The Chief Justice of India (CJI) recently stated that pendency is a perennial drawback that affects the court’s role as the timely protector of citizens’ rights and remarked that increasing the number of judges may not demolish this problem.


How big is this issue?

  • The Parliamentary figures reveal that at over 47 million, India has the largest number of pending court cases in the world.
    • As per the National Judicial Data Grid (NJDG), 57,987 cases in Supreme Court (SC) and 49 lakh cases are pending in High Courts
    • Also 2.4 crore cases are pending cases in India’s district courts, out of which 23 lakh (9.58%) have been pending for over 10 years, and 39 lakh (16.44%) have been pending for between 5 and 10 years.
  • In the Supreme Court (as on December 13, 2022) —
    • 498 Constitution Bench cases are pending.
    • PILs, Special leave petitions (SLPs) and writ petitions amount to 2,870; 4,331 and 2,209, respectively, of the court’s pendency.
    • Also, there are 487 pending election matters in the top court.
  • A Law Commission report in 2009 had quoted that it would require 464 years to clear the arrears with the present strength of judges. A 2018 paper by NITI Aayog said it would take more than 324 years to clear the backlog.


What should be done?

  • Bring back retired judges — In India the High court judges retire at 62 and Supreme Court judges retire at 65 in contrast with UK or Canada where judges are allowed to continue in service until they are 75. In USA, judges of the Supreme and subordinate courts hold office for life.
    • Hence, India should emulate the same and retain its retired senior judges.
  • Easy work hours for retired judges — The working hours and schedules can be flexibly designed for retired judges to operate, enabling the current judges to take up important cases in adequate Bench strength and composition.
  • Advocates acting as judges — A scheme can also be devised by which experienced High Court senior advocates sit as judges once a week to hear matters. Many would sign up for the novel and contributing experience, and many would do an excellent job.
  • Employing hybrid methods for justice delivery — As retired judges start practicing, need may arise for more brick-and-mortar structures, office infrastructure, staff etc. However, costs can be cut upon by cultivating an online justice system.
    • For instance, COVID-19 shutdown witnessed harnessing online facilities and judges and lawyers welcomed its ease and flexibility.
  • Examine performance conduct — The productivity of judges should be reviewed periodically to have oversight upon absenteeism of judges, cases solved, etc. E.g., CJI Ranjan Gogoi had proposed a “no leave formula” for judges during working days of the court.
  • Employing mediationMediation is far superior to litigation in wide range of cases ranging from personal and matrimonial to civil and commercial and property disputes.
    • If well planned and executed, it can lift half the load of India’s cases off courts’ shoulders.
    • Also, owing to present success rate of over 50% of mediation centres coupled with lower costs and appeals compared to litigation, it is essential to use mediation as a central peg of reform.
  • Strengthening manpower — To encourage mediation further, sensible policies need to be devised to make mediation a professionally attractive career option for willing advocates.
    • An Indian Mediation Service can be created on the lines of the judicial service and incentives and disincentives must be devised for existing and prospective litigants to try this consensual method in good faith.
  • Weeding out state litigation — A negative list need to be devised which identifies instances in which government and its agencies are barred from going to court would be helpful to avoid futile litigation.
  • Penalising adjournments — A norm needs to be formed that once a date is fixed no adjournment should be possible unless the side that requests it is willing to pay the other side’s legal costs along with a substantial penalty.
  • Best management practices — The system of long vacations for courts should be shed off for optimum justice delivery. g., Former CJI Lodha has recommended that instead of all the judges going on vacation all at one time, individual judges should take their leave at different times through the year.
    • It will ensure that the courts are constantly open and there are always benches present to hear cases.



Conventional reform prescribes more judges, more courts, more staff and more infrastructure. However, all these need resources of either money or manpower, both of which we lack. As a result, the aforementioned innovative reforms provide a remarkably distinct method that gathers and best utilises available resources, both technological and personal, and can have a significant influence.


SourceThe Hindu


QUESTION – The problem of pendency of cases in the judiciary will not be solved by conventional routes but requires out of the box ideas to work out in a fairly speedy manner. Discuss.