The great Action Hero Sunny Deol won the Filmfare award and the National award for acting in a support role for the film titled Damini. Incidentally, the film was based on the central theme of Influentials getting away with their clout over the legal system despite committing heinous acts against women. The 1993 film ‘Damini’ broke many milestones. Among the genre of early ‘90s films, it was one of the few mainstream films that centered on a female lead. The movie had many strengths – Rajkumar Santosh’s direction, Meenakshi Seshadri as the protagonist, and nuanced performances from the cast … however, the highlight of the film remains a red-faced yet earnest Sunny Deol, standing tall in the court, berating the adjournment culture of the Indian legal system, calling out the pointless case-postponements which just leads to delay of justice. The ‘Tarikh Pe Tarikh’ dialogue is still legendary after 30 years. Nothing has changed in thirty years as far as the justice system in India is concerned. ‘Tarikh ’ is still a common reality for millions of people who lack any sort of influence or means to get heard and eventually get justice in a timely manner. So no wonder eyebrows are raised when proven offenders in lower courts get relief from higher courts through special hearings planned despite courts being an outdated concept of ‘vacations’. Proven terrorists get hearing at midnight based on recommendations of powerful individuals in society. Some chosen litigants get extended time so they can file appeals. They might have got so rightfully but cannot imagine poor sections of society would have received such privileges and considerations. When we need verdicts, we end up with lectures on governance. We have policy-making and the role of executives sometimes delivered amidst ‘tarikhs’. There cannot be any discussion or constructive criticism on any matters of the legal system be it the collegium system or the use of technology without involving the contempt of courts.

The state of under-trail incarceration in India is alarming and cries for fast-track judicial reforms.  In 2019, the capacity of prisons increased by 1.90% but the number of prisoners increased by 2.69%, as compared to 2018. This rate has been quite consistent over the following years.

The high occupancy rate indicates the problem of overcrowding in prisons. This is due to the large number of undertrial prisoners. India ranks 15 th  out of 217 countries on the basis of its undertrial population. Undertrial prisoners formed 70% of the total prison population in current years. There are various reasons for the burgeoning population of undertrial prisoners. Delay in conducting trials is one of the prime causes. The total number of undertrials is rising; however, the percentage of undertrials who spend less than one year in prison is declining, implying that more undertrials are being detained for longer than one year, due to delayed trials. This is despite the fact that accused persons have a ‘right’ to speedy investigation and trial under Article 21 of the Constitution.

This column earlier pointed out ways to make Judiciary more efficient. But then there was a brainwave while watching this famous sequence from the movie Damini. I was thinking about the way privatization has helped other sectors and opened avenues for the growth of the Indian economy. Can our legal system be privatized? In the US, the people who make the most money are the doctors and lawyers.

Let’s keep aside criminal justice for a moment as it impacts law and order situations, can our milords be relieved of civil matters? Let private courts decide on cases, after all, it’s a matter of dispute between two parties on civil issues. If the validity of judgments is as per actual law and if such courts are certified through a valid process based on the qualifications can we introduce new kinds of reforms and efficiency? Medical tourism has already materialized with better medical infrastructure and quality of service. Can there be legal tourism? Certain back office work and legal work is already being outsourced to Legal outscoring companies. But can there be courts set in with private equity to help share the load of courts? These companies should have maybe around 40 % of cases local while they cater to outsourced legal services for the international markets. They can pitch to corporates around the world to deliver legal verdicts as per required legal standards and civil codes in the respective countries. In the era of interconnected economies, the agreements can be signed under the jurisdictions of these certified courts and accepted by both parties. Implementation of verdict machinery will still be an issue.

Such matters can be escalated to respective courts in the countries. But a large number of cases can be resolved. Allied industries like hospitality, travel, entertainment, and housing can benefit from the way IT has resulted in similar growth with International executives getting involved in court matters. Another model is to create experienced paralegals, lawyers, and judges through certified training and experience. The Selection system will be more democratic and there would be corporate growth and incentives for top lawyers to accept Judicial positions which remain a bottleneck. There would be a time-bound approach to verdicts and appeals to help make the ‘Tarikh Pe Tarikh’ obsolete. The use of Technology can help increase efficiency. There should be a proper mechanism to transfer cases from these ‘certified’ courts to actual courts only upon set guidelines and non-compliance to the verdicts by any party involved in the verdict. Let the actual courts have ample time to get involved in policy matters, governance, and comments while many litigants will actually get justice. While doing so the courts can actually get some time to clear verdicts for under trials reducing incarcerated population under current criminal justice.

Bang comes in the characteristic shouting voice of Sunny Deol,  reverberating my TV room through the sound system  while breaking my nonsensical thought chain, saying ‘ Tarikh par tarikh milti rahi hai … lekin insaaf nahi mila my lord’.



Views expressed above are the author’s own.



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