The Patna High Court, at the of its inception, like any other judicial branch of the country, had a huge responsibility on its shoulders. This responsibility was certainly not limited to deciding disputes as a routine affair, but it had a great obligation to ensure better access to justice for the dwellers of one of the most downtrodden states of the country.
In their quest to ensure access to justice for its people, the Patna High Court and the Bihar Judiciary as a whole, were supposed to be inclusive and representative of a diverse class of citizens so as to devise efficient solutions to the many problems that riddle the state today.
The Need for Innovative Solutions to Bihar’s Problems
According to official data, Bihar has the lowest literacy rate in the country, highest number of malnourished children, second most backward in most health performance indicators and the highest in gender pay gap. Moreover, deadlocks including chronic poverty, social conflict, pervasive gender discrimination, low literacy rates, lack of employment opportunities and increasing rates of crime plague the residents of the state.
It ultimately resides with the judiciary of such a state to deliver justice and such an institution can choose to be anything but incompetent. It is impertinent for it to be inclusive, diverse, due representation of the vulnerable and affected class of citizens and increasingly progressive. It has to forge innovative solutions for such problems.
However, the judicial system in the state today is staggering under pressure. With a burgeoning backlog of cases, its issues often go unnoticed in the mainstream media.
Crisis in Need of Urgent Resolution
The Bihar State Judiciary today is grimly marred by challenges that are systemic as well as persistent. With a staggering backlog of 3.5 million pending cases, where 534,172 are civil and 3,027,739 are criminal cases, Bihar ranks at an unenviable third position amongst the states in the country in terms of backlog and pendency of cases.
The state ranks third amongst all the states with reference to total pending cases filed by women. Approximately, lakh cases have been pending for more than thirty years alone. It takes about 5 years before a case is disposed of at the Patna High Court, on an average.
The judicial infrastructure in Bihar is not just simply inadequate but in a state of crisis. Important judicial infrastructure, not limited to just courtrooms but also facilities for legal professionals and litigants, adequate alternative dispute resolution mechanisms for litigants, sufficient and efficient legal aid infrastructure, etc. is currently suffering in the State.
The working conditions for those at the district levels of judiciary remain far from satisfactory. The Patna High Court itself, in 2022, while dealing with a plea (Ramakant Sharma v. The State of Bihar & ors.) highlighting the apathy on the part of the State in providing basic infrastructure facilities for advocates practising in various courts within the State, lamented on the lack of basic amenities for lawyers, observed that they cannot be unmindful of the fact that lawyers are part and parcel of the justice dispensation mechanism and complete infrastructure is necessarily required to be in place for their use.
Lack of Representation of Women in the Bihar Judiciary
Women, although comprising 48% of the State’s population, are the most under-represented in the State’s Judiciary.
At present, the Patna High Court does not even have a single woman serving as a judge. Moreover, the High Court has had only 9 women judges thus far since its inception which is not even one percent of the total number of judges to have been appointed to the High Court.
Furthermore, at present, there is only one designated female Senior Advocate in the Patna High Court and in its 100 year long history, the High Court has had only 3 designated women Senior Advocates.
The Bihar State Bar Council has not had even a single woman as its Chairperson in its 60 year long history, no woman has ever been appointed to the post of Advocate General or Additional Advocate General and until June 2022, the share of women designated as panel lawyers in the legal aid clinics was a meagre 18.55%. These statistics reflect the stark gender disparity in the Bihar judiciary and are certainly shocking.
The result is that the intersectional problems and the systemic disparities in the State judiciary have created an atmosphere that discourages potential talents, particularly women, from enrolling in the legal profession in the State.
Reasons for the Crisis and Possible Solutions
There are several reasons behind this dismal show in the state, but its struggle with brain drain takes the crown in exacerbating this problem. Post-liberalization in 1991, the state witnessed a mass migration from the state to cities in search of better employment, education, and living standards. This phenomenon bolstered a cycle where literate competent individuals, particularly women, opt for judicial positions outside Bihar due to the lack of adequate facilities and opportunities within the state’s district judiciary.
The state is being stared with this crisis and demands urgent action. Improvements in infrastructure, increasing diversity and encouraging the youth to take up positions of law officers in the State is paramount.
Also, implementing policy changes such as offering competitive incentives, training and mentorship opportunities, can help bridge the gender disparities and sustain a conducive environment required to mitigate the problems plaguing the state judiciary.