Chief Justice Right on More Judges
Small is not beautiful in the judiciary’s case
India ranks 178th when it comes to enforcement of contracts in the World Bank’s ranking of 189 countries on ease of doing business. This is a pathetic state that befits a country engulfed in civil war, definitely not an emerging economy giant. To sustain fast growth, India needs to overhaul its legal infrastructure. This is not a blinding new insight. The Law Commission of India had recommended, in 1987, a figure of 50 judges per million of the population, based on the ratio prevalent in the US in 1981. That meant a fivefold increase then. Now, the ratio is 13.
The matter came up again, when Chief Justice of India T S Thakur brought it up when he called on the government to drastically enhance the number of judges. With extensive deployment of information technology, India probably can bring down the number of judges required and the time taken to dispose of a case beyond final appeal significantly below earlier estimates. If cases are heard continuously, with procedural reforms, for example, videographed court proceedings that can be subjected to systematic audit by a judicial audit body drawn from former members of the higher judiciary, they would be disposed of fast, but call for a sharp rise in the number of judges. It would make sense for the Centre to launch a centrally sponsored scheme to expand the lower judiciary in every state through an Indian Judicial Service. The immediate move should, of course, be for the Centre to stop sitting on the nominations by judges’ collegium to fill vacancies in the high courts.
Justice Thakur would also do well to ponder over why the Supreme Court spends so much of its time on commercial cases that entail no abstruse principle of constitutional law or protection of fundamental rights. The high courts should be the final word in most cases, except when the apex court finds prima facie evidence of miscarriage of justice. A huge increase in the number of judges, procedural reform, use of IT and restraint by the highest court on admitting cases are in order, to improve the speed of India’s judicial process.