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Judicial Services Across Different States of India

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   27-Nov-2023 | Shounak Roy



The judicial system is a cornerstone of democracy in India, responsible for ensuring justice and upholding the rule of law. Comparing judicial services across different states provides valuable insights into the effectiveness and efficiency of justice delivery in the country. This comparison is crucial for identifying best practices, areas needing improvement, and fostering uniformity in justice administration.

India's judicial system is renowned for its complexity and depth, comprising various levels from local courts at the grassroots to the Supreme Court at the apex. Each state in India has its own judicial structure, operating under the broad framework of the Indian Constitution.

This blog aims to compare judicial services across various Indian states, focusing on aspects like case backlog, judicial infrastructure, appointments, and public perception. We will explore differences and similarities, seeking to understand how these impact the overall efficiency of the judicial system.

Historical Context

India's judicial system has a rich historical context, reflecting a blend of various legal traditions and significant evolution over time. Ancient India had its own legal traditions, which were influenced by various sources including religious texts like the Vedas and the Dharmashastras. With the arrival of Islamic rulers, elements of Islamic law were introduced. The British colonial period brought in the common law system, significantly reshaping India's legal landscape.

Following independence in 1947, India's judicial system underwent major restructuring. The Constitution of India, adopted in 1950, established a democratic framework and laid the foundation for a unified legal system across the country. The Constitution also provided for the formation of states and UTs, which led to the decentralisation of judicial services. This decentralisation allowed for judicial services to be adapted to regional needs while still adhering to a unified legal framework under the Constitution.

Judicial Structure in Indian States

The judicial structure in Indian states follows a three-tier system, comprising the Supreme Court at the national level, High Courts at the state level, and District Courts as the lower level. District Courts, also known as subordinate courts, are managed by District and Sessions Judges. The lower subordinate courts include Civil Courts and District Munsif Courts, headed by a Sub-Judge. The higher subordinate court, the Criminal Court, is led by a Chief Judicial/Metropolitan Magistrate at the top.

In addition to this structure, certain states have introduced unique features in their judicial functioning. One such example is the Lok Adalat system, also known as Village Courts or Nyaya Panchayat, which is an alternative dispute resolution mechanism. Originating from the 1888 Madras Village Court Act, this system has evolved over time. The Gujarat model of courts, which includes a judge and two assessors, has been prominent since the 1970s. Additionally, the 2008 Gram Nyayalayas Act envisioned the establishment of 5,000 mobile courts for judging petty civil/property and criminal cases, although it has not been fully implemented due to financial constraints and reluctance from various government officials. As of now, only 151 functional Gram Nyayalayas exist against the target of 5,000.

Comparative Analysis

  • Case Backlog and Efficiency: In India, states like Delhi and Maharashtra have a relatively better judge-to-population ratio, which helps in managing case backlogs more efficiently.
    • In contrast, states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar struggle with a high number of pending cases due to a lower judge-to-population ratio.
  • Judicial Infrastructure: There is a noticeable disparity in the judicial infrastructure within India. For example, high courts in metropolitan areas like Delhi and Mumbai have more advanced facilities, including better courtrooms and technological equipment, compared to district courts in rural or remote areas like those in Jharkhand or Chhattisgarh.
  • Digital Divide: The digital divide is evident in the judicial system of India. States like Karnataka and Telangana have court websites offering comprehensive online services, including e-filing and case status updates, while courts in some Northeastern states like Nagaland and Mizoram have less functional digital infrastructure.
  • Judicial Appointments and Training: The quality and efficiency of judges can vary significantly across states in India.
    • States like Kerala and Tamil Nadu are known for their rigorous judicial training programs, which contribute to a higher standard of judicial service, compared to some other states where such training programs might not be as advanced.
  • Access to Justice: The availability of legal aid varies across India. States like Maharashtra and Karnataka have a more structured and accessible legal aid system, ensuring better access to justice for underprivileged communities.
    • In contrast, states like Odisha and Jharkhand may not have as robust a legal aid system.
  • Innovations and Best Practices: Some states in India have been more proactive in adopting judicial reforms. For example, Delhi and Karnataka have made significant strides in digitising court processes through e-courts, which has improved case management and reduced delays.
    • Similarly, Gujarat and Maharashtra have effectively incorporated alternative dispute resolution mechanisms, like mediation and arbitration, to expedite dispute resolution.

Comparative Analysis of Judiciary Exams in India

Judiciary exams in India, known as the Judicial Services Examinations, are conducted by both the central and state governments to recruit candidates for various judicial positions. These exams vary significantly across different states in terms of their structure, syllabus, and difficulty level. Here's a comparative analysis:

Exam Structure and Pattern:

  • Delhi Judicial Services Examination: Conducted by the Delhi High Court, this exam has a three-stage process consisting of a Preliminary Exam (objective type), Mains Exam (written), and a Viva-Voce (interview).
  • Uttar Pradesh Judicial Service Examination: Organised by the Uttar Pradesh Public Service Commission, it also follows a three-stage process but with a distinct pattern and level of questions in the Mains Examination.

Syllabus and Subjects:

  • West Bengal Judicial Service Examination: This exam places a significant emphasis on procedural laws like the Code of Civil Procedure and the Code of Criminal Procedure.
  • Maharashtra Judicial Service Examination: Here exists a noticeable focus on local laws such as the Maharashtra Rent Control Act, alongside the central laws.

Eligibility Criteria:

  • Rajasthan Judicial Service Examination: Rajasthan has specific language requirements, demanding proficiency in Hindi written in Devnagri script and Rajasthani dialects.
  • Bihar Judicial Service Examination: Bihar has different age criteria and reservation policies, reflecting the state's demographic and policy priorities.

Difficulty Level:

  • The exams conducted by states like Delhi and Maharashtra are often considered more challenging due to the high competition and the level of questions, especially in their Mains and Interview stages.
  • In contrast, states with a higher number of vacancies like Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh might have a relatively moderate level of difficulty.

Selection Ratios and Competition:

  • Karnataka Judicial Service Examination: Known for its lower selection ratio due to the limited number of vacancies and high competition.
  • Haryana and Punjab Judicial Services: These exams see a large number of applicants from neighbouring states as well, making them highly competitive.

Local Laws and Languages:

  • Many states include questions on local laws and require proficiency in the state's official language. For instance, the Gujarat Judicial Service Examination includes questions on Gujarati language and state laws.

Interview Process:

  • The interview process in states like Tamil Nadu and Kerala is known for its emphasis on not just legal knowledge but also on the candidate’s understanding of social issues and general awareness.

Challenges Faced by Indian Judicial System

  • Infrastructure Shortcomings: A critical challenge is the inadequate physical infrastructure in district and subordinate courts, evident in the shortage of court halls, lawyers’ rooms, and residential units for judicial officers. This shortage directly impacts the judiciary's ability to handle cases efficiently.
    • The National Judicial Data Grid highlights a significant gap between the sanctioned strength of judges and the available infrastructure​​.
  • Funding Utilisation Issues: The Centrally Sponsored Scheme (CSS) for judicial infrastructure development has faced challenges in its implementation. A major issue is the non-utilisation of funds by states; for instance, in 2019-20, 91% of CSS funds remained unused.
    • This is partly due to states' failure to match the 40% grant requirement from the central government, resulting in unspent or lapsed funds.
    • Additionally, poor coordination among key departments and the diversion of funds to other projects have contributed to the ineffective use of allocated resources​​.
  • Transparency and Accountability Concerns: The CSS has been criticised for its low emphasis on transparency and accountability. There is a lack of public data on the utilisation of funds and the outcomes of the scheme, such as the number of courtrooms built. Monitoring mechanisms exist but their reports, if any, are not made public.
    • This lack of transparency complicates the assessment of the scheme's effectiveness and challenges its ability to address the infrastructural needs of the judiciary​​

Role of Technology and Future Trends

The role of technology in the Indian judiciary has been increasingly significant, especially in recent years, with several initiatives undertaken to digitise judicial processes. These efforts are shaping the future of judicial services in India, with some states leading in digital adoption and setting trends for others.

Government Initiatives in Digitalisation:

  • eCourts Integrated Mission Mode Project: Launched for the computerisation of district and subordinate courts, it aims to improve access to justice using technology.
    • This project, under the National eGovernance Plan, has been in implementation since 2007.
    • The third phase of the eCourts Project for four years (2023 onwards) aims to create a more affordable, accessible, cost-effective, predictable, reliable, and transparent judicial system.
      • This phase includes the development of Digital and Paperless Courts, expansion of Online Courts, and the use of emerging technologies such as Artificial Intelligence and Optical Character Recognition.
  • Budget for Digital Infrastructure: Between 2019 and 2022, a total of 458.82 crores were sanctioned for the development of digital infrastructure, with 456.88 crores released for this purpose​​.

Notable Steps by Courts:

  • Supreme Court's approval of matrimonial case hearings via video-conferencing and live-streaming of important cases.
  • The Gujarat High Court became the first to live stream its proceedings, followed by other High Courts​​.
  • Allahabad High Court's initiative to digitise around one crore case files.

Need for Digitization: Maintaining physical records poses challenges such as space requirements, preservation difficulties, and delays in cases due to missing or untraceable records​​.

Challenges Faced by eCourt Project:

  • Connectivity Issues: Especially in semi-urban and rural areas, the lack of reliable internet connectivity hinders the effective use of digital tools in legal processes​​.
  • Digital Literacy: Judges, court staff, and lawyers often lack familiarity with digital technology. The majority of the Indian population is also digitally untrained.
  • Privacy and Cybersecurity: As digitization increases, so do concerns about privacy and the security of sensitive legal data.
  • Automation and Support Services: The digital transformation of court help desks is lagging, with many inquiries still requiring human intervention. A lack of automation in routine tasks adds to the workload and prevents learning about advanced technological systems​​.

Suggestions

National Policy Development: Establishing a policy framework to encourage the  development of skilled help desks and a more effective e-courts system is essential​​.

Improving Infrastructure: There's a need to enhance the existing infrastructure to support a better-functioning, automated help desk service, which is crucial for the e-courts initiative​​.

Training Programs: Investing in workforce training to manage e-data is vital. This includes training in maintaining accurate records, e-filing, and handling other related digital activities​​.

Awareness Campaigns: Increasing public awareness of e-Courts through speeches and seminars can highlight the benefits and convenience of digital courts​​.

Conclusion

The comparison of judicial services across Indian states reveals significant disparities. Some states demonstrate efficiency and innovation, particularly in areas like digitalization and infrastructure development, while others face challenges such as case backlogs, inadequate resources, and limited digital literacy. These variations are influenced by socio-economic conditions, literacy rates, and cultural norms within each state.

To address these disparities, a concerted effort is needed to standardise and improve judicial services across India. This involves sharing best practices, enhancing training in digital literacy and technology usage, and investing in both physical and digital infrastructure.

The role of state-level judiciaries is pivotal in India's legal landscape. Their effective functioning is essential not only for upholding justice but also for maintaining public faith in the legal system.

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