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Badly Stuck

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A father and son duo were acquitted of having Maoist links on Friday in Karnataka after spending nine years in jail by not some higher court after an appeal, but a preliminary sessions court. That is just one of the many lakhs of cases that languish in courts because of the deeply ingrained incompetence of the Indian Judicial System. (And to make matters worse, the courts have greatly expanded their brief by foraying into the executive and other domains.)

The reasons for this are primarily four. First, Parliament and the Government have not revamped the system as required by a modern, democracy in the manner that reform is being undertaken in other spheres. As a result, an alien and outdated colonial system continues to clog the wheels of justice. Secondly, the judges, themselves, are not trained very well in dealing with modern jurisprudence so, not willing to stick their necks out, take refuge by resorting to ‘established’ procedure. Everybody is aware that a large number of cases can be disposed of in a couple of weeks, maximum; some judges have proved this on occasion.

Third, there is a huge vested interest in the continuing pendency with everybody making big bucks out of it, particularly the lawyers. Efficiency, simply put, does not pay. There is a major lack of specialisation and case categorisation, which would otherwise spread the earnings more evenly and open up opportunities for younger, brighter legal minds. Hearing the arguments made even in the Supreme Court by lawyers who get paid in crores of rupees makes one truly wonder what’s going on. It seems that, for some reason, reputations matter.

The fourth primary reason is the failure of the governments’ prosecuting officials to put together cast iron cases based on objective and scientific evidence. The lack of a culture of plea bargaining means that even the near hopeless cases are taken to court. The officials are also afraid to use their own discretion or take responsibility by dismissing weak cases. The manner in which the NCB is floundering around in the Aryan Khan case shows that it is not used to so much scrutiny in normal cases, where usually the procedure is used as punishment. Unlike in some of the countries that have similar judicial systems, prosecuting officials are much lower in the hierarchy, hence less effective. The District Attorney in the US is much feared and carries considerable clout, while nobody knows who the equivalent is in the Indian system. Since, the last is the most in governments’ hands, this is where the reform should perhaps begin.