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The pendency of cases in High Courts: Hitting the nail on the head

The pendency of cases in High Courts: Hitting the nail on the head

By Shobhit Mathur and Ram Prasath VR

The Supreme Court of India has recently constituted a panel of two senior advocates to scrutinise the pendency of cases in High Courts and outline specific recommendations. Unlike the past, this exercise stands out since the apex court wants specific redressal processes. There are about 45 lakh pending cases in the High Courts of India as of June 2016. In 2015-16 due to the slow  rate, there was a backlog of around 1.2 lakh cases. The sluggish pace of case disposal is attributed to the 44% vacancy in High Court judges.

However, this an aggregate view. Once we delve deeper and look at the statistics, we find that performances of different courts vary significantly. Hence, the court specific redressal approach is welcome since each High Court has a different number of pending cases and varied disposal rates.

Narrowing down the problem

Of the total 1.2 lakh backlog cases last year, 60% are civil writ petitions. These cases are the bulk of the problem. To attribute a quantifiable measure, we look at the disposal ratio which is is the ratio of the number of disposed civil writ petitions to instituted writ petitions in a year.

A number less than one means that fewer cases were disposed of compared to instituted cases in that year. This implies cases are backlogged and are added to the existing pendency. On the contrary, a disposal ratio of greater than one means that cases from the pending pile get disposed. The courts should aim at a disposal ratio greater than one to clear any pending cases.

The High Court wise disposal ratio of civil writ petitions is compared in the chart above. We see that only 7 out of the 24 High Courts have a disposal ratio greater than one. This means that the 17 other courts are adding to the pendency each year.

The solution to the issue of pendency

In the above analysis, we have been able to identify that civil writ petitions constitute the bulk of the pendency problem. Increasing judicial time by adding more judges and increasing working days of these courts are popularly suggested solutions. However, judicial resources are not easy to garner. There is already a 44% vacancy in High Courts which the Supreme Court is finding difficult to fill.

On an immediate basis, one can learn from the best practices followed in the seven most efficient courts and try to replicate them in the others. While we wait for additional judicial resources, peer learning will give us ideas to start solving the pendency problem with the available resources.


Shobhit Mathur is the Executive Director at Vision India Foundation, a non-profit policy research and training organisation based in New Delhi. Ram Prasath is a Research Intern with Vision India Foundation.

Featured Image Source: flickr

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