Report No. 245
10. See e.g., National Centre For State Courts, Model Time Standards For State Trial Court 3 (2011). These Model Standards for US State Trial Courts were approved in August 2011 by the (US) Conference of State Court Administrators (COSCA); (US) Conference of Chief Justices; American Bar Association House of Delegates (ABA); and, The (US) National Association for Court Management.
11. As far back as 1958, the 14th Report of Law Commission of India recognized that time lags between institution and disposal are necessary to complete the various stages of a Court based dispute resolution process, and that "the time so taken will depend on several factors, such as, the nature of the suit, the number of parties and witnesses, the competence of the pressing officers and so forth.
We must not forget that however similar the facts of two cases may be, every case is entitled to individual attention for its satisfactory disposal and any "mass production methods" or "assembly line techniques" in the disposal of cases would be utterly incompatible with a sound administration of justice."
However, the Commission also recognized that even with these caveats it would still be possible to determine "limits of time within which judicial proceedings of various classes should be normally brought to a conclusion in the Courts in which they are instituted." Based on this reasoning, the Commission provided a listing of time frames for different types of cases. Law Commission of India, 14th Report: Reform of Judicial Administration, vol. 1, p. 130 (1958).
This method was reiterated by the Law Commission in its 77th, 79th, and 230th Reports in 1979, 1979 and 2009, respectively. See Law Commission of India, 77th Report on Delay And Arrears In Trial Courts (1979); Law Commission of India, 79th Report on Delay and Arrears in High Courts and other Appellate Courts 9-10 (1979); Law Commission of India, 230th Report on Reforms in Judiciary Some Suggestions 1.61 (2009).
More recently, the Malimath Committee recommended the use of a 2 year time frame as the norm by which delay and arrears in the system should be measured. Ministry of Law, Government of India, Committee on Reforms of the Criminal Justice System (Malimath Committee p. 164 ¶ 13.3 (2003).
Time frames serve as performance benchmarks and provide guidance to Courts as well as other stakeholders on what constitutes the timely disposal of a case, and enable them to determine both whether an individual case is being processed in a timely manner; and whether a Court or system as a whole is providing timely justice.
Where time frames are not mandatory, they can be departed from, but only in limited circumstances, and often with the requirement of justification for why such departure from the time frame is necessary. This provides the flexibility needed to individualize case processing, while at the same time, taking care of the systemic concerns over timeliness.
Though general time frames of this type serve a useful benchmarking purpose, and are well suited as a time template for the run of the mill or average case, they require further fine tuning for cases which require less or more time. A standardized time frame is likely to be both over and under inclusive in determining the requirements of timely justice. The intention behind benchmarking performance is not to have all cases processed at the same time. Each case is different and might have different requirements.
Therefore, apart from general guidance there is a requirement for case-specific determination of what would amount to a timely disposal of the case. Case-specific time tables are generally adopted to meet this object of individualized timely justice. Such time tables are fixed by the judge hearing a particular dispute, generally at a scheduling hearing held towards the start of proceedings, so that all parties know who has to perform what activity, and by when.
Setting individualized time-tables allows the judge to mould the general time frame to suit the requirements of the individual case, while at the same time keeping in mind the needs of the overall case-load before the judge. The time table set at the beginning of the case proceedings then becomes the benchmark by which the timeliness of the proceedings is measured. Unforeseen events may de-rail the time-table, but the case, though delayed, would not be counted as an arrear, if the delay was warranted.
Case specific time-tables are used as timeliness standards, delay reduction methods, and yardsticks for measuring delays in the system in various jurisdictions around the world, including U.S.,12 U.K.,13 and Canada.14 In India the Supreme Court has also recently advocated the use of case-specific time tables for the timely disposal of cases, in the case of Ramrameshwari Devi v. Nirmala Devi., (2011) 8 SCC 249. As per the Court,
At the time of filing of the plaint, the trial Court should prepare complete schedule and fix dates for all the stages of the suit, right from filing of the written statement till pronouncement of judgment and the Courts should strictly adhere to the said dates and the said time table as far as possible. If any interlocutory application is filed then the same [can] be disposed of in between the said dates of hearings fixed in the said suit itself so that the date fixed for the main suit may not be disturbed.
12. Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Rule 16; American Bar Association, Standards Relating to Trial Courts (1992), ¶ 2.51 ("Case Management"),
13. Part 3 of the UK Criminal Procedure Rules, 2012 requires case specific management and scheduling by the judge in non-binding consultation with the parties. See also Woolf Committee Report on Civil Justice Reform (on requiring judges to establish and adhere to case specific timetables at the beginning of case proceedings).
14. See, e.g., Rule 77, Rules of Civil Procedure (Ontario). See generally Law Commission of India, Consultation Paper on Case Management,
As a staple part of systematic case management strategies, such timetables provide clear time frames for dispute resolution, define litigant expectations of timeliness, and thus impact the litigant experience of delay. They allow the judge flexibility to take into account the specific aspects of an individual case in framing a time schedule for that case. When accompanied by general time frame guidelines, the possibility of abuse of the power by setting long time frames can be avoided
When case-specific targets cannot be met because of systemic delays the system needs to take responsibility for allocating proper resources. Where the delay is because of the conduct of parties, the judge can provide sanctions for such behavior, including, dismissing the application, imposing costs, etc.
The Normative Assessment Approach requires state level studies to determine optimal time frames. High Courts are best placed to take into account state level concerns and circumstances in determining adequate time standards. Within the frame work of these time standards, individual Subordinate Court Judges can set time frames for individual cases.
For this system to work, a strong monitoring frame work would be required, whereby the timeliness of the caseload of individual judges can be supervised by High Courts. Annual reporting of disposal and timeliness data will also ensure public scrutiny and add another layer of accountability towards timeliness goals and standards.
As a beginning however, the Normative Assessment Approach requires extensive and sustained study over a period of time in order to provide a rational and scientific definition of delays and arrears. In the meantime, in the absence of such time frames, and for the purposes of the study of adequate judicial strength in India's Subordinate Judiciary, the Commission has examined the current patterns of institution, disposal and pendency, to address the question of whether more judicial resources are required (and where they should be targeted) in order to clear the current pendency and prevent the accumulation of backlog in the future.