India’s judiciary and the slackening cog of trust

Contact Counsellor

India’s judiciary and the slackening cog of trust

Departures from substantive and procedural justice need deep scrutiny as the fallout could severely affect governance.

Judicial corruption

  • Aristotle: “It is in justice that the ordering of society is centred.”
    • Yet, a vast majority of countries have highly corrupt judiciaries.
  • Judicial corruption takes two forms:
    • Political interference in the judicial process by the legislative or executive branch, and
    • Bribery.
  • Judges who refuse to comply, political retaliation can be swift and harsh.
  • Bribery can occur throughout the chain of the judicial process: judges may accept bribes to delay or accelerate verdicts, accept or deny appeals, or simply to decide a case in a certain way.

A distinction

  • Distinction between substantive and procedural justice is helpful.
  • Substantive justice is associated with whether the statutes, case law and unwritten legal principles are morally justified , while procedural justice is associated with fair and impartial decision procedures.
  • Blatant violations of constitutional provisions: Citizenship (Amendment) Act (December 2019) provides citizenship to — except Muslims — Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jains, Parsis and Christians who came to India from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan on or before December 31, 2014.
  • Delay in delivery of justice: case of Lal Bihari.
    • He was officially declared dead in 1975, struggled to prove that he was alive and was finally declared alive in 1994 (Debroy, 2021).
  • Endemic corruption and increasing under-trial inmates with durations of three to five years point to failures of procedural justice and to some extent of substantive justice.

Under the different regimes

  • According to Transparency International (TI 2011), 45% of people who had come in contact with judiciary between July 2009 and July 2010 had paid a bribe to the judiciary.
  • Most common reason : to “speed things up”.
  • There were “fixed” rates for a quick divorce, bail, and other procedures (Banerjee, 2012).
  • Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) estimates that for every ₹2 in official court fees, at least ₹ 1,000 is spent in bribes in bringing a petition to the court.
  • Freedom in the World 2016 report for that there is high risk of corruption when dealing with India’s judiciary, especially at the lower court levels.
  • Bribes and irregular payments are often exchanged in return for favourable court decisions Allegations of corruption against High Court judges are prevalent.
  • Tis Hazari District Court Senior Civil Judge, was arrested in 2016 for allegedly accepting a bribe to rule in favour of a complainant in a case.
  • Such examples are indicative of corruption in the lower judiciary.

Case pendency

  • Accrding to National Judicial Data Grid, as of April 12, 2017, there are 24,186,566 pending cases in India’s district courts.
  • 2,317,448 (9.58%) have been pending for over 10 years, and 3,975,717 (16.44%) have been pending for between five and 10 years.
  • As of December 31, 2015, there were 4,432 vacancies in the posts of [subordinate court] judicial officers, representing about 22% of the sanctioned strength.
  • In High Courts, 42% of the sanctioned strength, were vacant as of June 2016.
  • Extreme centralisation of power in the Centre and violation of democratic values have disastrous consequences in terms of violent clashes, loss of lives, religious discord, assaults on academic freedom, and suppression and manipulation of mass media.


  • Trust in judiciary is positively related to the share of undertrials for three to five years under total prisoners, it is negatively related to the square of share of under-trials. However, the negative effect nearly offsets the positive effect.