Are holiday or mobile courts an answer?

History suggests that ancient Greek courts had water clocks to limit the long-windedness of lawyers while the Romans depended on sand clocks. The US Supreme Court uses an electric signal to stop arguments after half an hour. There is no such rule here in India. But then, he long-windedness of lawyers is not the only stress a new visitor to our courts faces.

The cases continue for years and many a times the party which gets tired of the slog gives up. Is that justice? Certainly not. Justice delayed is not just denied but non-existent in such circumstances. A former law minister once noted that 90% of the country’s population has little access to legal help. The judge to population ratio is dismal – 13: 100,000. So what do we expect when petty cases take years, if not decades.

The Bills to reform the judiciary and tackle corruption in it are in a state of suspended animation. There is no such fast-moving queue when life and property of ordinary citizens are concerned.  There is no speeding up of decades-old land acquisition cases, though they might involve the livelihood of the poor and inarticulate farmers.

The mounting number of pending cases is matching the spiralling economic inflation and the sharp increase in  vacancies in the high courts. To put it in perspective, there are just about 30 million cases pending in various courts of the country.

Recently there have been bids to not only introduce fast track courts but also mediation centres. The latest entrant to         these are the mobile courts in Maharashtra and the holiday courts in Tamil Nadu.

Mobile Courts

Flagged off Tuesday (July 6), a ‘mobile court’ housed in a van along with a judge, lawyer,  social worker and law student —  is meant for settling of cases at the taluka level. The van will visit the talukas in Pune till July 31 as part of the ‘justice on wheels’ programme. According to tentative schedule, it will hold Lok Adalats between 10 am and 3.30 pm followed by seminars and awareness programmes on the activities of the Maharashtra State Legal Services Authority. The drive is meant to increase awareness about the Domestic Violence Act, and Pre-Conception Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prevention) Act, among others.

Weekend (Holiday) Courts

Keeping in mind the difficulties faced by working couples fighting divorce or child custody battles in family courts, the Madras High Court has announced that “holiday courts” will function in the city from July 10. Counselling for employed couples can be done leisurely on holidays, and there would not be any unnecessary adjournments. And if all goes well, such courts will not just work on Sundays but may also be introduced country-wide.
Up to June-end 1,420 divorce cases had been filed in Chennai alone this year.  In addition, there were 506 divorce pleas on mutual consent, 354 applications for restitution of conjugal rights, 53 child custody cases and 281 petitions for maintenance. A brainchild of Chief Justice of the Madras High Court M Yusuf Eqbal, these courts will address the needs of over 12,000 litigants, most of them employed, contesting divorce, child custody and maintenance cases in the three family courts in Chennai.
The move is likely to not only expedite the disposal of pending cases,  but also minimize adjournments on the ground of non-availability of leave on working days.
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