The present Chief Justice of India, Justice Dattu, said recently that cases in the Supreme Court would ordinarily be disposed off in 2 years, and criminal trials in 5 years. Almost every CJI makes similar tall claims. The previous CJI made the nonsensical remark that Judges will work 365 days in a year.
There are 33 million cases pending in the law courts of India, and by one estimate if no new case is instituted it will take 360 years to clear the arrears. While many people talk of clearing the arrears, no one is really serious about it. Arrears,including arrears in the Supreme Court, have kept mounting.
When I was in the Supreme Court I heard a case in 2007 which had been instituted in 1947, that is after 60 years of its institution, and another case 50 years after its institution.
The decision in Rajendra Singh (Dead) thru. Lrs. & Ors. Vs. Prem Mai, which was decided by a Bench of the Supreme Court, of which I was a member, was a case which took 50 years to decide finally, since it was initiated in 1957 in the trial court, and was finally decided on appeal in 2007 by the Supreme Court.
This decision observed :
“ We may quote a passage from the novel 'Bleak House' written in Charles Dickens' inimitable style :-
Jarndyce vs.Jarndyce drones on. This scarecrow of a suit has, in course of time, become so complicated, that no man alive knows what it means. The parties to it understand it least; but it has been observed that no two Chancery lawyers can talk about it for five minutes, without coming to a total disagreement as to all the premises.
Innumerable children have been born into the cause; innumerable young people have married into it; innumerable old people have died out of it. Scores of persons have deliriously found themselves made parties in Jarndyce vs. Jarndyce, without knowing how or why; whole families have inherited legendry hatreds with the suit. The little plaintiff or defendant, who was promised a new rocking-horse when Jarndyce vs. Jarndyce should be settled, has grown up, possessed himself of a real horse, and trotted away into the other world. Fair wards of court have faded into mothers and grandmothers; a long procession of Chancellors has come in and gone out; the legion of bills in the suit have been transformed into mere bills of mortality.
There are not three Jarndyces left upon the earth perhaps, since old Tom Jarndyce in despair blew his brains out at a coffee house in Chancery Lane; but Jarndyce vs. Jarndyce still drags its dreary length before the court, perennially hopeless.
Is this not descriptive of the situation prevailing in India today? "
In Allahabad High Court ( my parent High Court ), criminal appeals filed 30 years ago are coming up for hearing today. The lawyer who filed it is usually dead, and the accused in the criminal case is also often dead or untraceable. I am informed that in the Bombay High Court original suits have been pending for 25 years or more. The situation is like that in the case Jarndyce vs. Jarndyce depicted at the beginning of Charles Dickens' novel ' Bleak House '.
I doubt whether the lawyer community seriously wants any reform, and as for Supreme Court Judges they mostly have a term of only a few years to seriously attempt it ( despite the talk of almost every CJI ).
Let me tell the Indian public the truth. The Indian judiciary, like other state institutions in India, is beyond redemption. I was in the system for 40 years, 20 years as a lawyer, and 20 years as a Judge, ( including Chief Justice of 3 High Courts, Acting Chief Justice of Allahabad High Court, and permanent Chief Justice of Madras and Delhi High Courts, and finally Judge of the Supreme Court ). So I should know what i am talking about.\
Dattu is talking through his hat.