Delay in Justice: Should it be Penalized?

Justice is the constant and perpetual will to allot to every man his due. 

-Domitus Ulpian

A good society requires fair access and administration of justice. It is the means by which all the injustices established in the society can be sanctioned and removed so as to ensure a better, safe, and peaceful society. Mr. Abraham Lincoln said that a democracy is of the people, by the people, for the people. By saying so, he distinctly directed that people are of utmost significance in a democracy and anything and everything is done solely for the benefit and well-being of the people. The same idea has been enshrined in our preamble by the words “We, the People of India” embedded in the very first line of the preamble which is considered to be the heart and soul of our constitution which is, in turn, the supreme law of the land.

So, the question that arises here is, whether the delay in giving justice to the people who are considered to be of utmost importance justified? What are the possible reasons for such delay, the harm that is inflicted through it and the most important question to be pondered upon that whether this delay should be penalized. Through this article, the author looks forward to dealing with all these questions and find a proper solution to it.

Delays in Court Proceedings

The judiciary is burdened with a plethora of cases that go on and on. Several years go by, the petitioner sometimes dies and the case is taken over by his legal heirs but justice still remains a far cry. Arguments have been advanced from both sides to justify this delay as well as to condemn this delay. In US v Well[1], it was held that whether the case is faced with delay or not and whether litigants are deprived of their fundamental rights depends on the circumstances of the case. This case, therefore, justified the delays and emphasized on the circumstances under which the delay took place. A contradicting view was opined by Justice Krishna Iyer in Babu Singh v State of UP[2] in which he remarked that “Our justice system even in grave cases, suffers from slow motion syndrome which is lethal to ‘fair trial’ whatever the ultimate decision.

Judiciary is the third pillar of democracy and bears the role of interpretation of the law. It is its duty to deliver justice to the victim and giving punishment to the culprit in order to ensure justice and peace in society. Sometimes this process costs huge time, money, and patience of the innocent. It was held by SC in P. Ramachandra Rao v State of Karnataka[3] that the root cause for delay in dispensation of justice in our country is a poor judge-population ratio. There are several other reasons also that can be afforded to such delays which can be enumerated as follows-

  1. Procedural Delays– Courts are bound by law to follow the lengthy procedures before arriving at a conclusion and giving a decree in that behalf. These lengthy procedures often lead to delay in delivery of justice but in turn, also guarantee that both sides were given reasonable opportunity to represent their case.
  2. Fair Decision- A judge is bestowed with an important responsibility of properly analyzing a case and giving judgment in favor of the innocent which often takes time. It is his duty to ensure that the innocent does not get punished owing to the speedy process. This often leads to a delay in the delivery of justice.
  3. Over-burdening number of cases- The judiciary is overburdened with a plethora of cases mostly due to poor judge-population ratio as stated in Ramachandra case mentioned above. Due to this, each case does not get its required time and justice is not delivered timely.
  4. Unnecessary Adjournments- It is often seen that lawyers stretch the case by taking unnecessary adjournments that are a matter of condemnation. But in spite of it, judges entertain these pleas of adjournments which are based on petty grounds. This leads to a delay in the grant of justice and sufferance of the victim.

Legal Provisions

The preamble which contains the basic ideas and objectives of the Constitution of India secures to all its citizen- Justice in social, economic, and political prospects. Speedy justice is a component of social justice since the community, as a whole, is concerned in the criminal being condignly and finally punished within a reasonable time and the innocent being absolved from the inordinate ordeal of criminal proceedings.[4] Accordingly, this social justice is secured through the various provisions of Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles of State Policy (DPSP) in our Constitution.

Article 21 of the Indian Constitution guarantees the right to life and personal liberty to all its citizens. The right to a speedy trial has not been specifically enumerated in the fundamental right but it is implicit in Article 21. The SC in Katar Singh v State of Punjab[5] has held that the right to a speedy trial is an essential part of the fundamental right to life and personal liberty. Hence every citizen has a right to fast redressal to justice and the same is guaranteed by the fundamental rights which are enforceable by filing a petition under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution.

The DPSP’s secures the aforementioned right under Article 39-A of the constitution which states that the state shall secure the operation of the legal system by promoting justice on the basis of equal opportunities and provide to its citizen free legal aid through suitable legislation or schemes so that no one is deprived of justice by reason of economic or other disabilities. In fact, the honorable SC also implemented Article 14(3) of ICCPR which determines that a criminal charge should b tried without undue delay.

The SC in 1979 gave a landmark judgment in this behalf through Justice P.N. Bhagwati that formed the basis of speedy trial. Bhagwati J. in Hussainara Khatoon v. State of Bihar[6] held that the State cannot avoid its constitutional obligation to provide speedy trial to the accused by pleading financial or administrative inability. The State is under a constitutional mandate to ensure speedy trial and whatever is necessary for this purpose has to be done by the State. It is also the constitutional obligation of this Court as the guardian of the fundamental rights of the people, as a sentinel on the qui vive, to enforce the fundamental right of the accused to a speedy trial by issuing the necessary directions to the State which may include the taking of positive action, such as augmenting and strengthening the investigative machinery, setting up new courts, building new courthouses, providing more staff and equipment to the courts, the appointment of additional judges and other measures calculated to ensure speedy trial.

Consequences of Delay

Justice is considered to be the means by which all the prevailing injustices are abolished and the law & order are re-established. But when this justice is delayed, it leads to mental anguish. Many innocents suffer mentally, physically, and financially, all owing to this inordinate delay. Lives of several innocent people are destroyed, their life becoming a never-ending run to the court, their entire salary draining out in the lawyer’s fees, their mind in a constant dilemma of whether they will be able to even get the justice and not to forget the criminal trials where the most difficult task is of facing social boycott when your near and dear ones are accused in false cases.

There are several under-trial prisoners who are charged with offenses which are bailable but who are still in jail presumably because no application for bail has been made on their behalf or being too poor they are unable to furnish bail.[7] As a consequence of this, they spend crucial years of their life in jail even if they are innocent. Their life, career, everything is destroyed owing to these delays in the justice delivery system. It will not be wrong to say that there are several instances where a case takes 7 to 20 years or even more before a final decision is released and till then, the situation of the innocent remains pitiable.

In criminal cases, where the accused is the actual culprit and manages to get bail, his criminal mind possesses a real danger to the life of the petitioner as well as other people of the society. As a result, fear is created in the minds of society which can only be removed by punishing the culprit. But where the justice is delayed for years, the whole concept and objective of delivery of justice are devastated. The people who are considered to be of utmost importance in democracy and preamble are subjected to unbearable suffering for years.


Delay in justice should be penalized and strict actions should be taken for undue delays caused due to lethal actions of the courts. Strict penalties should be charged from the courts in case they take more than a reasonable amount of time in deciding a case. In case, the courts take more than a reasonable amount of time, they should be asked to give in writing, the reasons for such delay. If the cause is genuine, they shall be given some extra time but otherwise, then in this situation, they should be asked to pay compensation. And this compensation should be awarded to the innocent who suffered as a result of such delay, whose entire life, career, money, reputation, time got destroyed due to such careless behavior resulting in inordinate delays in delivery of justice. This will serve as a lesson to all the others who cause a delay in justice owing to their careless or casual behavior in handling a case presented before them.

Some ways that can be taken into consideration to avoid such delays are as follows-

  • Unnecessary adjournments should be avoided and fines should be imposed on those who intentionally do not appear in court on prescribed dates or seek next dates on vague grounds.
  • While allotting the next dates for the case, emphasis should be placed on giving the nearest possible date so that the case can be disposed of steadily.
  • More and more emphasis should be placed on Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) like arbitration, mediation so that cases are solved quickly and the burden on the judiciary is reduced. The court may refer a case for settlement of dispute outside the court under Section 89 of CPC if there are elements of settlements that may be acceptable to the parties.
  • The judge-population ratio should be improved and a higher number of judges should be appointed to deal with the large population of the country and the ever-increasing number of cases.  


People are considered to be of utmost importance in democracy and have been given a similar superior status in the preamble to our constitution. But the same people suffer mentally, financially, emotionally, physically, and socially owing to the delay in delivery of justice which has been itself considered to be violative of fundamental rights and DPSPs under Article 21 and 39-A of the Constitution respectively.

There are several reasons which have been accorded to such delay including poor judge-population ratio, lengthy procedure, obligation to give a fair decision but none of them can be considered big enough to overshadow the right to a speedy trial guaranteed by the Constitution and affirmed by the Supreme Court in its landmark judgment of Hussainara Khatoon v State of Bihar.

There is a legal maxim which can be quoted as ‘Justice Delayed is Justice Denied‘. This is truly the actual scene because the judiciary takes years to decide a case, but by that time, the person becomes old or sometimes even dies, loses all his hopes and all his income and savings get drained-off in paying the lawyers’ fees and the court fees. In cases where the accused comes out to be innocent, his whole life is devastated because of the social stigma that he faced for such long years.

This delay which devastates a person’s life and weakens the faith of people in the judiciary should be penalized and compensation should be imposed on those who cause unnecessary delays without any reasonable cause. Unnecessary adjournments should be avoided; fines should be imposed for not appearing on prescribed dates and for seeking next dates on vague grounds. A committee should be formed to decide on the issue of poor judge-population ratio and suitable steps should be taken in that regard. Last but not the least, there is a need to shift towards modern ways of resolving disputes i.e. ADR (Alternative Dispute Resolution). The courts must use their power given under Section 89 of CPC to refer the cases to arbitration, mediation, conciliation, and Lok Adalats whenever possible for quick redressal to justice and for a reduction in the burden of courts which constitutes as one of the reasons for the delay injustice.

“Delay of justice is injustice”

-Walter Savage Landor

[1] 283 U.S. 102 (1931)

[2] 1978 AIR 527

[3] JT 2002 (4) SC 92

[4] Babu Singh v State of UP 1978 AIR 527

[5] 1994 SCC (3) 569

[6] 1979 AIR 1360, 1980 SCC (1) 81

[7] Hussainara Khatoon v. State of Bihar [1979 AIR 1369]

Sheersha Saxena from ICFAI University, Dehradun

Editor: Sanskriti Sood

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