Slow justice is certainly no justice
BY RAKESH BHATNAGAR IN DNA INDIAN
New Delhi: Chief justice of India KG Balakrishnan’s term will expire in May. Among other things, he will be remembered for heading a bench that kept a judgment reserved for more than two years, which is a record.
This delayed dispensation is bothering him, though. “Judges don’t get time. Everyday, 40 to 50 cases have to be read. Before March , I will finish all the cases and judgments will be delivered,’’ he told an interviewer. But the CJI has left open a discussion whether judgment delayed could also mean justice delayed, thus denied. If one goes by a Supreme Court (SC) judgment of 2001 by justices KT Thomas and RP Sethi, there is a legal mandate to not keep a matter hanging after arguments have been completed. A judgment must be pronounced within reasonable time after the end of hearing. In this case, by no stretch of imagination can two years or more be termed ‘reasonable time’.
The Sethi-Thomas judgment — the only case-law available on the issue — was about how the Patna high court (HC) was sitting on cases and delaying justice even after hearings had been completed months ago. What’s more, the HC was doing this even after it had scolded a lower court for slow dispensation. However, the matter went to SC, when a petitioner asked whether the Patna high court was exempt from the advice it had given the lower court? SC said it wasn’t.
By expanding the reasoning given by the Sethi-Thomas bench, it could be argued that SC can’t be left untouched from the guidelines issued for HC. The Sethi-Thomas bench also gave a solution to the problem. If a judgment isn’t pronounced within three months, any of the parties involved in a lawsuit can move the chief justice of the high court for early dispensation. If the judgment, for any reason, is not pronounced within six months, any of the parties can move an application before the chief justice seeking withdrawal of the case and giving it to another bench for fresh arguments.