Judicial Efficiency: Beyond Working Hours And Vacations

Harsh Anand

25 May 2024 7:05 AM GMT

  • Judicial Efficiency: Beyond Working Hours And Vacations
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    The Supreme Court of India's summer vacation has sparked debate over the Judges' working hours and vacations which begins on May 20th and ends on July 8th. Sanjeev Sanyal's recent remark, who is the Principal Economic Advisor to the Prime Minister of India, about judges working for a few hours and then going on summer vacation was censured by Tushar Mehta, Solicitor General of India in the courtroom of Justices BR Gavai and Sandeep Mehta as “ill-informed” and a mere stunt to gain attention. In order to reach a conclusion, we need to first understand how the Apex Court works. In general, the bench is made up of two judges, unless a special bench is formed to decide in cases that require a higher bench of more than two judges to look into the matters. The courtroom hours of the judges begin at 10 a.m. and continue until all of the cases on the causelist are finished. Causelist is the list of cases which are listed before the particular bench and the number of cases each day depends on the causelist. A judge must sit and listen to arguments for up to 6 to 7 hours in total as a general practice as it requires almost this much time to entertain such a number of cases, including Miscellaneous matters, Regular matters, and Chamber matters. Miscellaneous matter pertains to cases which come before the bench for the first time for admission. The apex court in such matters forms an opinion whether it has to Issue notice to the other party in the matter so that further examination could be done to ascertain whether leave should be granted or not. Regular matters pertains to those cases wherein leave has been already granted and matters come up for exhaustive arguments from either side. Chamber matters relates to single judge bench Matters involving transfer petitions, administrative orders, etc.

    Judges leave for their residences when the Court has concluded and they have completed any administrative tasks or attended any meetings, if they may have occurred. One of the most important duties for judges, like those in other professions, is to begin preparing for the following working day's case hearings. Assuming the next day of hearings is a Miscellaneous day (3 days a week), a judge would typically receive 70 cases. Seventy cases. Preparing for 70 cases takes hours of sitting, listening to the case briefs, reviewing the order challenged and reading the case files, and discussing them with the law clerks.

    It takes hours of labour, even until late at night. The disposal of 70 lawsuits is only possible if the pleader exclusively disputes the merits of the case, instead of the details of the facts. Because the cases are expected to begin immediately with the arguments in the courtroom, the Judges are fully prepared with the facts and projectiles of the cases, which they have previously prepared the day before the hearing, sitting in the office till late at night. Because most cases before the Supreme Court are brought under a Special Leave Petition, statutory appeal, or Write Petition, they are either allowed for the next hearing or rejected depending on the merits of the case as determined by the law through the application of judicial mind by the judges. If they are admitted for further exhaustive hearing, they will be listed in the Regular matters and Chamber matters, the other 3 days of the week, as the case may require.

    Drafting Judgement is another job that requires hours of reading, going through the pages of the case files, bare acts, commentaries, and written arguments again and again, reading and reviewing the judgements and preparing them for the final pronouncement, making sure that there shall be no ambiguity for any questions of law, which demands extra time and effort. To ensure that the judgement is perfect when authoring it, judges review all prior judgements referenced in the case file as legal precedents, leaving no room for ambiguity and settling the subject once and for all. Judges must not only refer to the specific case for which they are making judgements, but also go through all of the judgements to settle the issues, reviewing the facts and precedents on which the pleader has based his arguments. And, because sitting in court for long hours and preparing for cases the day before leaves little time for drafting judgements, judges prefer to work on them on holidays and vacations.

    Despite judges having a few vacation days, like any other individual, it is not their vacations or working hours that solely account for the backlog of cases. Multiple factors have contributed to the delays in the legal system. Instead of scapegoating judges for working hours and vacations, it's time for the Supreme Court and policymakers to focus on the root cause of case delays, as highlighted by various Law Commission of India reports such as 14th Report on Reform of Judicial Administration, (September 1958), 125th Report on The Supreme Court – A Fresh Look (1988), 142nd Report on Concessional Treatment for Offenders who on Their initiative choose to Plead Guilty without any Bargaining (1991), 177th Report on Law Relating to Arrest (2001), 213th Report on Fast Track magisterial courts for dishonoured cheque cases (2008), 221st Report, Need for speedy justice- some suggestions (2009) etc. In its 229th Report, the commission suggested setting up a special Constitution bench in Delhi as well as additional legal divisions in the four areas of North, South, East, and West. The Commission also proposed that the Supreme Court's bench size be increased, and that the High Court and Supreme Court justices' retirement ages be raised to 65 and 70 years, respectively. Also, in its 177th report, where the Commission made observations regarding the creation of a separate investigation agency from the police involved in maintaining peace and order. Numerous law commission reports have often emphasised the causes of delay, which include shortage of judges and court staff in the judicial system, complexity of legal procedures, inadequate infrastructure, delay tactics by litigants, excessive government litigation etc.

    In conclusion, judges work just as hard as any other job. Unlike many others, even on their holiday. Also, vacation benches are constituted by the Court for the cases which require urgent listing such as bail, eviction etc. Tushar Mehta correctly described the statements as "ill-informed," and one should not comment on the job of judges of the highest court of the country, who work as hard as any other profession for the administration of justice. Instead, collaborative efforts between the Judiciary and Parliament are imperative for implementing reforms suggested in these reports. Furthermore, constructive deliberations between the Judiciary and Parliament are necessary to realise these recommendations and adapt to evolving demands promptly.

    Author - Harsh Anand, Student at University Of Lucknow. Views are personal.

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