Justice delayed is justice denied — this oft-quoted truism sums up the plight of litigants who keep waiting for years, or rather decades, for the court’s verdict. And even if the judgment is in their favour, it’s only a pyrrhic victory as the delay has been inordinately long and painful and the loss in terms of time, effort and money is irreparable. Then there are those petitioners who don’t even live long enough to see the fateful day. According to the National Judicial Data Grid, the Punjab and Haryana High Court has a pendency of more than 6.37 lakh cases, including over 2.6 lakh in the criminal category. Though Covid-induced restrictions have exacerbated the situation over the past year or so, the shortfall of 30-odd judges has also been a major impediment. The resumption of ‘physical’ operations is set to amplify the litigation burden and further cripple the justice delivery system.
The disposal of cases in a reasonable time frame is a must to reduce pendency. For the record, over 10,000 cases have been awaiting adjudication for 20-30 years in the Punjab and Haryana High Court. In September last year, the Supreme Court had expressed shock that a criminal case registered against a Punjab politician back in 1983 was yet to be adjudicated, even though the court had in 2015 directed that the trial in cases against sitting and former lawmakers be conducted on a daily basis and concluded in one year from the date of framing of charges. Blatant disregard for the apex court’s directions is a reflection of institutional shortcomings.
While the High Courts need to fill judges’ vacancies on priority by expediting the administrative process, various state governments should refrain from making things tougher for the judiciary. In July 2019, the Punjab and Haryana High Court had stated that more than 50 per cent litigation in courts across the country was being filed ‘on account of lapse or negligence of the state machinery’. Rather than indulging in a blame game, the focus should be on remedial measures to contain the caseload and prevent miscarriage of justice.