November 09, 2005

Measuring & Monitoring Judicial Efficiency

The recent judgment of the H'ble Supreme Court of India that in principle nullified the action of the Bihar governor dissolving the Legislative assembly but in fact could not give action to its own order because of the delay in passing the same highlights a fundamental malaise in the Indian judicial system. It is a live example of the cliched term : Justice delayed is justice denied.

Millions of words have been said and written about the incredible latency in the system and the usual excuse trotted out is that there are too many cases to be tried and too few judges to try them. Why too few judges in a country of a billion people ? I will not try to answer that question here but shall propose a solution from a corporate management perspective.

First judges ( and that includes magistrates, tribunals etc ) must understand that in a democratic setup, they are government servants and so are liable to be answerable to the public who are paying their salaries. Obviously the accountability should be through the judicial heirarchy itself.

This means that a judge is personally liable to dispose of the case as soon as possible .. the onus is on him to expedite matters. He is paid to do a job and not only must he do it well, he must do it in time as well. He must understand that he is a service provider, on par with those who repair taps, paints houses, performs at a concert or performs any other service that is paid for. This may seem heretical to people who prefer to be addressed as mi'lords but the fact remains that he is paid to pass a judgment and it is only fair that he does it as soon as possible.

It may be argued that judges are not responsible for all delays. Litigants and their lawyers use devious methods to delay justice. This is true but it is also true that the judge has the best means at his disposal to take a call on the legitimacy of delay and enforce speed on the process. The system needs to make sure that each and every judge makes full use of these means to expedite the process.

In management jargon this means that the annual appraisal for a judge should be based on certain key performance indicators (KPI) that reflect his ability to expedite the process of law. From this perspective I suggest two KPIs
  • K1 : The number of judgments delivered per week, per month, per quarter and per year should be formally recorded
  • K2 : The total elapsed time for a case as measured by the number of days from the date of the first hearing to the date of the delivery of the judgment should be recorded and the average for all cases for which a judgment is delivered should be calculated. Again the average over a period of week, month, quarter and year should be calculated
With these two KPIs in place it would be very easy to determine which judge is doing a good job of pushing cases through the system and who is not. These KPIs should be used by the higher judiciary to evaluate the performance of those who are heirarchically junior and should play a role in their promotions and career promotions.

However speed should not be the only quality for a judge. His judgments should be 'good' and acceptable to the public who is paying for his services. Hence we need to have a second set of KPIs to measure this aspect. One way to determine this is to measure how many judgments are appealed against in a higher court and of these how many are upheld or overturned. Thus we have two more KPIs ..
  • K3 : Number of judgments that are appealed against. This is a measure of the public perception of fairness.
  • K4 : Out of the K3 that are appealed against, what fraction is overturned. If we have a high perception that are overturned, then the public perception is valid and can be considered as a fact.
Now that we have four KPIs it is tempting to come out with a mathematical formula that determines the efficacy of a judge but ofcourse that would be rather naive and simplistic. Appraisals are after all a matter of subjective debate but these four KPIs serve as good indicators to the extent that
  • K1 should be high
  • K2 should be low
  • K3 should be low
  • K4 should be low
People who understand the nuances of the judicial process can perhaps refine, refine and benchmark these measures but it may be good idea to start keeping records of this data for each and every judge in the country.

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