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Court vacations: What are the arguments for and against judges taking breaks?

GS Paper 2

Syllabus: Structure, Organization and Functioning of the Judiciary

 

Source: IE

 Direction: The article covers the issue of vacations in SC, its need, criticism, suggestions to reform the system and how SCs of other countries perform.

Context: The Chief Justice of India (CJI) recently said that no Vacation Benches will be available in the SC during the winter break.

 

 

Background:

  • The announcement came a day after the Union Law Minister criticised the long vacations of the court and the inconvenience it caused to litigants.
  • According to an SC’s earlier circular, a senior SC Registry official is specially deputed as a ‘Vacation Officer,’ who could be approached in matters seeking urgent relief and in such instances, a Bench would be constituted if required.

 

What are court vacations?

  • The SC has 193 working days a year for its judicial functioning, while the HCs function for approximately 210 days and trial courts for 245 days.
  • The SC breaks for its annual summer vacation which is typically for seven weeks (May-July), a week-long break each for Dussehra and Diwali and two weeks at the end of December.

 

The fate of the important cases during court vacations:

  • The Supreme Court Rules, 2013, provides that the CJI may appoint one or more Judges to hear during vacation (vacation benches) all matters of an urgent nature (bail, eviction, etc) and s/he may likewise appoint a Division Court for the hearing of urgent cases.
  • For example, in 2015, a five-judge Bench of the SC heard the challenge to the constitutional amendment setting up the NJAC during the summer vacation.

 

Criticism of the court vacations:

  • The colonial origins: the European judges of the Federal Court of India found Indian summers too hot and took the winter break for Christmas.
  • Mounting pendency of cases: the court’s pendency as on December 1 is 69,598
  • The calendar for the year 2023 shows the court would not be fully functional for nearly 180 days.

 

 

Arguments in favour of court vacations:

  • The judges do not take leave of absence (family tragedies, and health are rare exceptions) like other working professionals when the court is in session.
  • In a profession that demands intellectual rigour and long working hours, vacations are needed for rejuvenation.
  • The judges utilise the vacation to write judgments.
  • Cutting the vacation period would be a solution to pendency that is not backed by data.
  • The issue of pendency relates largely to legacy cases that need to be tackled systemically.

 

Reforms were undertaken: In 2014 when the SC reduced the period of summer vacation from 10 to 7 weeks.

 

 

 Suggestions:

  • The Justice Malimath Committee: vacation period should be reduced by 21 days and the SC work for 206 days and HCs for 231 days every year.
  • The Law Commission of India: Vacations in the higher judiciary are to be curtailed by at least 10 to 15 days and the working hours should be extended by at least half an hour.
  • Former CJI R M Lodha:
    • Keep the SC, HCs and trial courts open around the year.
    • The schedules of individual judges should be sought at the beginning of the year, and the calendar should be planned accordingly.

 

 

Compared with other countries:

  • Indian SC: It has the highest caseload among the apex courts around the world and also works the most. For example, with 34 judges in 2021, 29,739 cases came before the SC and 24,586 cases were disposed of in the same year.
  • US SC: Hears approximately 100-150 cases a year, and sits for oral arguments for five days a month.
  • In the UK, High Courts and Courts of Appeals sit for 185-190 days a year.

 

 

Insta Links:

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