Access to Justice—A Far Fetched Reality?
‘Justice delayed is justice denied’, this is one of the most heard phrases in a law student’s life. Right from the beginning of an advocate’s life, the importance of making sure that justice is served to the needy without delay is instilled. But on the practical level, the number of cases pending in our courts makes the life of litigants miserable. Most of the litigants have to spend around 5-6 years in order to get a verdict from the court. And if the verdict is not favorable, then again more time has to be spent for obtaining a judgement from the appellant courts. Not only time, but a huge amount of money is also being spent by the litigants as advocate fees. A very recent incident of this delay in serving justice is reflective in the case of Rajkumar abduction case, Rajkumar is a late Kannada actor, who was abducted by forest brigand Veerappan and his associates on 30th July 2000. This incident took place at Thoddakanjanur near Thalavadi in Erode district when Rajkumar was staying in his farmhouse. Veerappan released Rajkumar after 108 days. However, much before the judgment of this case, four people, including Veerappan were killed in a police encounter in 2004. Actor Rajkumar also passes away in 2006. On 25th September 2018, the sessions court of Gabichettipalayam in the Erode district of Tamil Nadu has acquitted nine people who were accused in the case. the court has acquitted them on the ground that the police had failed to prove their link and involvement in the abduction of the late actor Rajkumar. Let us discuss the Grama Nyayalayas act.
The judgment acquitting Veerappan was delivered nearly after 17 years when both the parties have died. What is the use of a favorable decision if the accused was wrongly framed and is no longer alive? Will the courts be able to rectify the shame the accused had to bear in his lifetime? The Grama Nyayalayas Act was passed in 2009 to set-up Magistrate’s court at the Panchayat level, with the object that Justice must be served to the doorsteps of the citizens and no citizen shall be deprived of access to justice based on their social, economic or any other disabilities.
Main Features of Grama Nyayalayas Act
Following are the advantages of setting up grama nyayalayas by virtue of Section 3 of the Grama Nyayalayas Act(hereinafter referred to as the ‘Act’):
- Ensures that every citizen of this country is equal before the law, and upholds the concept of equality envisaged under Article 14 of our constitution.
- Ensures Speedy Justice.
- Reduces the pressure on higher courts with respect to the number of cases.
- Saves time and money of litigants.
- Nyayadhikari, appointed by virtue of Section 5 of the Act, will be able to understand the people and their problems at the core level, as by virtue of Section 9 of the Act, he/she has to periodically visit the villages in his/her jurisdiction and conduct mobile courts and proceedings. Rather than a judge who has to infer the facts and situations from the counsels arguments and the testimony of witnesses, the Nyayadhikari would be able to absorb the scenario and behavior of the people by their interactions.
- The court fee in a Nyayalaya is Rs.100, which makes it affordable to the litigants.
- By virtue of Section 30 of the Act, any documents can be considered as evidence in a grama nyayalaya , whether or not they are recognized as evidence under the Indian Evidence Act,1872, which makes the proceedings in a nyayalaya more flexible.
- The criminal offences are tried summarily as per Section 19 of the Act, which saves time because of the absence of lengthy evidence recording.
- Conciliation proceedings as per Section 26 of the Act are the duty of the grama nyayalaya, which makes room for speedy settlement between parties.
- Plea Bargaining is available to the accused by virtue of Section 20 in criminal cases, thereby providing the accused a chance to reform their behavior and lead a normal life.
- It helps the citizens in rural areas to achieve justice without getting themselves involved in the hustle and bustle of the courts.
- The Act provides a time limit for disposing of appeals from the Grama Nyayalaya. Section 33 provides that the criminal appeals shall be disposed of by the Session court within 6 months, while Section 34 provides that the civil appeals shall be disposed of by the district Courts within a period of 6 months. This ensures that cases shall be finally settled within a short span of time when compared to ordinary proceedings.
Defects in the System of Grama Nyayalayas
- The primary defect has been in the implementation and set-up of nyayalayas. The target was to set-up 5000 nyayalayas in the country, but only 194 functional ones have been achieved until now. This lack of implementation is due to the ineffectiveness of State Governments, lack of judicial activism, financial constraints, and lack of qualified professionals to adorn the seat of Nyayadhikari.
- Another defect of this set-up is that the minor disputes which were settled among people in the rural areas through a group of elderly men will now enter the realm of the legal system.
- There had not been a detailed study on the effectiveness of the Grama Nyayalayas before its implementation, nor any strategic plan as to how this system would reduce the pending litigation rate in our country.
- The Nyayadhikari appointed is mostly existing First Class Judicial Magistrates, who are over-burdened with the extra duty in the Grama Nyayalayas.
- The Jurisdiction of the Nyayalayas is too vague, thereby creating confusion.
- The Parliamentary Standing Committee, in its report to Parliament, expressed that one of the reasons for the lack of implementation of the Gram Nyayalayas was the fund sharing issue between the Centre and the State Governments.
- There are no special qualifications for the Nyayadhikari of a Nyayalaya except that he/she should be qualified to be Magistrate of First Class. This creates narrowing down of people who could qualify for the position.
The Concept of Grama Nyayalayas is an affirmative one towards ensuring social justice. But what our country needs at this moment are implementation rather than new policies and institutions. The Judiciary and the Government must take steps to ensure that more Grama Nyayalayas are set-up and that this institution works effectively towards the goal for which it was formulated. Statistical analysis is must to reflect upon the effectiveness of the Grama Nyayalayas, which is lacking in our country. Only if the Nyayalayas works effectively can the citizens enjoy the benefit of equality before law and access to justice, two of the cardinal principles of our Constitution?
Harish Narasappa April 27 et al., The long, expensive road to justice, India Today , https://www.indiatoday.in/magazine/cover-story/story/20160509-judicial-system-judiciary-cji-law-cases-the-long-expensive-road-to-justice-828810-2016-04-27 (last visited Jul 10, 2020).
Abdul Karim Etc. vs. State of Karnataka & Others Etc
Kannada actor Rajkumar abduction case: TN court acquits nine accused | Chennai News – Times of India, , The Times of India , https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/chennai/kannada-actor-rajkumar-abduction-case-tn-court-acquits-nine-accused-as-police-fail-to-prove-their-role-in-kidnap-byveerappan/articleshow/65947385.cms (last visited Jul 10, 2020).
An Act to provide for the establishment of Gram Nyayalayas at the grass roots level for the purposes of providing access to justice to the citizens at their doorsteps and to ensure that opportunities for securing justice are not denied to any citizen by reason of social, economic or other disabilities and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.
For the purpose of exercising the jurisdiction and powers conferred on a Gram Nyayalaya by this Act, the State Government, after consultation with the High Court, may, by notification, establish one or more Gram Nyayalayas for every Panchayat at intermediate level or a group of contiguous Panchayats at intermediate level in a district or where there is no Panchayat at intermediate level in any State, for a group of contiguous Gram Panchayats.
Appointment of Nyayadhikari- The State Government shall in consultation with the Hugh Court, appoint a Nyaydhikari for every Gram Nyayalaya.
GRAM NYAYALAYA, , IAS Score , https://iasscore.in/topical-analysis/gram-nyayalaya- (last visited Jul 10, 2020).