The high court is hearing cases filed in the 1980s. It is not unlikely that another decade could be spent before the cases of these undertrials languishing in jail are taken up. The Allahabad High Court tops the pendency charts even as it works steadily to reduce its backlog. But it is not the only one, with pendency afflicting the entire judicial system. Pendency rates are rapidly rising in some high courts like Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Karnataka. There are 5.6 million cases stuck in high courts across India, with 41% cases pending for five years or more, and 21% for 10 years or more. Vacancies on the bench, hearing of frivolous cases, litigants bypassing subordinate courts and endless continuances by lawyers are among the factors that result in cases persisting for years, even decades, on end. Ignorance of the law and lack of access to legal services means a large number of those charged being unable to seek bail, let alone get proper advice.
The apex court move is humane. But it is a band-aid that it has applied before. It is time for a systemic response that does away with a triage method. Justice should be fair and speedy. A slow-moving justice system institutionalises inequity by victimising those without resources.