Judicial Reform

Status of Physical Infrastructure in Lower Judiciary

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The state of physical infrastructure in the lower courts remains an under-studied topic in India, despite such infrastructure being an important component of access to justice. In this bilingual report (English and Hindi), we examine the state of physical infrastructure of lower courts in Delhi and the National Capital Region (NCR). Using parameters developed by the National Court Management Systems (NCMS) Baseline Report on Court Development Planning System (Infrastructure and Budgeting), 2012, we have surveyed twelve (12) court complexes in Delhi and NCR. 

We illustrate how a litigant accesses court spaces and interacts with its physical infrastructure. A special focus has been given to vulnerable groups, such as persons with disabilities, to assess whether the physical infrastructure enables access or otherwise. The report also examines how this infrastructure varies between rural and urban court complexes. Broadly, it offers a comprehensive assessment of the status of physical infrastructure and what a litigant can expect from their nearest court complex. By doing so, it provides a blueprint for the infrastructural development of lower courts that can be used by the judiciary and executive.

Download the full report 'Status of Physical Infrastructure in Lower Judiciary'

A study of Karnataka High Court’s Writ Jurisdiction

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A High Court’s writ jurisdiction is considered to be an ‘extraordinary jurisdiction’ whereby the High Court – which is at the apex of the State judicial machinery, becomes directly accessible to ordinary citizens seeking relief against any authority, including any Government. A detailed study of the manner in which this extraordinary jurisdiction is invoked and exercised, is in the interest of both the Judiciary and the State, since writ petitions constitute a bulk of a High Court’s burden, with most being filed against the Government.

Vidhi's Report on the Karnataka High Court’s writ jurisdiction is based on a data driven study of writ petitions filed before the Karnataka High Court across a period of five years before the Bengaluru Bench (2012-2016) and three years before the Dharwad and Kalaburgi Benches (2014-2016). 

The data has been studied to understand the nature of writ petitions filed against the Government, functioning at different levels of governance.  This gives us a nuanced understanding on the issue of ‘Government litigation’ and highlights the supply-side issues which contributes to making the ‘Government’, the biggest litigant. This study has also shed light on some of the inefficiencies in the functioning of the Karnataka High Court, both on the judicial and administrative side.

The raw data which has been collected for the purposes of this study will be uploaded shortly.

Download the full report on Karnataka High Court Writ Jurisdiction

Government Litigation: An Introduction

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There is a wide consensus that India is in need of large-scale governance reform. In order to adequately address such a mammoth challenge, we need to delve deeper into factors that contribute to the inefficiency of public institutions. One such constituent is the high volume of government litigation. While it is well known that litigation clogs bureaucratic machinery, hardly any attempts have been made to understand the issue. In an effort to address this gap, Vidhi has taken an initiative to publish a series of reports on government litigation in India. 

The following report sets the context for the series by introducing government litigation as a challenge. It provides a literature review of current debates and policies to address the challenges, following which it highlights the scope of the series and its intended objectives. 

Download the full report on Government Litigation: An Introduction

Tilting the Scale: Gender Imbalance in the Lower Judiciary

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Discourse on judicial reforms in India has tended to focus on the issues of judge vacancies and case delays, to the exclusion of other institutional issues which plague Indian courts. One such problem that has received scant attention is the lack of judicial diversity.

To spark conversation on this important issue, this Vidhi Briefing focuses on one parameter of judicial diversity, namely gender. It presents, for the first time, state and district-wise data on the gender composition of the lower judiciary. These findings raise several implications, which will be examined in-depth in future reports.

Through these reports, we hope to bring much-needed attention to issues concerning the lower judiciary which, despite being the first or only point of contact for most litigants, is relatively neglected in academic and policy discourse compared to the higher judiciary. We also hope to encourage conversation on additional data and research needed to understand possible causes for low gender representation and ways to rectify this. A lack of equal representation, particularly when as severe as it appears to be in India, raises serious concerns that merit deep and sustained investigation. 

For a spreadsheet containing the district-wise gender composition of the lower judiciary in India, click here.

Download the full report on Tilting the Scale: Gender Imbalance in the Lower Judiciary

Report on Ranking Lower Judiciary Appointments

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A three-judge Bench of the Supreme Court initiated a suo-moto Public Interest Litigation in May 2017 to assess the feasibility of setting up a Central Selection Mechanism to make selections to the subordinate judiciary across the country. Whilst the debate on constituting such a central authority to coordinate appointment of subordinate judges is ongoing, the process in which such appointments are currently carried out remains unclear. Further, no empirical assessment of lower judiciary recruitment processes and its success in filing vacancies has been undertaken.

In this Vidhi Briefing, we attempted to study how the process of appointment of judges plays out in practice, by collecting state-wise data on the appointment of District Judges, via direct recruitment from the bar and Civil Judges (Junior Division)’. Based on this information, we ranked the performance of states in appointing judges to their subordinate judiciary on two metrics - average time taken to complete a recruitment cycle and percentage of vacancies potentially filled. This Briefing provides useful insight into fault lines of the present system of appointments that must be addressed, regardless of whether the current scheme of subordinate judicial appointments is preserved or a central mechanism is constituted.

Download Full Report on Ranking Lower Judiciary Appointments

Strengthening Mediation in India: A Report on Court-Connected Mediations

Regulation of mediation practices and frameworks is a global debate, with different facets of such regulation being the subject of numerous academic and policy reform discourses. In India, mediation was formalised as an alternative dispute resolution mechanism, and brought on the statute book with an amendment to Section 89 of the Civil Procedure Code, 1908. With more than a decade’s passage, a review of court annexed mediation in India is imperative to reinvigorate the framework with necessary reforms.

In an interim report, we had studied four jurisdictions, namely Australia, Singapore, United States of America and the United Kingdom, to ascertain best practices and takeaways which may facilitate the establishment of an efficient framework for court connected mediation in India. 

The final report compiles and presents the data provided to us by the mediation centres at the Delhi, Karnataka and Allahabad High Courts. It also presents the main discussions covered during round table and individual interviews conducted with mediators and administrators at the Delhi Mediation Centre and the Bangalore Mediation Centre. Based on the data gathered, the report analyses the performance of court connected mediation programmes and makes institutional and legislative recommendations to strengthen mediation in India.

This report was prepared in collaboration with the Department of Justice of the Ministry of Law & Justice, Government of India, and has been submitted to the Department. The final report and the data collected from the mediation centres can be downloaded from the links provided below.

Download the full report- Strengthening Mediation in India: A Report on Court-Connected Mediations

Download the data collected from the mediation centres

Inefficiency and Judicial Delay: New Insights from the Delhi High Court

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In India, pervasive delay in courts is typically blamed on judicial vacancies, and reforms tend to focus on long-term measures to increase the number of judges. A new study by the Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy, however, uses the Delhi High Court as a case study to demonstrate links between inefficiencies in court functioning and delay, and presents clear quantitative evidence on how several kinds of inefficient behaviour exhibited by counsel or the court manifest in case delays. We found a striking 97% of cases filed in the Delhi High Court and at least 60% of hearings in the court are affected by some inefficiency, and cause cases to be delayed.

To contextualise and explain the Delhi High Court’s high disposal rates in recent years, this report also closely examined cases that were disposed relatively quickly, and mapped the nature of cases and case categories that do not require prolonged adjudication. We found that speedy disposal of a case may reveal more about the case’s relative simplicity, rather than the court’s ability to handle its entire workload. To address delay and backlog, the report recommends institutional, policy and legislative reforms that focus on eliminating existing inefficiencies in functioning, measures that must accompany moves to increase judge strength and judicial infrastructure.

Inefficiency and Judicial Delay: New Insights from the Delhi High Court

alt : Inefficiency-and-Judicial-Delay_Vidhi.pdf

Submissions to the Law Commission on regulation of the legal profession in India

The Supreme Court of India, in its judgment in Mahipal Singh Rana v. State of UP, directed the Law Commission of India to review and make recommendations  for enhancing the regulatory framework for the legal profession in India. To this effect, the Law Commission of India issued a notice seeking comments on the regulation of the legal profession, from the public as well as the concerned stakeholders. 

The Judicial Reforms' Initiative of Vidhi has prepared a paper, identifying the broad areas warranting a regulatory overhaul, and proposing suggestions for enacting and implementing these legislative and institutional reforms. 

alt : DSubmissions-to-the-Law-Commission-on-regulation-of-the-legal-profession-in-India

Strengthening Mediation in India: An Interim Report on Court Annexed Mediations

Regulation of mediation practices and frameworks is a global debate, with different facets of such regulation being the subject of numerous academic and policy reform discourses. In India, mediation was formalised as an alternative dispute resolution mechanism, and brought on the statute book with an amendment to Section 89 of the Civil Procedure Code, 1908. With more than a decade’s passage, a review of court annexed mediation in India is imperative to reinvigorate the framework with necessary reforms.

The present Interim Report has reviewed different ‘Study Jurisdictions’, namely Australia, Singapore, United States of America and the United Kingdom, to ascertain best practices and takeaways which may facilitate the establishment of an efficient framework for court connected mediation in India. The Interim Report also presents an empirical analysis of the Delhi High Court Mediation and Conciliation Centre, and the Bangalore Mediation Centre, reviewing data made available by these mediation centres for the period between 2011 and 2015.

This Interim Report endeavours to be the seminal step to a greater programme to formulate and effectuate a comprehensive reform strategy and framework for strengthening court annexed mediation in India. 

Note: The Interim Report was incorrectly quoted by the Times of India in a news article on 29 July 2016. We have pointed out the inaccuracies and out-of-context statements to the editor, Times of India in this letter

Interim Report on Strengthening Mediation in India

alt : Interim-Report_Strengthening-Mediation-in-India

eCourts in India

This report undertakes a comprehensive assessment of the eCourts project, a Mission Mode Project being implemented by the National Informatics Centre (NIC) under the National e-Governance Plan (NeGP), for computerisation of judiciary and digitisation of judicial activities. In line with the current government’s flagship Digital India project and focussed largely on computerisation of subordinate courts, the eCourts project is a crucial step in fashioning an efficient judiciary that is also litigant-friendly.

This study revealed several issues with the planning and implementation of this project such as short-sighted policy formulation, inability to mitigate foreseen risks, flawed resource allocation, budgetary imprecisions, and multiple delays and lack of coordination in implementation. The study also threw light on the pressing need to further develop the National Judicial Data Grid (NJDG) in order for it to better monitor pendency in the lower courts and act as a reliable case information repository.

Noting the importance of the eCourts project in modernising our judiciary and improving its effectiveness, this report puts forth suggestions to aid the completion of this severely delayed project in a manner that is consistent with its vision, is time-bound and sustainable.

alt : eCourts-in-India_Vidhi.pdf

The TDSAT Revisited

This study takes an in-depth look into the working of the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) in the past few years. Vidhi has earlier looked at the TDSAT in its series on the State of the Nation’s Tribunals, where we examined different aspects of the functioning of the body, such as disposal and efficiency, the extent of judicial interference, tribunalisation and associated issues.

For this study, we took a deeper dive into the working of the TDSAT in recent years, relying on data collected from the TDSAT itself. The data revealed marked changes in the functioning and mandate of the Tribunal. For instance, the majority of cases brought before the TDSAT pertain to the broadcasting, rather than telecom, sector. The TDSAT's role as an appellate body also appears to be diminishing, with the body being used mainly as a tribunal of first instance. During the course of our research and findings, we also interacted with the present Chairperson, as well as officers of the Registry of the Tribunal to understand how it worked, and what the challenges of running a highly specialised tribunal such as the TDSAT were.

While the disposal rate of the TDSAT is fairly healthy and it continues to work with reasonable efficiency, data pointed to certain administrative and functional issues for the Tribunal. In light of these issues, our report puts forth suggestions to ensure the Tribunal works with greater efficiency than ever before.

alt : TDSAT-Report.pdf

Towards an Efficient and Effective Supreme Court

Following up from Vidhi's Consultation Paper on the Supreme Court's Burgeoning Backlog released last year on the functioning of the Supreme Court of India, Vidhi has gathered data of about 49000 cases relating to 2014 which provides a glimpse into the functioning of the Supreme Court. This data shows the preponderance of Special Leave Petitions in the Supreme Court's jurisdiction, the relatively high likelihood of the Supreme Court entertaining such matters and the disproportionate contribution of the Central Government in certain kinds of litigation. 

We had also spoken to and consulted with stakeholders about the problems being faced by the Supreme Court in its functioning and solicited their opinions on the suggestions being put forth by Vidhi. Their views and feedback on the research presented in the consultation paper and suggestions for reform have informed this particular report. 

While creating a National Court of Appeals may not be a feasible solution in light of the challenges of passing constitutional amendments and testing it against the basic structure doctrine, there are nevertheless a range of measures which may be undertaken by the Court to mitigate its backlog problem and bring its constitutional functions to the fore. This report lists out all these suggestions and how they should be implemented by the Court.

The raw data which has been collected as part of this Paper is available here. We request you to duly credit Vidhi if you use this data in your research.