LE Desk

New Delhi, July 8, 2021: The Supreme Court has taken exception to the delay in responses being filed by states, including Delhi and Uttar Pradesh, regarding the steps taken to increase the strength of judges and disposal of pending cases.

“If left to the Union of India and the states, no work would happen at the Supreme Court. The government is the largest litigant and in every matter, with few exceptions, there is an application for time,” said a Bench of Justices DY Chandrachud and MR Shah on Wednesday.

The court was dissatisfied about the fact that a report by the National Court Management Systems Committee (NCMSC), filed in 2019, was still not being implemented. Moreover, two states had failed to file replies even a year after the hearing. The lawyer appearing for the Union government requested more time to “get instructions”.

The NCMSC study, headed by former Supreme Court judge Justice AK Sikri, had given a slew of recommendations to streamline judicial hearings and reduce pendency of cases.

More than 3.9 crore cases are before various courts in the country. Around 3.06 crore (77.95%) cases are pending for more than one year, according to the National Judicial Data Grid.

In 2017, the Supreme Court had requested the NCMSC to look into the various aspects of calculating the required strength of judges and other infrastructure for quicker disposal of cases.

The court had also directed that “till the NCMSC formulates a scientific method for determining the basis for computing the required judge strength of the district judiciary, the judge strength shall be computed for each state, in accordance with the interim approach indicated in the note submitted by the chairperson, NCMSC”.

At the time, the NCMSC had suggested that “the clearance of backlog is not the sole or central basis for determining judge strength”.

It suggested the following parameters: (i) rate of case clearance: the number of cases disposed of as a percentage of institution; (ii) on time disposal rate the percentage of cases resolved within an established time frame; (iii) pre-trial custody periods wherein an under-trial is in custody pending trial of a criminal case; and (iv) trial date certainty the proportion of important case processing provisions that are held according to the schedule finalised.

In November 2019, the NCMSC had submitted a five-volume report. In January 2020, the Supreme Court asked the Centre and states to file their responses. On Wednesday, it found that Delhi and Uttar Pradesh had not yet filed any response despite the 1.5 year-long gap.

Amicus curiae Vibha Dutta Makhija informed the court that the NCMSC report gave “thumb rule” and “roadmap to compute the judge strength, caseload and infrastructure in relation to each state”. She also suggested that a committee, which would include the Finance Secretary and Law Secretary, could be set up to calculate the financial requirements for implementation of the recommendations.

Additional Solicitor General KM Nataraj argued that since the state governments were responsible for the expenditure on the lower judiciary, the “financial burden” of implementation would be on the states.

The bench also sent a copy of the detailed NCMSC report to each High Court for its recommendations.

“A copy of the recommendations submitted in the report of Hon’ble Mr Justice A K Sikri be circulated to all the High Courts, together with the relevant parts of the report pertaining to each High Court. This shall be made available in electronic form to the Registrars General of every High Court. The High Courts shall also file their responses to the suggestions and recommendations within a period of six weeks,” the Supreme Court directed.

The court also gave an ultimatum to the states to file their replies within four weeks. This matter will now be heard in August.

“It appears that certain states are yet to file their responses. We allow a period of four weeks finally to the states/Union Territories to file their responses, after which no further adjournment will be granted for that purpose,” the court noted.

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