At a time when the independence of the judiciary is being restored with little or no political interference, the Judicial Services Commission JSC has issued effective and practical directives to end the long standing crisis of the law’s delays.
For several decades the legal and judicial
processes have been plagued by a crisis where most cases drag on for years or sometimes even more than a decade. Many are the cases, specially land or testamentary issues, where the trial drags on month after month, year after year.
Eventually the lawyers get richer while the petitioners or the respondent end up poorer. So much so that the profession, as in the case of medicine, has become a big money making business. As a result we see the grave injustice where justice delayed becomes justice denied, the law to a large extent has become not just an ordinary ass but a rich person’s ass.
In some cases lawyers are known to take several cases at the same time and get a colleague to ask for another date while the clients have to pay fully for it. In many instances court officials are aware of what is happening but ignore it because the system is more important than the people.
In the directive issued last week the JSC has told District Courts they would be required to dispose of cases pending for more than 10 years within the next two years and Magistrates’ courts would have to dispose of cases pending for more than five years within one year.
The JSC directive, coming into effect from November 1, has set out guidelines to expedite cases in both courts. Accordingly, all cases pending for more than 10 years in District Courts and five years in Magistrates’ Courts should be given priority and completed. These cases, once taken up for hearing should be heard on a day-to-day basis with the recording of evidence of witnesses during that period, the circular states.
The JSC says the reason for the postponement of cases should be recorded in the courts log and mentioned in the daily report. If permission is given for written submissions, in addition to oral submissions or instead of oral submissions, the written submissions should be submitted in a specified period. No permission should be granted to make written submissions in open courts.
The JSC, chaired by Chief Justice K.Sripavan comprises Supreme Court Justices Chandra Ekanayake and W.P.G. Dep.
According to the JSC if a case is not completed due to an unavoidable reason, a report should be submitted to the JSC giving reasons for the delay and the JSC will provide an opportunity to discuss the reasons.
The directives say District Court judgments should be delivered within three months, after hearing of the case and Magistrate court judgments within one month. All DC Judges and Magistrates have been directed to complete the hearing of cases during their three-year term or before retiring from service. The JSC says the efficiency and performance of the judges in disposing of cases will be monitored and taken into consideration for their promotions and increments.
In another important directive the JSC has set annual targets in the number of cases to be completed. A District Judge is required to deliver 45 judgments a year and in the event if the Judge is also serving in a combined court, the number of judgments will be 20. A Magistrate should deliver 120 judgments a year and in the event of a combined court 70 judgments for criminal cases.
We congratulate the JSC for acting in a manner to make the legal and judicial process more people friendly and therefore more democratic. We hope the implementation process will be as tough as the directives. For as statesman and brilliant antislavery orator Frederick Douglass has said “where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.”