Slow Indian court system serves delayed justice

TEXT OF STORY

Bill Radke: Some people in India are seething over a recent court ruling many say resulted in light sentences for Union Carbide executives convicted in the 1984 gas leak in Bhopal that killed as many as 15,000 people. Many Indians believe the long-awaited punishment says less about justice than about the slow pace of India's court system. Reporter Raymond Thibodeaux has more.


Raymond Thibodeaux: Most Indians are used to delayed justice, thanks to a colossal backlog of cases. A Delhi high court judge estimated it would take 466 years to catch up with the backlog in Delhi alone.

Prashant Bhushan (voice of interpreter): Since I am aware of the Indian judicial system, it doesn't surprise me at all. The Indian judicial system is very lethargic.

Prashant Bhushan is director for the Campaign for Judicial Accountability. He says 466 years is an exaggeration. But still, he says it would take a few decades. Bhushan says roughly half the cases are nullified every year as citizens, flustered by long waits for their day in court, give up on their lawsuits or die.

Bhushan (voice of interpreter): We have a judicial system in this country that exists on paper. In practice, not even 1 percent of the citizens of this country can ever hope to get justice through the system.

Bhushan says one of the biggest problems is there aren't enough judges. Hiring delays have led to a 25 percent vacancy rate for judges. But the country's court system has improved in recent years. That's according to Naushad Ahmad Khan. He heads India's Young Lawyers Association. What does he see as the biggest advance?

Naushad Ahmad Khan: Centralized computerization system. That has made the entire system more transparent.

He says a centralized database is steadily replacing India's centuries-old pen-and-ledger system of judicial record-keeping. A new government website will eventually link the country's courts and create a database to track judgments and status of cases. Now, instead of having to go to the courts and sort through dusty stacks of ledgers, Khan can track cases from his laptop. And as a spin-off benefit of the new system, he says younger, more tech-savvy lawyers have an edge.

Khan: Young lawyers are doing better than the old lawyers because of the information technology. The old lawyers, they are more prone to the old system of going through the books. But we can find it within a click of the button.

Still, despite the changes, both Bhushan and Khan agree that corruption is still a persistent glitch in the system, even down to the court clerks who sometimes take bribes to . . . misplace a file or two. They say problems like that can't be fixed by a click of the mouse.

In New Delhi, I'm Raymond Thibodeaux for Marketplace.

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