A recent order of the apex court does bring distinct relief to an elderly, ailing litigant who was being harassed by regular adjournments of her case in a lower court pertaining to a property dispute.

But did the bench headed by Justice Madan B Lokur do enough to set a desired example? Imposing a fine on the party that kept seeking adjournments ~ in the hope that the woman would pass away and the dispute would “end” ~ was indeed a rare move, and a fine of Rs 10,000 for every subsequent adjournment would certainly pinch, yet the court stopped short of penalising the lower courts that granted the adjournments even while expressing dismay.

Taking note of the Punjab and Haryana High Court’s observation the petitioner’s age and health issues, the apex court merely limited itself to expressing “surprise” that the trial court is “liberally granting adjournments”. The common view would be that money changed hands to secure the adjournments, and those who were party to the shenanigans were getting off “Scot free”.

Maybe the legal system restricts the action that superior courts can take against suspect lower courts, but this loophole in the system requires drastic plugging. The Supreme Court and High Courts often issue orders that point to a miscarriage of justice, or worse, but the offending judge in the trial/lower courts is seldom subjected to disciplinary action ~ even in criminal cases where their verdicts were overturned.

Passing “strictures” is not punishment enough. Perhaps the Law Commission could examine this issue afresh and evolve an effective disciplinary regime. Denial of promotions is hardly a remedy. If policemen and civil servants can face action why should the lower judiciary be spared? The citizen does have a right to an answer.

It is a tragedy that the affairs of judiciary come under public focus only in high-profile matters such as elevation to the Supreme Court, and when there are disputes over where the appointing authority rests. Or, now, when judges hold press conferences and make politically-loaded observations. The mess in the lower courts is overlooked, inefficiency and corruption are rampant there, and the physical condition of the court complexes is pathetic.

Yet that is where the common man is dispensed justice ~ not in well-appointed halls populated with folk in black robes. Sheer numbers will confirm ~ despite the huge backlog in cases ~ that only a limited number of people have the financial resources to take their matters to the High Courts.

It is in the lower courts where the majority of people get their first glimpse of the “majesty of the law”. If only Law Ministers and Judges of the Supreme Court and High Court took greaterc ognisance of what was happening at the base of the pyramid, the bench headed by Justice Lokur would be shocked rather than “surprised” over “liberal adjournments”.