Criminal Justice System: Why the wheels of justice turn ever slower in India?

India’s criminal justice system has an acute backlog crisis. Data on pending investigations and trials published recently by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) shows that this crisis is becoming more severe with each passing year. According to the National Judicial Data Grid, one out of every four trials in courts has been pending for more than five years.

What is Pendency rate?

(1) The pendency rate with courts refers to the number of cases for which trial has not been completed, expressed as a share of total cases on trial during the year.
(2) In case of police, it(backlog) refers to the number of reported Indian Penal Code (IPC) crimes that have not yet been fully investigated.

What is Criminal Justice System?

(1) Criminal Justice refers to the agencies of government charged with enforcing law, adjudicating crime, and correcting criminal conduct.
(2) The objective of the Criminal Justice System is to prevent the occurrence of crime, punish the transgressors and the criminals and to maintain law and order in the society.

Components of the criminal judiciary system:


(1) Judiciary played a vital role in the implementation of the role of law.
(2) It is a co-equal branch of the government within India’s democratic and constitutional framework, along with the legislature and the executive.
(3) The most important duty of the court is to protect human rights and to give relief to the victim.
(4) The role of courts in society is not merely to adjudicate disputes between parties, but also to protect the rights and liberty of individuals.
(5) This is especially important in criminal matters, where an individual is pitted against the might of the State.
(6) Criminal Justice System of any country is the basis of establishing peace and tranquillity. It includes not only the judicial system but the investigating machinery as well.
(7) Criminal Justice is one of the critical areas of human rights where the legal system is tested on a continuous basis for preservation of peace and security in society.


(1) Article 246 of the constitution of the India places the police, courts, prison, reformatories, and public order.
(2) Police is being a front line of the criminal judiciary system, played a vital role in administration of the justice.


(1) In the recent past the supreme court of India has been vigilant against encroachments up on the rights of the prisoners.
(2) Article 21 held that its protection will be available for the safeguarding the fundamental rights of the prisoners and also for the effective prison reforms.
(3) Generally, the state has given the low priority to the prison administration.

Reasons for Pendency of cases:

(1) There are two reasons why the backlog with courts appears much higher as compared to that in case of police.
a) The pendency rate in case of the police can be affected by the tendency to report crime. (i.e. pendency rate is low in a state with low levels of trust in the police while the pendency rate may be high in a state with higher level of trust in the force as many more cases may be reported and registered in such a state).
b) Policemen may often send cases for trial without adequate investigation.
(2) In above situations, the pendency rate for the police force lowers while at the same time, the pendency rate for courts will rise.
(3) Also, the less number of police personnel and judges in India, as a proportion of its population explains the pendency rate.
(4) The lack of adequate personnel impedes the ability of the state to maintain law and order, and effectively administer justice giving a big challenge to Indian democracy and to the Indian economy.

Adverse Implication of Pendency cases:

Sixty percent of police arrests in India are reportedly either unnecessary or unjustified which results in the continued detention of accused persons and delayed justice.

(1) Extended pre-trial detention causes a mental trauma of incarceration and has a socio-economic impact on the accused person’s family.
(2) In many cases, an under trial prisoner may be the only earning member of the family, and the period for which he/she has been in prison, may have a lasting impact on their families.
(3) Apart from this, the pendency of a criminal case directly affects their liberty, free movement, and interaction in society, even if the accused is not in prison.
(4) Long trials can lead to evidence, especially eyewitness testimony, being forgotten or lost, which reduces the chance of conviction.
(5) Given that victims have a very limited role to play in the prosecution of a criminal case, and thus no control over its progress, delays in the conclusion of trial can deter victims from filing or pursuing the case diligently.
(6) Delays in the prosecution of criminal cases erodes faith in the rule of law and the criminal justice system which has serious implications for the legitimacy of the Judiciary.

Solution to tackle the problem of pendency:

(1) It is need of the hour to increase the strength of judges by reducing judicial vacancies.
(2) Diverting cases from the courts to alternate dispute resolution forums (such as mediation and Lok Adalats) and specialised tribunals can be beneficial.
(3) In the criminal justice sphere, the introduction of fast-track courts, jail-adalats and plea-bargaining were introduced to speed up the trial process. However, such methods should not lose focus on the quality of substantive justice rendered.

Role of Jurisdiction in Criminal Justice System:

(1) The rule of law cannot exist without an effective judicial system which is capable of enforcing rights in a timely manner.
(2) For the law to govern, the system through which it is administered must measure up adequately against the three dimensions of justice– substantive justice on merits, timeliness in the disposal of cases, and proportionate use of the State’s resources.

Impacts of inefficient Criminal Justice system:

(1) A nation’s legal system is integral to how its citizens look upon issues that concern the country in general and their individual lives in particular.
(2) The lack of an effective and fast criminal justice system reduces the investments in the country.
(3) The lack of state capacity often encourages people to vote for local strong-men, who bypass formal channels while settling disputes and enforcing contracts in their areas of influence. The preponderance of such leaders in the political system in turn create vested interests against police and judicial reforms.
(4) According to various surveys, over 45 per cent of Indians believe the judiciary is corrupt. Not only is corruption rampant in the lower courts, some have alleged that this corruption reaches the highest levels which is greatly damaging to the judicial system.
(5) However, one of the positive impact was the rise in the rate of convictions among trials that have been completed. The conviction rate, expressed as a percentage of trials completed, has increased six percentage points over the past 15 years to 47% in 2016.

Barriers in accessing justice:

Ineffective governance has created barriers in accessing justice which has resulted in granting certain sections of society only limited access to the full range of rights available.

There are three immediately barriers to access to Justice:

External factors:

(1) External factors such as monetary, cultural or geographical barriers exclude certain sections of society by preventing their access to courts.
(2) Geographical barriers or distances from courts can cause great difficulty to litigants, accused, witnesses, if they have to undertake day long trips to reach the courts.

Internal Factors:

(1) Internal factors such as delays or convoluted procedures, which affect everyone in the system, but disproportionately impact those with fewer resources.
(2) This raises the question of whether every individual, who approaches the legal system or is made to participate in it can expect an expeditious hearing, as well as a fair outcome?

Quality factors:

(1) Quality factors are caused by the uncertain and inconsistent application of law and arbitrary sentencing.
(2) This tends to have a disproportionate impact on the poor, whether in cases related to bail, or the death penalty.

Suggestion for Strong and independent judiciary:

Strong and independent judiciary Criminal Justice System: Why the wheels of justice turn ever slower in India?

(1) Measures should be introduced to promote transparency in proceedings to avoid bias.
(2) Lots of care needs to be exercised so that the anti-corruption measures taken do not undermine the independence of the judiciary.
(3) Appoint more judges. If the shortage of judges and courtroom facilities were suitably addressed, the logjam of cases could be cut down with the increase in efficiency.
(4) There should be an established mandatory pre-litigation process in place to discourage frivolous litigation to conserve the court’s time.
(5) An independent executive body could be set up solely to ensure the enforcement of judgments issued by the court, to improve faith in its effectiveness.
(6) Urgent reform is required to restore the moral authority of the Supreme Court.
(7) Transparency in court proceedings and appointments of Judges.
(8) Creation of a transparent, full-time independent judicial complaints commission to investigate complaints against judges.
(9) Judicial system should be accessible and effective for the poor.
(10) Use of information technology tools for better court/ time management.
(11) Setting up an All India Judicial Services.


From above all, we can say that country’s criminal justice mechanism suffers from lack of judiciary’s accountability and cooperation between its investigation and prosecution wings, allowing criminals go scot free.

The Supreme Court made it clear that speedy trial is the essence of criminal justice and the delay in trial by itself constituted the denial in justice.

Way Ahead:

India need to have a more effective and professional investigation system, better management of court procedures, reduction of court holidays and modernisation of police stations for having a fast and deterrent justice delivery system.

Key Facts:

(1) The vacancy rate among police officers across the country (civil and armed) was 22% in 2017. Uttar Pradesh has the highest vacancy rate.
(2) India’ has conviction rate of 21.2 per cent for cognisable offences. While USA and Japan, has conviction rate of over 98 per cent.

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Criminal Justice System: Why the wheels of justice turn ever slower in India?

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