Abhishek G Bhaya
India’s Supreme Court comes to life in the wee hours of July 30, 2015. In an unprecedented move, a three-judge bench gathered at 2:30 am in Court No. 4 to hear a plea against the execution of 1993 Mumbai blast convict Yakub Memon. The petition was rejected around 5 am with less than two hours left for the scheduled execution.
Yakub Memon was hanged in Nagpur Central Jail a little before 7 am on that fateful Thursday — about eight years after he was first convicted in 2007 by a Mumbai court, later upheld by the Supreme Court in 2013, in a case that ran for over two decades.
The unusual pre-dawn hearing was hailed by most as a shining example of the Indian judiciary, where all legal options were exhausted before sending even a terror convict to the gallows, and where the top court of the land, in its wisdom, found it compelling to work through the night to ensure that justice prevails. Some even dubbed it as ‘a great moment for Indian democracy’.
Mid-night hearings should be a norm
While the Supreme Court’s ‘unprecedented’ move needs to be welcomed, I for one, believe that such ‘mid-night hearings’ should not be confined to ‘rarest of the rare’ cases but rather become a norm considering the alarming number of pending lawsuits in Indian courts.
In last year’s Monsoon session of Parliament, federal Law Minister DV Sadananda Gowda, on August 1 informed the Rajya Sabha that there were over 3.2 crore cases pending with the Supreme Court and various subordinate courts in India.
Many would wonder whether the rights of the millions of citizens who are waiting for their cases to be resolved in Indian courts for years, and often decades, are any lesser than those of a convicted terrorist? Why can’t there be ‘unprecedented’ hearings to end their plight, one way or the other?
Now that the Apex Court has set a precedent, there’s no reason why other courts in India shouldn’t follow this new standard.
Ever wondered why there’s an almost total breakdown of law and order in India? Why is it that in this country, the ‘rule of (corrupt) power’ has replaced the ‘rule of law’?
There’s a growing feeling that we have turned into a nation where the law gives in to the high and mighty; where criminals and anti-social elements roam free while common folks, and women in particular, are asked to curb their movements.
Where criminals become lawmakers but law-abiding citizens inadvertently find themselves at the receiving end of the law. Where the principles of democracy have been hijacked by the lawlessness of ‘mobocracy’.
What hope does the aam aadmi have for redressal in a country where the police force and judiciary have become subservient to a corrupt political class?
Court vacations: A colonial hangover
The British left India 68 years ago, but the country is still stuck up with the colonial police and justice system dating back 150 years.
Will someone please explain why do our courts take summer and winter breaks at a time when millions of cases are pending? It was a colonial practice during the British rule, when most of the justices and senior lawyers were British and they needed these breaks to visit their home country. Is there any rationale to continue with the practice in an independent India?
The sheer volume of cases in our courts has rendered the entire justice system toothless and impotent. The adage ‘justice delayed is justice denied’ is lost in the quagmire of judicial red tape.
The absence of a credible redressal mechanism has encouraged the lawbreakers (and in many cases, even lawmakers) to commit crimes with impunity, raising the crime rates in each of our states at an alarming pace. Criminals do not fear law. They know they will get away with it. Sloppy police investigation and snail-paced trial will ensure that justice will never see the light of the day.
Need for 24×7 courts
In May, 2014, former Chief Justice of India, Justice RM Lodha, proposed to make Indian judiciary work throughout the year (instead of the present system of having long vacations, especially in the higher courts) in order to reduce pendency of cases in Indian courts.
However, as per this proposal there is not going to be any increase in the number of working days or working hours of any of the judges and it only meant that different judges would be going on vacation during different periods of the year as per their choice. But, the Bar Council of India rejected this proposal mainly because it would have inconvenienced the advocates who would have to work throughout the year.
Others propose fast-track courts depending on the merit of the cases. The startling number of pending cases means that if one is to sincerely consider resolving each on these lawsuits, they will all have to be fast-tracked.
Why on earth can’t we have 24-hour courts in India? If the media, IT firms and BPO sector and other essential services can work 24×7, why can’t our courts do the same? If brought into practice, this will not only be able to dispense with the pending cases swiftly, but also generate employment in legal and judicial services.
Even after 68 years of independence, the justice system in India has failed to deliver. An efficient judiciary is crucial for faith to be reposed in the system and prevent miscarriage of justice.
The urgency of the situation leads us to the only pragmatic solution: 24×7 courts.
(The author is a Gulf-based journalist)