Alfred Romann investigates the functioning of the judicial system and speaks to Ashok Desai, Soli Sorabjee and others about improvements that have been made and the challenges that lie ahead

The physical structure of the Supreme Court of India exemplifies the pomp that goes with the country’s top judicial institution. But the attractive domed building flanked by well-kept gardens belies the reality that India’s judiciary is struggling to keep pace with modern demands.

Walking through the dusty hallways of India’s district courts, high courts, and even the Supreme Court, one could easily imagine that Franz Kafka used these chambers as inspiration for his stories about the inaccessibility of justice. With an estimated 27 million cases pending, they are some of the most backlogged courts in the world. According to some estimates, it would take half a century to clear the backlog even if no new cases were filed.

Judges are overworked. Cases routinely drag on for years, decades, and even generations. When a decision is reached, enforcing it can be difficult and appeals can stretch any case into a legal limbo plagued by deferments which are frequently requested and generally granted.

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Judicial insights