Do SC, HCs judges vacation too much? Here’s the debate, and the facts of the situation
Context- Terming court vacations a “colonial legacy”, a parliamentary panel has recommended that High Court judges take turns going on vacation to tackle the mounting pendency of cases.
(Credits- Times of India)
“For reducing pendency, there is a need to have a multi-pronged strategy. However, at the same time, it is an undeniable fact that vacations in the judiciary are a ‘colonial legacy’ and…entire court going on vacation en masse causes deep inconvenience to the litigants,” the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice has said.
What is this report and what does it say?
- In its 133rd report, “on the subject of judicial processes and their reforms”, the parliamentary panel headed by BJP MP Sushil Kumar Modi, reiterated a suggestion made by former Chief Justice of India (CJI) R M Lodha on court vacations earlier.
- The demand for doing away with court vacations is primarily due to two factors, the report says: one, the “huge pendency of cases in our courts”, and two, the inconvenience faced by the litigants during court vacations.
- “A common man holds a perception that despite having such huge pendency of cases, their judges go on long vacations. Further, during the vacations, the litigants have to suffer a lot despite having a handful of vacation courts/ benches,” the report said.
- The report has recorded that the “Department of Justice has stated that court vacations particularly summer vacations spanning 7 weeks (10 weeks prior to 2013) are customary practice continuing from colonial days”, and that the “vacations of Supreme Court and High Courts need to be relooked in a holistic way vis-à-vis the present practice in the higher courts of other countries.
Is this the first time that the Centre has expressed such a view?
- The central government has brought up the issue of court vacations earlier too. On December 15, 2022, then Law Minister Kiren Rijiju criticised the judiciary for taking long vacations even as pending cases hit record levels every year.
- Responding to questions relating to pendency, Rijiju told Rajya Sabha that the problem cannot be resolved until a “new system” on the appointment of judges was put in place.
- He also said that “there is a feeling among people of India that the long vacation which the courts obtain is not very convenient for justice-seekers”, and that it is his “obligation and duty to convey the message or sense of this House to the judiciary”.
- The government is learned to have requested High Courts to fix the period of vacations to ensure that courts functioned for at least 222 working days. However, the parliamentary panel found that High Courts functioned for only 210 days on average.
And what did these two reports recommend?
- In 2009, the Law Commission, in its 230th report on ‘Reforms in the Judiciary – Some suggestions’, suggested that court vacations be cut down by 10-15 days at all levels of the judiciary to help cut the backlog of cases.
- Before that, in 2000, the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government appointed a “Committee on Reforms of Criminal Justice System” under Justice V S Malimath. The Malimath Committee suggested that the Supreme Court should work for 206 days, and the High Courts for 231 days every year.
For how long do Indian courts go on vacation currently?
- The Supreme Court has 193 working days a year for its judicial functioning, the High Courts function for approximately 210 days, and trial courts for 245 days.
- High Courts have the power to structure their calendars according to the service rules.
- Despite the vacations, however, the Supreme Court has many more working days compared to the highest courts in other countries. For instance, the United States Supreme Court sits for 79 days with no oral arguments scheduled for a few months in between. The apex courts in Australia, the United Kingdom, and Singapore sit for a total of 97, 189, and 145 days respectively.
What happens to important cases during court vacations?
- Generally, a few judges are available to hear urgent cases even when the court is in recess. “Vacation Benches” comprising two or three judges hear important cases that cannot wait. Cases such as bail, eviction, etc., often find precedence in listing before vacation benches.
Conclusion- Reducing Number of Vacations may help in reducing backlog of cases . However, other steps like augmenting manpower, infrastructure , improving investigation quality etc. also need to be looked into.
Syllabus- GS-2; Judiciary
Source- Indian Express