Judiciary is the most trusted institution of democracy. But higher the trust, greater is the onus to maintain it. One of the important aspects of institutional independence is the duty of the state to see that judges are not overburdened with case loads. According to the data provided by the Ministry of Law and Justice regarding the pendency of cases (unstarred question in the Rajya Sabha, no 595, July 21, 2022), the number of cases pending in the Supreme Court is 72,062, in the High Courts it is 59,45,709 and in the District Courts it is 4,19,79,353 — which is alarming.

A very heavy docket sometimes puts the judge under pressure to dispose of more cases than is desirable; this results in the judge not considering the real issues involved. It is well known that “justice hurried is justice buried”. If the judge does not give a proper hearing or conduct a trial in a proper manner, the litigants will lose faith in the system. Further, such hasty disposals only increase the burden of the appellate courts.

If there is a delay in disposal of the cases, the public is entitled to know the reasons. However, the enormous burden imposed upon the judiciary by the increased inflow of cases caused by the newly enacted laws is not readily visible to the general public. As the judiciary is blamed for backlogs and delay in adjudication, ‘judicial impact assessment’ is the only viable solution.

Judicial impact assessment

Judicial impact assessment, simply speaking, is an exercise to assess and analyse the additional resources the judiciary might need to handle litigation generated by the newly enacted laws. The key element here is the ‘methodology’ for estimating judicial workload resulting from new legislation and determining the additional costs involved in judge-time and support services.

The concept was mooted for the first time by Justice Warren Burger, former Chief Justice of US (1969-86). In India, the Supreme Court in the Salem Advocates Bar Association case (2005), for the first time, considered the need for “judicial impact assessment” in our country.

It was suggested that the financial memorandum attached to each Bill must estimate not only the budgetary requirement of staff but also the expenses arising out of the additional cases, when the Bill is passed by the legislature.

The budget in this regard must mention the number of civil and criminal cases likely to be generated by the new Act, the number of courts that are necessary, and the number of judges and staff required and the necessary infrastructure.

More than a decade has passed since the Salem Advocates Bar Association case, but not much has changed in this regard. The judiciary at all levels is reeling under the pressure of mounting arrears of cases.

From an analysis of the data given on National Judicial Data Grid, it is clear that the annual filing is in excess of the annual disposal, so the pendency is bound to increase year after year unless the number of courts are not correspondingly increased at all levels. The entire burden of establishing district courts must not only be on the State government; they should be a concurrent obligation on the Central Government as well to meet the expenditures of the district courts.

Generally, the plan for the budgets of the district courts in India are made by the Registry of the high courts. These are manned by judicial officers who do not have much expertise in the matters of the preparation of budgets and accounts.

The services of experienced members of the account services can be availed. They can work under the supervision of the High Courts. At present, there is no systematic planning for the budgetary requirements of the district courts in India.

‘Judicial Impact Assessment Offices’ must be established in all high courts with its headquarters in the Supreme Court, which must be entrusted with advisory and support services and must focus solely on planning and budgeting.

In the district courts, the court managers must be assigned this responsibility. These offices must regularly monitor the filing under every enactment and analyse the rate of filing under various enactments, which shall help in estimating the budgetary requirements for the future. Such offices must be staffed with an interdisciplinary team drawn from law, judiciary, economics, statistics, computer science, sociology and management.

The writer is Additional Chief Judicial Magistrate, Aligarh, UP. Views are personal