COST OF LITIGATION: A Socio-Economic Concern

In India whenever there has been an imbalance of democratic setup the judiciary has resurrected the faith of people in a democracy.  Getting justice is important but what is equally important is the effortless route for accessing justice.  Today this route is witnessing several barriers, above all is the Legal cost incurred  for seeking justice. The cost for seeking justice is escalating day by day which is making justice inaccessible for the majority of the litigants who are not economically sound to bear the rising cost of litigation. The situation is certainly alarming and imperatively looks for immediate solutions one of them is the introduction Middle Income Group Legal Aid Society  by the Hon’ble Supreme Court apart from the other existing but not effective mechanism of providing cost efficient justice.  This Society would provide access to reputed advocates to litigants with reasonable fees who would otherwise charge a handsome amount for fighting cases in Supreme Court.

However, this is just one answer to the problem which has many facets. A successful attempt has been made and the problems have deeply understood by Daksh a civil Society organization which strives for measuring political and judicial performance. Daksh has conducted an ‘ access to justice survey in 2015’  which indented to understand the various aspect of administration of Justice. While the survey is applaudable what is shocking is the Numbers bought in to light. It is an extensive document and I will try to indicate some of the relevant aspect, primarily, related to Cost of litigation.

As per the survey, on an average criminal Litigants spends more than then the civil Litigants. While Civil litigants spend Rs 497 per day on average for court hearings the  Criminal litigants spend Rs 542 per day for court hearings. Getting specific to the type of cases, the amount spend in family and Service matter are more than in any other type of the cases. It was recorded that around Rs30,000 crore is spent as an average per annum legal cost.

Another Significant analysis was the estimation of the Opportunity cost of attending hearings (wages and work time lost). The survey point out that civil litigant incur a loss of ` 844 per day due to loss of pay and criminal Litigant incur a cost of ` 902 per day due to loss of pay. What is astonishing  was that Rs50,387 crore is the estimated business loss incurred  by the litigants which is shockingly 0.48% of the Indian GDP.

While some blame  judiciary  and vacancies of judicial posts, some allege that the unrestricted mechanism of charging fees by lawyers is the central cause for escalating cost. As per the recent report of Indian Express dated 22.03.2018 our president while addressing the students of National Law University Odisha called upon the emerging generation of lawyers to ponder over the defects in the legal system and rectify to ensure that a poor person has same access to law as a rich man. It was further reported that  the president commented on the existing legal system and said that “Our legal system has a reputation for being expensive and prone to delays,” he further said that the use and abuse of the instrument of adjournment which slows down proceedings also adds to the cost of obtaining justice for the litigant. He urged the future legal professionals to simplify legal rules and enhance legal literacy.

The raison d’etre behind a successful system of administration of justice is easy and smooth access to justice which seeks inputs of various concerned entities and its implementation in a manner which can resolve this chronic issue.The only suggestion which comes to my mind at this stage  which can act as diluter of litigation cost in the long run is our emphasis on legal literacy, by legal literacy I mean basic awareness of the rights and obligation of an individual and his understanding of basic court procedure. As a member of the bar I have felt that the litigants who have experienced some litigation incur less cost than the litigant who has entered into litigation for the first time. The only difference is the awareness of basic legal procedure which compel a litigant to pay for something which is infact available for no cost.

Author:

Syed Asif Iqbal
Advocate, High Court of Delhi
Practice in the field  of Contracts, Land acquisition, Consumer &  Arbitration matters
Also Co-founder, advok8.in; a technology and Artificial Intelligence driven company making legal profession easier and ensuring access to justice for all.

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