Vacations in Judiciary
2023 AUG 14
Polity > Judiciary > Judicial System
- In its 133rd report, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice termed court vacations a “colonial legacy” and recommended that High Court judges take turns going on vacation to tackle the mounting pendency of cases.
- Court vacations, particularly summer vacations spanning 7 weeks, (10 weeks prior to 2013) are customary practice continuing from colonial days.
- The Supreme Court breaks for its annual summer vacation, which is typically for seven weeks starting at the end of May. The court reopens in July.
- The Supreme Court also takes week-long breaks for Dussehra and Diwali, and two weeks at the end of December.
- High Courts have the power to structure their calendars according to the service rules.
- 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.
- “Vacation Benches”:
- Generally, a few judges are available to hear urgent cases even when the court is in recess.
- These “Vacation Benches” comprise of two or three judges and hear important cases that cannot wait.
- It is also not uncommon for courts to hear important cases during vacations. For example:
- In 2015, a five-judge Bench of the SC heard the challenge to the constitutional amendment setting up the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) during the summer vacation.
- In 2017, a Constitution Bench led by then CJI J S Khehar held a six-day hearing in the case challenging the practice of triple talaq during summer vacation.
- 230th report of the Law commission:
- The 2009 Law Commission report suggested that court vacations be cut down by 10-15 days at all levels of the judiciary to help cut the backlog of cases.
- Malimath committee:
- The “Committee on Reforms of Criminal Justice System” under Justice V S Malimath recommended that the period of vacation should be reduced by 21 days, keeping in mind the long pendency of cases.
- The Committee also suggested that the Supreme Court should work for 206 days, and the High Courts for 231 days every year.
ARGUMENTS SUPPORTING RE-EVALUATION OF JUDICIAL VACATIONS:
- Huge pendency of Cases:
- As on Dec 31, 2022, the total pending cases in district and subordinate courts was pegged at over 4.32 crore. Over 69,000 cases are pending in the Supreme Court, while there is a backlog of more than 59 lakh cases in the country's 25 high courts.
- Rotating vacations among judges could maintain continuous proceedings and reduce case backlog.
- Avoid inconvenience to litigants:
- Entire court going on vacation en masse causes deep inconvenience to the litigants. Having a rotation system for vacations can avoid this.
- Shed the colonial legacy:
- The Indian justice system is a replica of the British colonial jurisprudence, which was designed with the purpose of ruling the nation and not serving the citizens. Removing the vacations, along with the reforms in criminal laws (Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita bill, 2023) could help India shed the colonial legacy.
- Modern workload:
- Contemporary caseloads have surged since the inception of extended vacation practices. To accommodate this increase, more working days are necessary.
- Public Trust:
- Lengthy vacations can create an impression of an inefficient and sluggish system, eroding public confidence in the judiciary's ability to provide justice promptly.
- Global Standards:
- Many countries have moved towards a more continuous justice system, with shorter breaks or staggered vacations to ensure the steady flow of cases.
- Technological Advancements:
- The availability of digital tools and remote communication technologies can enable judges to work on cases even during vacations, mitigating the need for complete shutdowns.
ARGUMENTS OPPOSING RE-EVALUATION:
- Mental and Physical Health:
- According to Daksh, an NGO which studies and analyses performance of the judiciary, the most relaxed high court judges in the country have 15-16 minutes to hear a case, while the busiest have just about 2.5 minutes to hear a case and, on average, they have approximately five-six minutes to decide a case.
- Vacations provide them with much-needed time to rejuvenate, which can contribute to their mental and physical well-being. This, in turn, can enhance the quality of judgment and reduce the chances of burnout.
- Working more than other courts:
- Despite the vacations, 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.
- Research and Reflection:
- Breaks allow judges to engage in research, reflect on complex legal matters, and enhance their understanding of nuanced issues. This intellectual development can ultimately lead to more informed and well-thought-out judgments.
- Administrative Activities:
- Vacations provide judges with time to focus on administrative tasks, which are essential for the efficient functioning of the judiciary.
- Work-Life Balance:
- Restricting vacations might deter talented individuals from pursuing a judicial career due to concerns about burnout.
There are valid arguments both for re-evaluating the traditional vacation system and for maintaining it. It is crucial to consider the diverse implications on judicial independence, quality of justice, and the overall functioning of the legal system before implementing such a recommendation.
However, the issue of judicial vacations is multi-faceted. A more balanced approach could involve a combination of efficient case management, use of technology, and targeted efforts to identify and address bottlenecks in the judicial process.
Q. The pendency of cases in courts mandates the re-evaluation of the traditional system of judicial vacations in India. Critically analyse?