Chief Justice Dipak Misra has pressed the Supreme Court and high courts to expeditiously hear cases pending for more than five years and decide on appeals filed by people lodged in jails for a similar period.
SC sources told TOI that the CJI, as chief patron of the National Legal Services Authority, knows about the plight of poor people held in jails for years, and initiated a unique step that requires state legal services authorities to provide an advocate free of cost to poor jail inmates. The service will be for those in prison for more than five years and the advocates will argue appeals during priority hearings.
For this purpose, the CJI wrote a letter to the chief justices of HCs providing them with the guiding framework to deal with a large number of criminal appeals and jail appeals pending in these courts. He said “delay in disposal of these appeals raises a question about the efficacy of the administration of justice as a whole and [the] criminal justice system in particular”.
The CJI’s appeal to chief justices of HCs to hold court on Saturdays to hear appeals filed by those in jail for more than five years received an overwhelming response and except for three small high courts, all others have started holding Saturday special hearings to dispose of old criminal appeals. In just nine such sittings in the last two months, the HCs have decided nearly 1,000 cases, sources said.
The CJI is monitoring the early listing of old criminal cases and jail petitions by the HCs on a daily basis and has opened constant communication with these courts to fine-tune the mechanism, sources said. The implementation of the scheme for early hearing of criminal appeals has also been implemented in the SC, they said.
With smart management of case dockets and bunching of cases, besides the extra efforts put in by SC judges, pendency in the apex court has come down by 3,013 cases in just 60 days of Misra taking over as CJI, sources said. The pendency on September 1 was 58,272 cases, which came down to 55,259 on November 1.
There are 161 special leave (criminal) petitions, 2,058 criminal appeals, 2,481 special leave (civil) appeals and 7,854 civil appeals in the SC which are over five years old. These cases will get listed on a priority in the next few months, the sources said.
However, the huge pendency of 2.54 crore cases in trial courts continues to pull down the speed of disposal in subordinate courts, which have a sanctioned strength of nearly 22,000 judges but as many as 5,000 posts are vacant. Of the total pendency, 22.76 lakh cases have been pending for more than 10 years. The CJI will need to devise a plan of action for reducing the pendency of cases in trial courts to keep the litigants’ faith in getting speedy justice.