Justice Delivery System in India

Justice Delivery System in India

From time immemorial, India is known for its rich heritage, culture, and robust justice delivery system, developed on the fundamental principles of dharma. The roots of the Indian justice delivery system can be traced back to the Vedic period where our sacred Vedic text provides that every individual needs to perform his duty without disturbing the other. Our justice delivery system demonstrated significant growth during the British period, when newly codified laws were enacted and formed the basic structure of our current judicial system. Though India has the longest written constitution in the world, it is plagued with certain shortcomings, which must be removed.

In this article, we are going to discuss the meaning and growth of the justice delivery system in India. Further, we will examine the challenges faced by our current judicial system and the possible ways to redress the shortcomings.

What is the justice delivery system in India?

Before moving further, it is essential to understand the justice delivery system in our country. In simple words, it can be understood as a social and legal structure where the people’s grievances are redressed in accordance with settled principles of law. In this system, various institutions of the society are involved, such as parliament (which makes the law), the executive (which enforces the law), and the judiciary (which interprets the law and provides justice to the citizens). For an effective and efficient justice delivery system, it is necessary to have appropriate checks and balances between all the above-mentioned social institutions. The judiciary is the pillar of the justice delivery system comprising the Supreme Court, High Courts, lower courts, and other Tribunals.

Growth of Justice Delivery System in India

The growth of the justice delivery system in India is a long and complex one, spanning thousands of years and facing numerous changes over time. From ancient times to modern India, the justice delivery system has evolved through various religious, cultural, and colonial influences. Let’s discuss the evolution below-

  • Ancient Period

In the ancient period, justice was delivered by kings or monarchs who acted as judges and administered the justice delivery system. The king’s court was called the “royal court” or “Raja Sabha,” and it was responsible for dispensing justice. The judges were chosen for their impartiality and wisdom. They used to take into account various religious and cultural beliefs while making their decisions.

The Dharmashastras, written by the ancient Indian sages, were the primary source of law in ancient India. The Dharmashastras codified the social, religious, and moral laws of the time. These laws provided the framework for the justice delivery system in ancient India.

  • Medieval Period

During the medieval period, the justice delivery system was primarily administered by local village councils or Panchayats. The Panchayats were made up of five respected members of the village who were responsible for maintaining law and order in the village. They had the power to impose fines, award compensation, and even excommunicate individuals who broke the law.

The Mughal era saw the establishment of a centralized justice delivery system, with the emperor acting as the highest judicial authority. The Mughal emperors appointed Qazis, who were responsible for dispensing justice in civil and criminal matters. The Qazis were assisted by a council of experts in Islamic law, known as the Majlis-e-Ulema.

  • British Period

The British colonization of India had a significant impact on the justice delivery system of India. The British introduced their own legal system, which was primarily based on English common law. The British established courts and tribunals that were responsible for dispensing justice in civil and criminal matters.

In 1772, Warren Hastings established the Sadar Adalat or the Supreme Court of Judicature at Fort William in Calcutta. This court was responsible for dispensing justice in civil and criminal matters. In 1861, the Indian Penal Code was introduced, which provided a uniform criminal law for the entire country.

  • Post-independence Period or Current Judicial System in India

The Indian judicial structure is based on a hierarchical system that includes various courts at the federal, state, and district levels. The Constitution of India outlines the framework of the Indian judiciary, which is independent of the legislative and executive branches of government.

The highest court in the Indian judiciary is the Supreme Court of India, located in New Delhi. The Supreme Court has original jurisdiction in matters that involve disputes between the government of India and one or more states or between different states. It also has appellate jurisdiction over high courts and tribunals.

Below the Supreme Court, there are the high courts of each state, having jurisdiction over cases originating within their respective states. Each high court is headed by a Chief Justice and has several other judges. High courts have original jurisdiction in cases that involve issues of constitutional law, civil disputes, and criminal cases. They also have appellate jurisdiction over subordinate courts and tribunals in their respective states.

District courts are the lowest level of the Indian judiciary and are located in each district of every state. District courts have original jurisdiction over civil and criminal cases within their districts. These courts are presided over by a district judge, who is assisted by other judges and magistrates.

It is important to note that apart from these courts, there are also various tribunals in India that specialize in handling specific types of cases. For instance, the National Green Tribunal deals with environmental disputes, while the Central Administrative Tribunal handles disputes related to government employees.

Challenges before the Judicial System of India

The judicial system of India has been an integral part of our country’s democratic setup since independence. However, like any other system, it is facing several challenges which are hampering its effective functioning. The challenges are discussed below:

  1. Backlog of Cases

One of the most significant challenges faced by the Indian judicial system is the backlog of cases. According to the National Judicial Data Grid, as of March 2021, there were more than 44 million pending cases in the Indian courts. The backlog of cases is not only due to the high number of cases but also because of the slow pace of disposal of cases.

  1. Delay in the Delivery of Justice

Delay in the delivery of justice is another major challenge faced by the Indian judicial system. The long waiting period for trials and judgments is a significant cause of concern for litigants. Delays in the delivery of justice can also lead to a loss of faith in the system.

  1. Lack of Adequate Infrastructure: 

The Indian judicial system suffers from a severe lack of adequate infrastructure. This includes courtrooms, office space, and technology infrastructure. The lack of infrastructure leads to a delay in the disposal of cases and inefficiency in the system.

  1. Inadequate Number of Judges 

The Indian judicial system has a shortage of judges, which is a significant impediment to the quick disposal of cases. According to the Law Commission of India, there are only 19 judges for every million people in India. This is much lower than the global average of 41 judges per million people.

  1. The burden on Lower Courts: 

The burden on lower courts is a significant challenge faced by the Indian judicial system. Lower courts are responsible for disposing of the majority of cases, and they are often overburdened with work. This results in a delay in the disposal of cases and leads to a lack of faith in the system.

Steps to Improve the Judicial System in India

In recent years, to increase the efficiency of the judicial system in India, the government has taken several steps to address the challenges. The government has increased the number of judges and court staff, modernized legal procedures, and introduced alternative dispute resolution mechanisms such as mediation and arbitration. Further, the government has also implemented several initiatives aimed at improving access to justice for marginalized groups, including the establishment of legal aid clinics and mobile courts in remote areas. Moreover, access to justice has been strengthened after the introduction of virtual hearings at the apex court as well as at the lower courts. The transparency has been enhanced by commencing live streaming of the matters of national importance heard by the constitutional bench of the Supreme Court.

Classification of Offences


The history of the justice delivery system in India is a long and complex one, with various religious, cultural, and colonial influences. From ancient times to modern India, the justice delivery system has evolved to meet the needs of the time. India’s current justice delivery system is based on a robust framework that provides for an independent judiciary, a hierarchy of courts, and various measures to improve efficiency and effectiveness.

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