Why does our Supreme Court vacation so much?
The Supreme Court might be accused of being an activist court. But perhaps it could be a little more active instead. The Supreme Court of India is one of the most vacation-happy in the world. But it does not have to be that way.
By Raghul Sudheesh and Bharat R Itagi
Vacationing may very well help you rejuvenate yourself. It may very well give your sagging spirits a boost. But it is still prima facie unreasonable for their Lordships of the Indian Judiciary, the hallowed law keepers of the land, to go on long vacations even as the number of pending cases before them sky rocket!
Just glance at the calendar of the Supreme Court for this year. The Supreme Court's yearly vacation was from 16 May to 2 July, which is a good 1 month and 19 days. Add to that about 43 days for religious festivals and public holidays. This means that in the year 2011, the Supreme Court will function for only about nine months. No one is saying that all the judges should be made to work round the year. But if yearly vacation can be made available to the judges in turns, rather than all at once, then we could gain a lot of valuable court time.
The 230th Law Commission of India Report of Judicial Reforms addresses this issue. Here’s what the report recommends:
- Due to the high rate of pendency of cases and the tendency of the lawyers to seek adjournments on flimsy grounds, the time allotted for court holidays should be re-evaluated.
- The vacation period of the entire Judiciary — starting with the Apex Court — should be shortened by at least 10-15 days.
- The attendance of the judges at international conferences should be taken in turns.
- If the working hours are extended by even half-an-hour, the judges could make a real impact on the high rates of pendency.
The following table shows the year-wise number of days on which the Supreme Court of India remains closed on account of either vacation or festivities and public holidays.
The following table depicts the number of holidays of the Supreme Courts of some other nations (excluding the weekly holidays but including the vacations):
Given the high rate of cases pending disposal in the Supreme Court of India, a shorter vacation would have a larger impact.
Less is more
Many people don’t know that the Supreme Court of United States does not have a yearly vacation. Although the hearing sittings are limited to a few months during the rest of the year, the judges are ‘at work’, researching the cases before them, holding conferences, etc. And during the few months that available to pronounce judgments they dispose of entire dockets of cases.
In case of the Indian Apex Court, the scenario is entirely different. Some might argue that the legal systems of the two nations are different or there is a vast difference on the number of cases pending and the procedure followed in both countries. That is true but reducing the vacation period will increase the speed at which cases are disposed. Our court is crippled because of the lack of time and the high rate of pendency of cases. We should keep in mind that there are nine judges in the US Supreme Court. Our court is bejeweled with 27 excluding the Chief Justice.
According to Frank Tyger, “When you like your work every day is a holiday.” If everyone in the judiciary, including the judges, advocates and all the other office bearers take these words of Tyger to heart, then it will surely reduce the rate of pendency of cases. The litigants sometimes feel that no judge likes his or her job and is instead happy to enjoy their vacations while the layman waits, sometimes for over a decade. We don’t want the Hon’ble Justices to have no vacations. But perhaps a little less vacationing and a little more judging would help the cause of justice for all.
Raghul Sudheesh is Associate Editor at Bar & Bench and Bharat R. Itagi is a law student at University College of Law, Dharwad, Karnataka. A longer version of this commentary appeared on Bar & Bench.
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