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'It will take 466 years to clear all cases at Delhi High Court'
Published: February 13, 2009, 22:58
New Delhi: The High Court in New Delhi is so behind in its work that it could take up to 466 years to clear the enormous backlog, the court's chief justice said in a damning report that illustrates the decrepitude of India's judicial system.
The Delhi High Court races through each case in an average of four minutes and 55 seconds but still has tens of thousands of cases pending, including upward of 600 that are more than 20 years old, according to the report.
The problems of the Delhi High Court, which hears civil, criminal, and constitutional cases, is more the standard than the exception in India. The country's creaky judicial system has long been plagued by corruption, inefficiency and lack of accountability, often making the rule of law unattainable for all but the wealthy and the well-connected.
The United Nations Development Programme says some 20 million legal cases are pending in India.
"It's a completely collapsed system," said Prashant Bhushan, a well-known lawyer in New Delhi. "This country only lives under the illusion that there is a judicial system."
One reason for the delays is that there aren't enough sitting judges. India - a country of 1.1 billion people - has approximately 11 judges for every million people compared with roughly 110 per million in the United States. India's Justice Ministry last year called for an increase of 50 judges per million people by 2013, but it was unclear how the government would pay for such a massive overhaul.
The Delhi High Court, the state's top court, had 32 judges in 2007 and 2008 instead of the allotted 48, according to the chief justice's annual report, released last Tuesday.
The court had at least 629 civil cases and 17 criminal cases pending that were more than 20 years old as of March 2008. Although, that's an improvement from April 2007 when the court had 882 civil and 428 criminal cases pending that were that old.
Chief Justice A.P. Shah said in the report that "it would take the court approximately 466 years" to clear the pending 2,300 criminal appeals cases alone. Critics say another major problem is corruption, a plague throughout every layer of Indian government.
"Of course corruption is there," said J.S. Verma, a retired Supreme Court justice. "The people who man the courts and the court system come from the society" where corruption is commonplace.
Critics say other problems include the strict formalities that slow down every step of the legal process and are common across India's vast bureaucracy.
The Delhi High Court hears cases for five hours and 15 minutes a day, and is open for 213 working days a year, according to the report. Verma and others said the court could easily work longer hours.