Don’t dither on judicial reforms-Economic Times–15.09.2017

It is welcome that four states and one Union territory — Haryana, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Kerala and Chandigarh — have reduced cases pending for over 10 years in the subordinate courts to near zero. Other states with greater pendency must follow suit.

The National Judicial Data Grid shows there are 2.54 crore cases pending in subordinate courts. About 9% have been pending for more than 10 years and 46.3% for less than two years. Even if states improve lower courts, disputes could end up with the higher judiciary. Besides the backlog, the system is simply unable to keep pace with new cases being instituted in our increasingly complex and diverse economy. The judicial and legal fraternity must develop the expertise to draw up new kinds of contracts.

What kind of a contract is needed, and what are the safeguards to be built in if, for example, a bank that takes over the assets of a failed power generation company wants to outsource the management and running of the plant to a state-owned power utility?
Or, consider the Smallest Saleable Patent-Practising Unit (SSPPU), a concept in intellectual property rights law, which calls for informed techno-economic determination by a judicial authority. Phone chip-making companies argue the entire phone should be deemed the SSPPU and, therefore, the royalty they are due should be linked to the value of the entire phone, while handset makers would dispute that and identify the SSPPU as a subset of components, of a smaller value. Are our lawyers and judges equipped to settle this dispute on rational grounds?

The country ranks poorly on enforcement of contracts in the World Bank’s Doing Business report. We need judicial reforms: more judges, streamlining procedures using information technology, to reduce delays and cut costs.


This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Economic Times.
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