transferred to a Recruitment Committee, assisted by a Recruitment Registrar, which will have the sole responsibility to hire administrative staff for all subordinate courts in the state.
The infrastructure across all Rural Courts has been an issue. Most of the staff suffer due to lack of adequate light and ventilation, especially those working in pending branches and record rooms. Further, there was a distinct lack of adequate and clean drinking water facilities, and restroom facilities, especially for women staff. It is imperative that court infrastructure be improved drastically in the Rural Courts to ensure humane working conditions for the staff.
A number of the observations from this study point to a sad reality - that many of the most basic and foundational things needed for efficient delivery of justice are missing. This inflicts needless harm on many people, not only the litigants but also the participants in justice administration. While it has always be well known that improvements are needed, this study casts harsh light on how deep the problem is.