Justice in a Pandemic: What does data tell us?

India has been hit hard by the second wave of pandemic affecting the lives of almost all the citizens. How did the first wave affect the law and justice system? Here are some insights from the datasets uploaded on Justice Hub:

  1. Supreme Court Caseload During COVID-19: This empirical study undertaken as part of JALDI initiative at the Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy compares the daily cause list of Supreme court from April 2019 and April 2020. The authors had some interesting observations to make e.g. a large portion of judicial time was being spent on Special Leave Petitions related to criminal matters which had increased in April 2020 compared to 2019. Similarly, almost 60% of diary cases were civil writ petitions. The Supreme Court has also been proactive during the period in taking suo motu cognisance of matters during lockdown. Number of cases assigned to a judge ranged from 102 to 2 cases which shows the disparity in case load distribution. Authors also raise some interesting questions such as  what were the actions taken by the state that may have led to spiking of civil writ petitions? Was the judiciary more effective when courts moved online?

  1. Correctional facilities in Assam : Based on the RTI responses received by Studio Nilema this report unveils the limited health infrastructure in correctional facilities in Assam making them particularly vulnerable in a national pandemic. Though correctional homes and prisons in Assam are better placed nationally in terms of prisoners to space ratio, the health infrastructure is of particular concern in these facilities. For example, in almost all the facilities visited by the Studio Nilema team found absence of female doctors, gynaecologists and female nurses etc. Lack of reserved spaces for women inmates in medical wards also meant that they were treated from their own enclosures within the prisons or taken to the civil hospital within the neighbourhood. This raises some pertinent questions related to the adequacy of healthcare infrastructure in prisons especially during the ongoing pandemic.

  1. Responding to Pandemic : Prisons and Overcrowding: The Supreme Court initiated efforts to decongest prisons as it recognised the challenges Indian prisons may face in stopping the COVID spread by directing to constitute High Powered Committees at state level to oversee the effort. This study conducted by Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) presents several insights on decongestion effort. It was seen that the overall occupancy rate of prisons in 22 States/UTs came down from 107.8% to 93.3% between 31st December 2019 and 30th June 2020, almost a third (27%) of prisons in these States/UTs were still overcrowded. What were some of the effective and ineffective practices taken by states to decongest? Are there patterns in the way prisoners were released as suggested by the Supreme Court?

What data should we as a community be tracking now in the second wave? What do you think the Justice Hub community can do together in this time of need? Do let us know in the comments below.

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