Courts are not at all a happy place.
Either you come to court because someone filed a case against you, or you feel you have been wronged and you have to take recourse of the courts to redress your grievances.
People’s lives, people’s future and people’s pasts are all in display.
Probably, this is how (or why) Justice Frankfurter made an observation that mere speed is not the test of justice. Deliberate speed is, and deliberate speed takes time.
It takes time to identify with the persons who come to the courts, to step into their shoes and to feel them…
All over Manipur, there are around 50 courts spread over the nine judicial districts of Imphal East, Imphal West, Thoubal, Bishnupur, Senapati, Ukhrul, Tamenglong, Chandel and Churachandpur. The revenue districts of Jiribam, Noney, Kangpokpi, Tengnoupal, Pherzawl and Kamjong still comes under Imphal East, Tamenglong, Senapati, Chandel, Churachandpur and Ukhrul respectively as far as judicial administration is concerned. The most famous court complex remains the Cheirap Court Complex, housing the judicial courts of District and Sessions Judge Imphal West and East, Additional Sessions Judge (Fast Track Court) (NDPS), Chief Judicial Magistrate, Imphal West along with the office of the All Manipur Bar Association and the office of the District Public Prosecutor.
As per the records procured from National Judicial Data Grid (NJDG), there are 10,000 odd cases pending in the district courts of Manipur. Out of which, 6400 odd cases are civil and the remaining 3500 odd are criminal cases. Here, it is to be noted that this figure represents both the main cases as well as the miscellaneous cases which are an offshoot of the main cases. Needless to say, anyone can access this National Judicial Data Grid for any real time data (https://njdg.ecourts.gov.in/njdgnew/index.php)
For the purpose of this write-up however, emphasis will be primarily laid on cases of civil nature as the article concerns encouraging mediation as an effective means of resolving disputes in Manipur
Hence, the said data is further broken down into as follows-
Out of the 6400 civil cases, more than 3700 cases are main cases. Again, out of this 3700 main cases, around 3000 cases are related to monetary issues between two or more parties (money suits) and declaration of rights of the parties involved (e.g., declaration of ownership of immovable property or to some rights incidental thereto or declaration of some entitlements etc).
It can also be seen from the data available that more than fifty percent of the cases are less than one year old. This necessarily infers two things- firstly, the disposal rate in Manipur is relatively on the higher side and secondly, most of the cases thus instituted are at the early stages. The relevance of this second point will revisited later on as the article progresses.
As far as the stage of the case is concerned, it can be glimpsed from the NJDG that more than 2780 civil cases are at hearing stage. Thus, around 40 percent of the total civil cases pending in Manipur are at hearing stage. As the name suggest, hearing is the stage for hearing out the parties. In quite a stark contrast, only 795 civil cases are at the stage of evidence appreciation, i.e., examination of witnesses and documents or allied matters. In adversarial proceedings, the evidence stage can be termed as one of the most important stage as it will enable the courts to discharge its adjudicatory functions, on the basis of the available evidence before it. Thus, it can be inferred that majority of the civil cases are at hearing stage, which doesn’t really require the courts to dole out its adjudicatory functions.
If we go by district wise figures again, more than 2000 cases are pending at hearing stage in the twin districts of Imphal. The districts of Thoubal and Bishnupur make up for another 380 odd cases, while for the remaining districts, the numbers are either in single or double digits only. Of course, there are comparatively more cases in Imphal and the valley districts, than in the hill districts.
This figure can still be nitpicked to see how many cases are pending at each court at hearing stage. For example, more than 920 cases are pending at the hearing stage at the Court of Civil Judge Senior Division, Imphal West. This number is not surprising as this Court alone accounts for around 40 percent of the total civil cases pending in the whole of Manipur.
The above figures are representative, as the said data is procured from the real time data available at the National Judicial Data Grid.
In any case, a brief summary of the analysis is as follows-
Out of the 10,000 odd cases pending in the district courts of Manipur, there are around 6400 civil cases. Out of which, 3700 cases are main cases pending in the courts and more than half of them are at early stages. Further, the majority of these 3700 cases are money suits and declaratory suits. Again, more than 2785 cases are pending at hearing stage out of these 3700 odd cases.
Now, armed with this analysis, we can superimpose the importance of encouraging mediation as a means of resolving disputes in an effective and expeditious manner. Here, it needs to be reiterated that mere speed is not the test of justice. The speed has to be deliberate and wholesome, not hasty. Justice delayed is justice denied has now become more of an overused propagandist plank, without fully understanding the true import of its words. Everybody’s perspective on the idea of justice differs; my idea will differ from your idea and your idea will differ from somebody else, and so forth. Hence, raising battle cries and banners of destruction much before we have clarified what is the justice we seek, will only prove antithetical; and further risking undesired and unintended results in the long run also.
Mediation- A cursory glance:
Mediation is a voluntary process; wherein a neutral trained mediator facilitates resolving of disputes between the warring parties. It is an informal procedure where through a settlement process, the disputing parties arrives at a mutually acceptable agreement. The mediator does not impose the conditions or solutions, but only creates an environment conducive for the parties to resolve their disputes amicably. Mediation proceedings are not bound by the rules of procedure or evidence, and it is a completely confidential process. Whatever discussions, deliberations or disclosures made by the parties in the proceedings are fully confidential and they will not form records of the case in the court, in case of failure of the mediation proceedings. Another key difference is that in mediation, parties play the pivotal roles in resolving their own disputes, and there will be no role of the judge as an adjudicator of their disputes. The parties are free to frame their own terms and conditions of their settlement or agreement reached.
Recognizing the importance of mediation, the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India had set up the Mediation and Conciliation Project Committee (MCPC) way back in 2005, and accordingly, they had initiated a court integrated mediation process which has proved quite successful. The pending cases in courts are identified by the courts, and with the consent of the parties, they are being sent to mediation proceedings.
As to the questions of who are the mediators, how are they appointed and the venue of mediation, what cases can be referred and the whole procedure of mediation in general, they will be explained in the context of Manipur.
Presently, Manipur has a total of 41 judges and 21 advocates who are trained mediators. The trained mediators have been so empanelled after they had undergone the necessary training modules of the MCPC. The Manipur State Legal Services Authority is the authority looking after the mediation and other Alternative Disputes Redressal mechanisms in Manipur. The Member Secretary, MASLSA is presently the coordinator of the mediation activities in Manipur.
The process for initiating the mediation proceedings for pending court cases is as follows-
The Courts will identify the cases before it which may be sent for mediation. Here, the sole parameter is whether there exist elements of settlement in the dispute of the parties. It is normally assessed after both the parties have submitted their pleadings in the Court. Other general criteria may be – when the case is at its early stages before issues have been framed and evidence stage is yet to be reached, or cases which have been fixed for hearing of the parties only, with no real adjudicatory functions required from the courts. The Court will then apprise the parties of the availability of the mediation process along with the advantages of it. Accordingly, with their consent, the case will be referred for mediation and an order to that effect will be sent to the office of the Member Secretary, Manipur SLSA, with a direction to the parties to appear before this office. Then, the parties will be given the option to appoint the mediator out of the panel of trained mediators, and a date will be fixed for mediation proceedings as agreed between the parties and the mediator. Here, it is worth noting that no expenses will be borne by the parties, as to the cost of mediation or the fees of mediator. It is completely free as of now in Manipur. As a part of encouraging mediation, the whole expenses are being borne by the state.
For the twin districts of Imphal, mediation is being carried out in the ADR Centre (Building) in the Lamphel Court Complex, which also houses of the office of the MASLSA. Five new ADR centres have also been established in the districts of Bishnupur, Thoubal, Senapati, Churachandpur and Ukhrul, which will be inaugurated in the month of November, 2020. For the remaining districts, mediation are still conducted in the chamber of the judges or at such space as may be arranged.
As far as statistical data is concerned, only 28 cases were referred for mediation in the year 2017-18. Now, in the successive two years, 131 and 199 cases have been referred for mediation. The success rate of cases being settled through mediation is also increasing steadily. However, due to the covid pandemic, mediation proceedings have suffered a setback this year and more than 160 cases are pending still for mediation proceeding. No new case was also referred from the courts between the months of March and September, 2020. To ease this though, Manipur SLSA has started providing facilities for online mediation. An online 5 days refresher course on mediation for the 21 trained advocate mediators was also conducted by the trainers from MCPC with special emphasis on online mediation. It is hoped that with the inauguration of the 5 new ADR centres along with the facilities of online mediation, more people will be opting mediation as the means of resolving their disputes in a speedy (deliberate speed that is), effective and inexpensive manner.
Some issues, which unfortunately still needs to be highlighted are as follows-
- Adequate and proper staff for looking after the mediation activities
- Lack of awareness amongst the general public about the mediation proceedings.
- Out of the total 3700 civil cases pending in the courts of Manipur, only 199 cases are pending for mediation. Even though a vast majority of the 3700 cases seem to be ripe for mediation proceedings from the data available.
- Negligible cases are referred for mediation in other districts, leaving the twin districts of Imphal.
- If emphasis is to be laid on online mediation, uninterrupted internet connectivity is the first requisite. In any case, internet connectivity will remain the first and foremost requisite for the paradigm shift to e-judiciary.
As far as awareness regarding mediation is concerned, MASLSA has initiated the process of opening dedicated mediation centres. The Legal Aid Clinic at Cheirap Court Complex has been turned into a dedicated mediation centre to cater to the general public and also to encourage mediation at the same time. Approval has also been given to identify institutions to establish dedicated mediation centres.
Finally, it goes without saying that in pre-colonial Manipur, The Cheirap was the highest court of the land. It wielded both original and appellate jurisdiction. There were also ecclesiastical courts and courts for women (Pachas). However, the most important court can be considered to be the village courts, which was constituted at the village level, consisting of the village headman and other elders of the village.
Here, it is worth noting that the village courts were not adversarial in nature, and were actively engaged in settling the disputes amongst the villagers. They followed more of the principle of amicable settlement of disputes as far as possible. The more serious cases, though, were left to be handled by the Cheirap. The still somewhat accepted system of resolving local or leikai disputes by the leikai clubs are a bearing of the old times.
Thus, what we need is probably a walk in the history, to re-invigorate traditional mechanisms, infused it with modern technologies, so that the identified fault lines can be intervened at the opportune time.
“The wheels need not be re-invented every time. We may just need to push it a little harder”
The writer is Deputy Member Secretary Manipur State Legal Services Authority