We are at it again. The Supreme Court has been questioned about its working days and hours, yet again.

In a country where the judiciary is grappling with a backlog of nearly 3.3 crore cases, we wonder whether its time to discontinue the tradition of long vacations for the Supreme Court?

In a public interest litigation (PIL) filed before the SC by Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay, a lawyer and political activist, it has been demanded that the length of summer/winter vacations be reduced, hearing urgent matters during that period and adopt a policy for a minimum of 225 working days a year and for the courts to function for six hours every day.

Given the number of pending cases, these proposals are worth considering.

How did the ritual start?

Courts in India were established by the British government in 1860. All judges were English, who had their families in England. They would go to meet them which required two months of traveling and another month to spend time with their families. Therefore came the rule, of having a three month holiday period, which made sense.

As the Indian judges came into the fray, the holidays for festivals such as Diwali and Holi started to be incorporated. Interestingly, the courts are unaware of how and when the system actually began.

There is a split opinion whether such reforms to reduce vacations should be introduced or not

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The Current Scenario

It is only after 2013, that the Supreme Court rules reduced the holiday period from 10 weeks to around 7 weeks. The overall vacation period mandated by the court is capped at 103 days a year but this is excluding all the public holidays as well as Sundays.

While the high courts were working for 210 days and the lower courts for 245 days the SC worked lesser than both courts. It is baffling to think that the highest judicial body of the country is working less than its lower levels.

In addition to this, if a judge works for 5 hours in a day, he has definitely worked for at least 5 hours at home, studying and to analyze the relevant case laws as pointed out by retired HC judge V.G. Palshikar.

As far as solving the backlog of cases is concerned, one more alarming thought should be given to the judicial strength of our country. India has a meager 13 judges per million population as against the UK’s 100. While there are 413 vacancies in the Supreme Court there are more than 6000 vacancies present in the lower courts.

The PIL states that, at the current rate, the judiciary will need another “320 years to clear the existing backlog”. This not only violates the Right to Equity before the law but also the Right to Life and Liberty, as pointed out in the PIL.

Reforms suggested to tackle the problem

This is not the first time that the need has been felt to question the holiday structure of the courts in India. A law commission looking into this matter has been continuously ignored in the past.

The 230th Law Commission of India Report of Judicial Reforms had recommended that the vacation period of all courts – including the Supreme Court – be shortened by 10 to 15 days.

The Law Commission had also suggested that the attendance of judges at international conferences be allowed in turns. It had also observed that even if the working hours were extended by half an hour, it would reduce the pendency of cases significantly.

An alternative to this is instead of closing work at courts altogether, judges can be given vacations by rotation. One can take influence from the case with professors in Delhi’s government medical colleges who are granted holidays in accordance with rotation.

If a judge can get a vacation slot of his liking, rather than resting without his liking during May, it can lead to better efficiency and a non-stop functioning of the courts.

Instead, keep 15 days for winter, 15 for Diwali, and there are 15 public holidays. Let the judge choose when to take the rest of the 75 days. The administrative committee of the HC can decide this as pointed out by experts.

A similar sort of proposal was written by former Chief Justice RM Lodha, seeking the court’s view on their year-long functioning. This suggested a bench sitting of 10 every day instead of the 14 or 15 bench sittings, in an attempt to raise the number of sittings by nearly 26% a year. But his proposal never materialized into something concrete.

The former Chief Justice of India presented his own proposals, which were never considered

Vacationing may very well help in rejuvenating a person, but for someone as powerful and influential as the law keepers of the land, it is pretty debatable to go on long vacations even when the number of cases seems to skyrocket every other day.

On the other hand, it is very understandable for the judges to take holidays given the work they undertake at their home and not only in courts and the workload of the number of cases which they judge on a daily basis.

Although, reducing the vacation days of the judges will make a difference and will be a step towards the right direction, other factors such as the courts increasingly entertaining a lot of PIL’s and the lethargy in work goes a long way in damaging this situation.

After all, its the judge who can take a holiday, but not justice.

Image Credits: Google Images

Sources: Financial Express, The Wire, Quora 

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