Saturday, November 1, 2014

Jury service and e-hearing - dealing with shortage of judges

Justice delayed is justice denied

The number of cases pending in our courts is mind boggling. Apart from inadequate infrastructure, legal assistants and archaic process, the biggest contributor to this problem is the huge shortage of judges which is inhibiting our courts to take up and close more cases. It is estimated that about 2.5 Crores (as of mid 2013) cases are pending in lower courts.

We will tackle this problem both by re-instating a practice from the past, the jury trial process and embracing modern technology enabled tool, the e-hearing process. 

Jury trial basically will be implemented as a process of identifying and comprising a panel of regular citizens of good legal standing from all walks of life (education NOT being a criteria). The panel is expected to be neutral and arrive at a verdict by sitting through all the court proceedings of the case they are appointed for. Severe action will be taken against anyone found to attempt influencing the jury members through cash or kind favors or threats. It will be a criminal offence. The employers of any selected jury member will be mandated to allow them to stay away from work when on jury duty with full pay not considering those days as vacations. Jury trial is nothing new, this existed in British India. Because of the pretty much one sided rules in composing the jury and verdicts that came out of it, it did not find any place in the post independence constitution. Law commission recommended its abolition in 1958 and 1973 Code of criminal procedures banned it. It is expected that one legal expert can guide multiple juries instead sitting through all proceedings them self, this way increasing the efficiency of our courts

With significant and reliable advancement in video conference and modern communication technologies, we will start legalizing court proceedings attended from remote locations through video conference (VC). This will drastically minimize instances of adjournment of hearing because of non-availability of the plaintiff, judge or any of the required participants. All police stations will be equipped with VC facility  which can be used by citizens free of cost to attend any court proceedings.

To add rigor in their adoption and clearing the legal logjam ASAP, these methods from now will be the default systems of hearing for any new case registered from 1-Jan-2015 unless there is convincing reasons to go for the traditional method.

We must understand that any change will take its time to settle down and we need to invest more time and money in the beginning to make it a success. I am confident that by taking such bold and positive steps, we will see significant drop in the pending cases in a few years to come.