Two stories came out of the sub-continent recently regarding India’s courts.
The first one, details just how many court cases are pending in India. It’s an astounding number. 32 million.
Even the 1,000 fast-track courts, many set-up after the horrific gang-rape of the 23-year-old student in Delhi in 2012 haven’t really impacted the court backlog. Fast track courts (FTCs) received a lot of press recently, as they are where a number of the sexual abuse and violence cases are tried. But they also hear cases about children, disabled and the elderly as well as caste based issues.
While they give the impression that Indian law enforcement and the criminal justice system are improving, even 1,000 specific courts barely alleviate the problem.
The usual culprits of government inefficiency apply in this case, as does a lack of political will manifested in budget allocations and India’s massive population. Plus, with prosecutors spread so thin, they lack the bandwidth to truly investigate cases as they should. Many are completely overwhelmed by the sheer volume of cases.
The second story, builds on the nature of the first and it’s about a recent Supreme Court ruling based on those 32 million cases.
According to the SC, anyone who is still in jail awaiting trial verdicts, longer than half what they would have received if they had actually been convicted, should be released.
Think about that for a second.
“In other words, if the maximum punishment for a crime is three years and a person who was arrested for committing that crime has been in jail under trial for one and a half years, the person should be released.”
It remains to be seen whether or not the SC ruling will work. For starters, Indian jails don’t keep computerized records, if they keep records at all. If people move jail locations during their sentences, usually no record exists of the total time they will have spent in jail.
Secondly, most prisoners and prosecutors don’t know enough about current laws and regulation. As usual its India’s poor who suffer the most, as they await sentencing for petty crimes.
Many problems plague India’s criminal justice system. These are just two of them. With the new government of Modi and and renewed emphasis on government efficiency, I’m curious to see if India is able to decrease the number of pending court cases during his time as Prime Minister.