judiciary

Examining pendency of cases in the Judiciary

Yesterday, Parliament passed a Bill to increase the number of judges in the Supreme Court from 30 to 33 (excluding the Chief Justice of India).  The Bill was introduced in view of increasing pendency of cases in the Supreme Court.  In 2012, the Supreme Court approved the Scheme of National Court Management System to provide a framework for case management.  The scheme estimated that with an increase in literacy, per capita income, and population, the number of new cases filed each year may go up to 15 crore over the next three decades, which will require at least 75,000 judges.  In this blog, we analyse the pendency of cases at all three levels of courts, i.e. the Supreme Court, the Highs Courts, and the subordinate courts, and discuss the capacity of these courts to dispose of cases.

Pendency in courts has increased over the years; 87% of all pending cases are in subordinate courts

Sources:  Court News, 2006, Supreme Court of India; National Data Judicial Grid accessed on August 7, 2019; PRS.

Overall, the pendency of cases has increased significantly at every level of the judicial hierarchy in the last decade.  Between 2006 and now, there has been an overall increase of 22% (64 lakh cases) in the pendency of cases across all courts.  As of August 2019, there are over 3.5 crore cases pending across the Supreme Court, the High Courts, and the subordinate courts.  Of these, subordinate courts account for over 87.3% pendency of cases, followed by 12.5% pendency before the 24 High Courts.  The remaining 0.2% of cases are pending with the Supreme Court.  The primary reason for growing pendency of cases is that the number of new cases filed every year has outpaced the number of disposed of cases.  This has resulted in a growing backlog of cases.

In High Courts and subordinate courts, over 32 lakh cases pending for over 10 years

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sources:  National Data Judicial Grid accessed on August 7, 2019; Court News, 2006-17, Supreme Court of India; PRS.

In the High Courts, over 8.3 lakh cases have been pending for over 10 years.  This constitutes 19% of all pending High Court cases.  Similarly, in the subordinate courts, over 24 lakh cases (8%) have been pending for over 10 years.  Overall, Allahabad High Court had the highest pendency, with over seven lakh cases pending as of 2017.

Despite high pendency, some High Courts have managed to reduce their backlog.  Between 2006 and 2017, pendency of cases reduced the most in Madras High Court at a rate of 26%, followed by Bombay High Court at 24%.  Conversely, during the same period, the pendency of cases doubled in the Andhra Pradesh High Court, and increased by 2.5 times in Karnataka High Court.

As a result of pendency, number of under-trials in prison is more than double that of convicts

Sources:  Prison Statistics in India, 2015, National Crime Record Bureau; PRS.

Over the years, as a result of growing pendency of cases for long periods, the number of undertrials (accused awaiting trial) in prisons has increased.  Prisons are running at an over-capacity of 114%.  As of 2015, there were over four lakh prisoners in jails.  Of these, two-thirds were undertrials (2.8 lakh) and the remaining one-third were convicts. 

The highest proportion of undertrials (where the number of inmates was at least over 1,000) were in J&K (85%), followed by Bihar (82%).  A total of 3,599 undertrials were detained in jails for more than five years.  Uttar Pradesh had the highest number of such undertrials (1,364) followed by West Bengal (294). 

One interesting factor to note is that more criminal cases are filed in subordinate courts than in High Courts and Supreme Court.  Of the cases pending in the subordinate courts (which constitute 87% of all pending cases), 70% of cases were related to criminal matters.  This increase in the pendency of cases for long periods over the years may have directly resulted in an increase in the number of undertrials in prisons.  In a statement last year, the Chief Justice of India commented that the accused in criminal cases are getting heard after serving out their sentence.

Vacancies in High Courts and Subordinate Courts affect the disposal of cases

Sources:  Court News, 2006-17, Supreme Court of India; PRS.

Vacancy of judges across courts in India has affected the functioning of the judiciary, particularly in relation to the disposal of cases.  Between 2006 and 2017, the number of vacancies in the High Courts has increased from 16% to 37%, and in the subordinate courts from 19% to 25%.  As of 2017, High Courts have 403 vacancies against a sanctioned strength of 1,079 judges, and subordinate courts have 5,676 vacancies against a sanctioned strength of 22,704 judges.  As of 2017, among the major High Courts (with sanctioned strength over 10 judges), the highest proportion of vacancies was in Karnataka High Court at 60% (37 vacancies), followed by Calcutta High Court at 54% (39 vacancies).  Similarly, in major subordinate courts (with sanctioned strength over 100 judges), the highest proportion of vacancies was in Bihar High Court at 46% (835 vacancies), followed by Uttar Pradesh High Court at 42% (1,348 vacancies).

Explainer: Mechanisms to investigate charges against a Supreme Court judge

This week, an in-house inquiry committee was constituted to consider a complaint against the current Chief Justice of India.  Over the years, three mechanisms have evolved to investigate cases of misconduct, including cases of sexual harassment, misbehaviour or incapacity against judges.  In this blog, we summarise the procedure for investigating such charges against judges of the Supreme Court.  

  • In-house procedure (1999): The Supreme Court has an in-house process to deal with allegations against a judge relating to the discharge of his judicial function, or with regard to his conduct or behaviour outside court.   
  • Sexual harassment guidelines: In 2013, Parliament passed the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013.  Subsequently, the Supreme Court framed regulations for protection of women against sexual harassment in the Supreme Court. Under the regulations, the CJI is required to constitute a Gender Sensitisation and Internal Complaints Committee (GSICC).  The GSICC will include 7-13 members including: (i) one or two judges of the Supreme Court, and (ii) up to two outside members (having experience in social justice, women empowerment, gender justice, among others) to be nominated by the CJI.  The Regulations require the majority of the members of GSICC to be women.  As of 2018, the GSICC has received 13 complaints, out of which 10 have been disposed of. 
  • Removal for proven misbehaviour or incapacity: Charges of misconduct may also be investigated in the context of proceedings for removal of a judge.  Article 124(4) of the Constitution of India provides that a judge can be removed only by Parliament on the basis of a motion in either the Lok Sabha or Rajya Sabha.  The procedure for removal of judges is elaborated in the Judges Inquiry Act, 1968.  Till date, no judge of the higher judiciary has been impeached under this process. 

Table 1: Process for investigation of charges against a Supreme Court judge

 

In-house Procedure of Supreme Court

2013 SC Sexual Harassment Regulation

Removal Proceedings

Who may file a complaint

  • Complaint of misconduct may be filed by any person.
  • Written complaint of sexual harassment by a woman.
  • Signed notice by at least 100 members of the Lok Sabha, or 50 members of the Rajya Sabha on charges of misbehaviour or incapacity by a judge. 

Persons to whom complaint must be filed

  • CJI or President of India
  • GSICC
  • Presiding Officer of the relevant House of Parliament

Preliminary Inquiry

  • The CJI is required to determine whether the complaint is either frivolous or serious. If the complaint is frivolous or relates to a pending case, no further action will be taken.
  • If the CJI finds that the complaint involves serious misconduct or impropriety, he will seek the response of the concerned Judge. 
  • Based on the response and supporting materials, if the CJI finds that the complaint needs a deeper probe, he will constitute an inquiry committee. 
  • If the GSICC is satisfied that the complaint is genuine, it will constitute a three-member Internal Sub-Committee to conduct an inquiry into the complaint. 
  • If the notice is in order, the Presiding Officer will constitute a three-member committee to investigate the complaint.

Composition of Inquiry Committee

  • The Committee will comprise three judges including a Judge of the Supreme Court and two Chief Justices of other High Courts.
  • The Committee will comprise members of the GSICC or persons nominated by the GSICC, with majority members being a woman and an outside member.
  • The committee will comprise a Supreme Court judge, Chief Justice of a High Court, and a distinguished jurist. 

Time limit for submission of inquiry report

  • No specific time limit provided.
  • To be completed within 90 days of the constitution of the Internal Sub-Committee, and forwarded to the GSICC within 10 days of completion. 
  • To be submitted to the presiding officer within 90 days.

Findings of the Committee

  • The Committee may report to the CJI that:

1.  there is no substance in the allegation made, or,

2.  there is substance in the allegations but the misconduct is not of such serious nature as to warrant removal, or,

3.  the misconduct is serious enough to initiate removal proceedings against the judge. 

  • If the committee concludes that the allegation has been proved, it will submit its report to the GSICC to pass appropriate orders within 45 days.
  • If more than two thirds of the GSICC members differ from the conclusion of the Committee, it will, after hearing the complainant and the accused, record its reasons for differing and pass orders.
  • After concluding its investigation, the Committee will submit its report to the presiding officer, who will lay the report before the relevant House.

 

Action taken upon submission of report

  • If the finding is under category (2) above, the CJI may call and advise the Judge accordingly and direct that the report be placed on record.
  • If the finding is under category (3) above, the CJI may ask the judge to resign or seek voluntary retirement.  If the judge refuses to resign, the CJI may decide to not allocate any judicial work to the judge concerned. 
  •  Further, the CJI may inform the President of India and the Prime Minister of his reasons for the action taken and forward a copy of the inquiry report to them.
  • The GSICC has the power to: (i) to pass an order of admonition (reprimand), which may also be published in the court precinct, or (ii) pass an order to prohibit the accused from harassing or communicating with the complainant, or (iii) pass any other order to end the sexual harassment faced by the complainant.
  • GSICC may also recommend to the CJI to pass orders against the accused, including: (i) prohibiting entry of the accused into the Supreme Court for up to a year, or (ii) filing a criminal complaint before the concerned disciplinary authority governing the accused.
  • If the report records a finding of misbehaviour or incapacity, the motion for removal will be taken up for consideration and debated. 
  • The motion is required to be adopted by each House by a majority of the total membership of that House and a majority of at least two-thirds of the members of that House present and voting.
  • Once the motion is adopted in both Houses, it is sent to the President, who will issue an order for the removal of the judge.

Process for Appeals

  • No specific provision.
  • Any aggrieved person may make a representation to the CJI to set aside/modify the orders passed by the GSICC.  The CJI also has the power to issue any other orders in order to secure justice to the victim.
  • No specific provision.

Sources: Report of the Committee on In-House Procedure, December 1999, Supreme Court of India; Gender Sensitisation and Sexual Harassment of Women at the Supreme Court of India (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Regulations, 2013; Article 124(4), Constitution of India; Judges Inquiry Act, 1968 read with the Judges Inquiry Rules, 1969; PRS.

Ordinance making powers of the Executive in India

In light of the decision of the union cabinet to promulgate an Ordinance to uphold provisions of the Representation of People Act, 1951, this blog examines the Ordinance making power of the Executive in India.  The Ordinance allows legislators (Members of Parliament and Members of Legislative Assemblies) to retain membership of the legislature even after conviction, if (a)     an appeal against the conviction is filed before a court within 90 days and (b)     the appeal is stayed by the court. However, the Ordinance will only be promulgated after it receives the assent of the President. I. Separation of powers between the Legislature, Executive and Judiciary In India, the central and state legislatures are responsible for law making, the central and state governments are responsible for the implementation of laws and the judiciary (Supreme Court, High Courts and lower courts) interprets these laws. However, there are several overlaps in the functions and powers of the three institutions.  For example, the President has certain legislative and judicial functions and the legislature can delegate some of its functions to the executive in the form of subordinate legislation. II. Ordinance making powers of the President Article 123 of the Constitution grants the President certain law making powers to promulgate Ordinances when either of the two Houses of Parliament is not in session and hence it is not possible to enact laws in the Parliament.[i] An Ordinance may relate to any subject that the Parliament has the power to legislate on. Conversely, it has the same limitations as the Parliament to legislate, given the distribution of powers between the Union, State and Concurrent Lists. Thus, the following limitations exist with regard to the Ordinance making power of the executive: i.   Legislature is not in session: The President can only promulgate an Ordinance when either of the two Houses of Parliament is not in session. ii.   Immediate action is required: The President cannot promulgate an Ordinance unless he is satisfied that there are circumstances that require taking ‘immediate action’[ii]. iii.   Parliamentary approval during session: Ordinances must be approved by Parliament within six weeks of reassembling or they shall cease to operate.  They will also cease to operate in case resolutions disapproving the Ordinance are passed by both the Houses.   Figure 1 shows the number of Ordinances that have been promulgated in India since 1990.  The largest number of Ordinances was promulgated in 1993, and there has been a decline in the number of Ordinance promulgated since then.  However, the past year has seen a rise in the number of Ordinances promulgated.            Figure 1: Number of national Ordinances promulgated in India since 1990 Ordinances PromulgatedSource: Ministry of Law and Justice; Agnihotri, VK (2009) ‘The Ordinance: Legislation by the Executive in India when the Parliament is not in Session’; PRS Legislative Research III. Ordinance making powers of the Governor Just as the President of India is constitutionally mandated to issue Ordinances under Article 123, the Governor of a state can issue Ordinances under Article 213, when the state legislative assembly (or either of the two Houses in states with bicameral legislatures) is not in session.  The powers of the President and the Governor are broadly comparable with respect to Ordinance making.  However, the Governor cannot issue an Ordinance without instructions from the President in three cases where the assent of the President would have been required to pass a similar Bill.[iii] IV. Key debates relating to the Ordinance making powers of the Executive There has been significant debate surrounding the Ordinance making power of the President (and Governor).  Constitutionally, important issues that have been raised include judicial review of the Ordinance making powers of the executive; the necessity for ‘immediate action’ while promulgating an Ordinance; and the granting of Ordinance making powers to the executive, given the principle of separation of powers. Table 1 provides a brief historical overview of the manner in which the debate on the Ordinance making powers of the executive has evolved in India post independence. Table 1: Key debates on the President's Ordinance making power

Year

Legislative development

Key arguments

1970 RC Cooper vs. Union of India In RC Cooper vs. Union of India (1970) the Supreme Court, while examining the constitutionality of the Banking Companies (Acquisition of Undertakings) Ordinance, 1969 which sought to nationalise 14 of India’s largest commercial banks, held that the President’s decision could be challenged on the grounds that ‘immediate action’ was not required; and the Ordinance had been passed primarily to by-pass debate and discussion in the legislature.
1975 38th Constitutional Amendment Act Inserted a new clause (4) in Article 123 stating that the President’s satisfaction while promulgating an Ordinance was final and could not be questioned in any court on any ground.
1978 44th Constitutional Amendment Act Deleted clause (4) inserted by the 38th CAA and therefore reopened the possibility for the judicial review of the President’s decision to promulgate an Ordinance.
1980 AK Roy vs. Union of India In AK Roy vs. Union of India (1982) while examining the constitutionality of the National Security Ordinance, 1980, which sought to provide for preventive detention in certain cases, the Court argued that the President’s Ordinance making power is not beyond the scope of judicial review. However, it did not explore the issue further as there was insufficient evidence before it and the Ordinance was replaced by an Act. It also pointed out the need to exercise judicial review over the President’s decision only when there were substantial grounds to challenge the decision, and not at “every casual and passing challenge”.
1985 T Venkata Reddy vs. State of Andhra Pradesh In T Venkata Reddy vs. State of Andhra Pradesh (1985), while deliberating on the promulgation of the Andhra Pradesh Abolition of Posts of Part-time Village Officers Ordinance, 1984 which abolished certain village level posts, the Court reiterated that the Ordinance making power of the President and the Governor was a legislative power, comparable to the legislative power of the Parliament and state legislatures respectively. This implies that the motives behind the exercise of this power cannot be questioned, just as is the case with legislation by the Parliament and state legislatures.
1987 DC Wadhwa vs. State of Bihar It was argued in DC Wadhwa vs. State of Bihar (1987) the legislative power of the executive to promulgate Ordinances is to be used in exceptional circumstances and not as a substitute for the law making power of the legislature.  Here, the court was examining a case where a state government (under the authority of the Governor) continued to re-promulgate ordinances, that is, it repeatedly issued new Ordinances to replace the old ones, instead of laying them before the state legislature.  A total of 259 Ordinances were re-promulgated, some of them for as long as 14 years.  The Supreme Court argued that if Ordinance making was made a usual practice, creating an ‘Ordinance raj’ the courts could strike down re-promulgated Ordinances.
Source: Basu, DD (2010) Introduction to the Constitution of India; Singh, Mahendra P. (2008) VN Shukla's Constitution of India; PRS Legislative Research

  This year, the following 9 Ordinances have been promulgated:

  1. The Securities Laws (Amendment) Ordinance, 2013
  2. The Readjustment of Representation of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in Parliamentary and Assembly Constituencies Second Ordinance, 2013
  3. The Securities and Exchange Board of India (Amendment) Second Ordinance, 2013
  4. The National Food Security Ordinance, 2013
  5. The Indian Medical Council (Amendment) Ordinance, 2013
  6. The Securities and Exchange Board of India (Amendment) Ordinance, 2013
  7. The Readjustment of Representation of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in Parliamentary and Assembly Constituencies Ordinance, 2013
  8. The Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance, 2013
  9. The Securities Laws (Amendment) Second Ordinance, 2013

Three of these Ordinances have been re-promulgated, i.e., a second Ordinance has been promulgated to replace an existing one.  This seems to be in violation of the Supreme Court’s decision in DC Wadhwa vs. State of Bihar.  


Notes: [i] With regard to issuing Ordinances as with other matters, the President acts on the advice of the Council of Ministers. While the Ordinance is promulgated in the name of the President and constitutionally to his satisfaction, in fact, it is promulgated on the advice of the Council of Ministers.
[ii] Article 123, Clause (1)
[iii]  (a) if a Bill containing the same provisions would have required the previous sanction of the President for introduction into the legislature; (b) if the Governor would have deemed it necessary to reserve a Bill containing the same provisions for the consideration of the President; and (c) if an Act of the legislature containing the same provisions would have been invalid unless it received the assent of the President.

Does the judiciary “make laws”?

A recent case before the Supreme Court has once again highlighted the issue of judicial decisions potentially replacing/ amending legislation enacted by Parliament.  The case importantly pertains to the judiciary’s interpretation of existing law concerning itself.  The eventual outcome of the case would presumably have important implications for the way the higher judiciary interprets laws, which according to some amounts to the judiciary “legislating” rather than interpreting laws.   This assertion has often been substantiated by citing cases such as Vishaka v. State of Rajasthan (1997) where the Supreme Court actually laid down the law pertaining to sexual discrimination at workplaces in the absence of a law governing the same.  In numerous other cases, courts have laid down policy guidelines, or have issued administrative directions to governmental departments.   In the recent case of Suraz India Trust v. Union of India, a petition has been filed asking the court to reconsider its own judgements regarding the manner of appointment and transfer of judges.  It has been contended that through its judgements in 1994 and 1998 (Advocate on Record Association v. Union of India and Special Reference No. 1 of 1998) the Supreme Court has virtually amended Constitutional provisions, even though amendments to the Constitution can only be done by Parliament.  This question arises since the Constitution provides for the appointment and transfer of judges by the government in consultation with the Chief Justice of India.  The two Supreme Court judgements however gave the primary power of appointment and transfer of judges to the judiciary itself.   Importantly, one specific question which has been raised is whether the judgements referred to above really amount to amending the relevant provisions of the Constitution.  Another question raised which is relevant to this discussion is whether the interpretation by courts can actually make provisions in the Constitution redundant.   In its judgement on the 4th of April, the Supreme Court referred this case to the Chief Justice of India for further directions.  The outcome of this judgement could potentially require the Supreme Court to define the circumstances when it interprets law, and when it “legislates”.  An indication of the Supreme Court's attitude concerning this issue may be gleaned from the recent speech of the Chief Justice of India, Justice S.H. Kapadia at the M.C. Setalvad lecture.  The CJI unambiguously stated that: "...In many PILs, the courts freely decree rules of conduct for government and public authorities which are akin to legislation. Such exercises have little judicial function in them. Its justification is that the other branches of government have failed or are indifferent to the solution of the problem. In such matters, I am of the opinion that the courts should be circumspect in understanding the thin line between law and governance..."