Indian Judiciary: An Analysis of The Cyclic Syndrome of Delay, Arrears, and Pendency

Author: Nandini Srivastava

3rd Year B.A. LL.B (Hons.)
Manipal University, Jaipur

Judiciary is a co – branch of the Indian democracy like legislature and executive. Its role is not limited to only resolving disputes between the conflicting parties but also to ensure that rights and liberties mentioned in the Constitution of India are available to the people. Our country can enact endless legal frameworks to curb the evils present in society but it will all be futile if the law governing body does not administer its work. Justice can only be administered if the cases are decided on merit, trials are completed within a reasonable time frame and resources of the country are adequately utilised.

The term ‘delay’, ‘pendencach of the words is different. The 245th Law Commission Report states delay as “a case that has been in the court/ judicial system for longer than the normal time that it should take for a case of that time to be disposed of”, arrears (systematic delay) is when cases continue for a long period due to valid reasons and pendency refers to “all cases instituted but not disposed of, regardless of when the case was instituted”. No legal provision in India explicitly guarantees the Right to Speedy Trial but the Supreme Court in the case of Hussainara v. Home Secretary, Bihar[1]stated that it is implicit in Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, 1949 which states “No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to the procedure established by law”.

“Justice delayed is justice denied”, a very common legal maxim excessively used in our country about the judicial process. No one can disagree with the fact that delayed judicial proceedings are quite painful in both civil as well as criminal cases yet it is viable to realise that it is more distressing in criminal matters. The situation worsens in cases of undertrials. As per Amnesty International, around 2.8 lakh prisoners in India are undertrials. The number is far higher than any other democracy in the world. Under trials and their families face many implications. Their freedom to move freely is restricted, the family faces financial constraints if the accused is the sole bread earner and mental trauma because of uncertainty. It is like a sword is hanging over their head constantly. Victims also get adversely affected due to delays. They find it very difficult to move on with their life as court proceedings repeatedly remind them of the incident. The process is also financially exhausting and so long, draining and tiresome process affects the will of the victim to seek justice. Due to the passage of time, justice also becomes handicapped as at times, the evidence loses its essence, witnesses die or get relocated and victims are not able to remember the incident with such precision. This all derogates the essence of our judicial structure. This has also pushed people to resort to non- judicial means to get justice. A common example of this is the encounter of four people who were accused of the famous Hyderabad rape and murder case. This encounter by the Telangana Police was celebrated all over the country. The reasons that can be attributed to this delay ary’, and ‘arrears’ is often used interchangeably about a speedy trial but it is vital to understand ee as follows:

  • Non – availability of judges
  • Excessive adjournments
  • Inefficient investigation
  • Change of statement by witnesses
  • Use of traditional methods to conduct court proceedings
  • Corrupt practices

Various measures could be taken to deal with the problem of delay like directing cases of non- criminal nature to be resolved at mediation and arbitration centres, using modern methods like online proceeding along with the traditional methods, permitting First Investigation Report (FIR) to be filed online, appointing more judges at the district level, setting up of more fast track courts and having an independent committee to handle cases related to women in each police station. The establishment of an independent committee will reduce the workload of police officers working in the police station which will allow them to do the investigation related to the case more diligently. 

Often many people confuse these reasons with the legal provisions of the country. Many people about the Nirbhaya case believed that rape convicts should not be given such vast options of legal remedies as they tend to misuse it. It is true that while the judgement of execution was pronounced in 2013 and execution could only be done on 20th March 2020 a lot of time has passed but the option to appeal from the District Court to High Court and from High Court to Supreme Court is essential. The opportunity to file for review, mercy, and curative is also necessary to ensure that the Indian judiciary can stand strong on its belief of “it is better a hundred guilty people should escape than one innocent person should suffer”. The court to determine whether it is a systematic delay or not has to take into consideration the prevalent conditions, circumstances, workload of the court, nature of the offence, and the number of accused and witness concerned.

Pending cases are another issue of the judiciary. Around 60, 000 and 42 lakh cases are pending in Supreme Court and different High Court respectively. District and Subordinate Courts have around 2.7 crores pending cases.[2]

Our country neither wants the situation of “Justice delayed is justice denied” nor of “Justice hurried is justice buried”.  The citizens of our country want a system that incorporates all the facts, evidence, and circumstances and then attentively gives the judgement but, also, it does not want a system which due to its overlong, painstaking procedure transforms the justice seekers into victims of the justice system.



[1] Hussainara v. Home Secretary, Bihar  AIR 1979 SC 1369 : (1980) 1 SCC 98.

[2] Lawyers,

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