There has been no systemic gender or religious bias in the district and subordinate criminal courts across India, according to a study conducted by the US-based research organisation Development Data Lab stated.
The study examines India's lower courts' bias, whether judges deliver more favourable treatment to defendants who match their identities. It also examines whether defendants experience different outcomes depending on the judge's identity presiding over their case.
According to the study, the judges of different genders do not treat defendants differently according to their gender, nor do judges display favouritism based on religion.
"In both of these specifications, we find a robust null estimate of in-group bias among Indian judges," the study added.
Founded by Dartmouth College Professor Paul Novosad and Johns Hopkins SAIS Professor Sam Asher, the Development Data Lab works with governments, private firms, and social organisations to generate policy-relevant knowledge using data.
The study looked at a dataset of eight crore case records of all district and subordinate courts, from 2010 to 2018, available on the government's e-Court platform, covering over 7,000 district and subordinate trial courts and more than 80,000 judges.
This is the first such empirical study of judicial data in India. There has been no prior large-scale research on unequal legal treatment on either India's gender or religion dimension.
The study said that while women represent 48 per cent of the population, they constitute only 28 per cent of district court judges. Similarly, India's 200 million Muslims represent 14 per cent of the population but only 7 per cent of lower court judges.
The study further categorised judges and defendants according to gender and religion (Muslim and non-Muslim), to examine in-group bias or whether existing structural inequalities led to worse judicial outcomes for women and Muslims.
Case Outcome Specifications
The study found that male defendants did not get better conviction or acquittal outcomes when their cases were assigned to male judges. Similarly, women defendants did not get better results before women judges. Equally, the judicial outcomes of Muslims were virtually identical whether their cases were assigned to Muslim or non-Muslim judges.
The study stated that the judges do not provide substantially better outcomes for own-gender and own-religion defendants, on an average.
The study also tested the data against other case processes, including delay or change of judge in a pending case, and found similar results.
However, the lack of bias that the study found in Indian lower courts while deciding cases involving Muslims and women does not rule out judicial bias in its entirety.