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New database of High Courts unearths a 57-year-old case

May,4,2015 One-fourth of the cases are pending at the admission stage.

Delay in Justice
Delay in Justice

Nearly a quarter of the cases pending in High Courts are still at the admission stage; in the Karnataka High Court alone, a Company Petition has been awaiting admission since 1985. Setting the record, however, is a case now with the Jharkhand High Court, that has been pending for 57 years.

This startling revelation is among the many insights into the functioning of High Courts across the country from an ambitious new database compiled by the Rule of Law Project of the Bangalore-based research organisation DAKSH, which was shared with The Hindu.

While the database aims ultimately to include all court data, it currently has information for 10 High Courts, and the data capture began from January this year.

Large differences of definition and data standards between High Courts meant that similar data was not always available for all of the 10 courts, the researchers said. The current database has so far captured 5.6 lakh cases and over 26 lakh hearings, which the researchers called a snapshot of the system — overall, an estimated 40 lakh cases are pending before High Courts.

“Two things have surprised us the most; first is the lack of uniformity in data maintenance. While people had alluded to this, the actual diversity between the different courts is unbelievable, given that the laws and remedies are uniform across the country. Second, even though pendency is known, putting number of days against each type of case shocks even the lawyers amongst us. Saying a case is pending for 1,500 days brings home a stark reality,” Harish Narasappa, co-founder of DAKSH, said.

Court processes contribute to pendency: researchers

The database has found that of the five High Courts for which the dates on which cases were filed were available — Gujarat, Jharkhand, Patna, Hyderabad and Karnataka — the majority of pending cases were less than two years old.

DAKSH researchers hope that their database of 10 high courts across the country will allow a better understanding of not just pendency, but also processes. “Unless we manage to bring efficiency into the process, pendency will not change,” Harish Narasappa, co-founder of DAKSH said. The database ultimately hopes to contain all court data.

In Patna, Gujarat and Hyderabad, 10 per cent of cases were more than ten years old. The oldest pending case in Jharkhand dated back to January 1958, in Patna to May 1970, in Gujarat to December 1980, in Karnataka to January 1985 and in Hyderabad to July 1989.

No admission

Moreover, the numbers show that many pending cases are still at early stages of trial. The oldest case pending in Karnataka, for instance, is a Company Petition originally filed in Dharwad district in 1985 against a sugar factory. The case frequently appears before the High Court’s judges — it last appeared in February this year — but has not yet been even admitted.

Deliver Justice Now
Deliver Justice Now
In the five High Courts in which details on the current stage of the case were available, nearly a quarter of all cases were at the admissions stage. Nearly half of all pending cases in Hyderabad, and over a fifth in Gujarat and Patna were at the admissions stage.

Disposal rates

Among nine High Courts for which comparable data was available, Gujarat disposed of the maximum cases proportionate to the total cases in its system during the first quarter of this year, while Calcutta disposed the fewest.

However judge strength, holidays, and difficulty of cases can affect rate of disposal, the researchers said.

Last year, the Law Commission of India took note of the wildly varying methods of classification and data management used by different High Courts in the country. Chairperson Justice A P Shah told The Hindu that the Commission was working on a uniform method of data collection for the whole country, including the procedure for collection of data and data management.Hindu

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