India’s Legal System in Need of Overhaul

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Feb. 13 – Even as the Indian economy races ahead to become bigger and stronger, the country’s legal system lags behind. According to the Chief Justice of India, A.P. Shah, it would take the Delhi High Court 466 years just to clear its backlog of criminal cases.

In a report released by the judiciary, the lax legal system is a result of three major factors – the low number of sitting judges per population, India’s high rate of corruption and the tedious process of registering a court case.

The associated press reported that although the Delhi High Court resolves cases at an average speed of four minutes and 55 seconds, it still has innumerable cases pending including 600+ cases that are more than 20 years old. The United Nations Development Program estimates that some 20 million legal cases are pending in India. As a result, its not uncommon to hear stories of court cases lasting longer than the average human lifespan.

Although cases are resolved at an undeniably high speed, India has roughly 11 judges for every million people compared with roughly 110 per million in the United States.

Corruption another evil the judiciary should be independent of is not only commonplace in Indian society, but also exists at every level in India’s courts. Like many nations the law tends to favor the wealthy who are now accustomed to getting away with large crimes.

Long, archaic and silly rules also add to the immense paperwork and bureaucracy that add years to the judicial process, often tempting ordinary citizens to solve the case amongst themselves – out of court. "All kinds of objections are raised — the copies are dim, the margins are not wide enough, it's single-spaced instead of being double-spaced," Prashant Bhushan, a lawyer in New Delhi told the AP. "For a layperson, it's impossible."

The Delhi high court is the capital’s highest court. It hears civil, criminal, and constitutional cases for five hours and 15 minutes a day, and is open for 213 working days a year. Ways in which to improve the system and drive in efficiency are being worked out as a result of the report.