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Supreme Court laments over ever-increasing workload; urges senior lawyers to discuss the issue

Apoorva Mandhani
11 July 2014 12:37 PM GMT
Supreme Court laments over ever-increasing workload; urges senior lawyers to discuss the issue
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A five-judge Constitution bench, headed by Justice R.M. Lodha, yesterday voiced their frustration with the “excessive” workload that it has to bear and the “uncontrollable” inflow of cases to be handled by it. It reportedly said, "Load of work, which is flowing in the highest judiciary, is uncontrolled and excessive. We are not finding ways and means to deal with the situation."

The bench was examining the validity of the death penalty awarded to three accused in the Dharmapuri bus burning incident of 2000 in which three college girls were killed.

The Chief Justice also stated that the restrictions on the highest judiciary have left it struggling with the enormous workload. He remarked, “In the U.S. Supreme Court, a judge has the freedom to select four law clerks of his/her choice. Here we do not even have the freedom to buy a pencil.”

Expressing his anguish with the present state of affairs, CJI asked, “Lawyers promise to finish their oral arguments in a case within half an hour. But then they request for another day, then another. In the U.S., lawyers have to stop the moment a red light is switched on in the courtroom. How many lawyers would agree to this here?”

Justice A.K. Sikri, echoed similar thoughts, adding that U.S. Supreme Court has worked towards severe reduction of pendency of cases. “That is only because they have been given the powers to sift the cases in their chambers and decide which ones are fit to be heard,” Justice Rohinton Nariman pitched in. “Our lawyers will not agree to this ... a system should be put in place,” the CJI said.

In the United States, Justice DiMango was able to close over 500 cases older than two years old in the Bronx courts, slashing the backlog of cases by 40% within six months. Not only was this attributed to her brash (‘take it or leave it’) style and forceful personality, but also a simple tactic of having open and straightforward discussions with defendants and explaining their options, which helped bring many to face reality.

CJI Lodha also expressed displeasure with the reaction of the legal fraternity towards his proposal for the judiciary to work 365 days a year. He hence urged senior lawyers to discuss the issue comprehensively and then come up with a solution to decrease the work load of the court.

CJI also spoke about his interaction with 12 Chief Justices of other countries and none of their apex courts handles such a heavy workload. He added that in some countries, the Supreme Court handles just 150 appeals in a year, while our Supreme Court handles 800-900 cases on Monday and Friday.

In the beginning of this year, soon after assuming the highly regarded post of the Chief Justice of India, Justice R.M. Lodha stunned the country with his revolutionary vision of a speedy and free justice delivery system, which works “365 days a year”. While addressing the legal fraternity in Jodhpur at the foundation-stone laying ceremony of a Bar Council of Rajasthan building, he drew parallels between the justice delivery system and other requisite services like the medical & health facilities. He added that, “Law and justice field has its dignity and it must be maintained in order to keep the trust of the people in judicial system”.

The Courts today are plagued with huge number of pending cases. In such a situation, this proposal seems like the ultimate refuge. However, the entire legal fraternity had expressed doubts over the implementation and practicality of the order and opposed the idea.

This clearly portrays that a better understanding of the proposal is necessary. Justice Lodha had explained TOI, “It is not such a difficult task. There is not going to be any increase in the number of working days or working hours of any of the judges. At the beginning of the year, the judges would be required to tell the desk managing court sittings when they would like to avail vacations and holidays. Accordingly, a calendar would be prepared for arranging the benches in the Supreme Court and high courts to ensure that judiciary functions throughout the year.”

At present, the Supreme Court has 193 working days, HCs 210 days and trial courts 245 days a year. As far as productivity goes, the proposal could actually prove helpful to clear the log jam of cases. If 15 benches hear cases for 193 days a year, it comes to 2,895 benches a year. But if 10 benches sit for 365 days a year, it would result in working of 3,650 benches, leading to an increase of 26%. The Chief Justice had also seen this as an opportunity for young advocates to test and sharpen their skills. Hence, there needs to be a dialogue between the accepting and the non-consenting parties in order to address all the concerns and consider this haven to clear the backlog of cases plaguing the judiciary for years now.

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