Verdict corner: Long walk to speedy justice

Written by Indu Bhan | Indu Bhan | Updated: Jun 18 2014, 06:39am hrs
Chief Justice RM Lodhas suggestion to keep courts open for all 365 days a year to clear backlog of more than 3.5 crore cases seems to have no takers. At least, from lawyer bodies as of now. The proposal has triggered strong protests not only from the Bar Council of India (BCI), the apex body of the state bar councils, but also from the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA).

SCBA president PH Parekh has written to the CJI, who has a short tenure of five months, saying, If official vacation slots are scrapped, judges will still get their holidays, but lawyers will get no rest, because they could get called to court any time.

Instead, he suggested that reducing the number of vacation days, increasing the number of working hours every day, filling of vacant judicial posts and dismissing the unnecessary government cases would help in reducing arrears. He blamed the Supreme Court and high courts partly for the mess as the decision to fill vacancies lies with them. At present, there are five vacancies in the Supreme Court, 252 in high courts and 3,300 in lower courts.

BCI also rejected the CJIs proposal, saying it is neither practical nor feasible for an advocate to work throughout the year. Taking potshots at CJIs, the heads of the state bar councils said that they were playing to the gallery towards the end of their tenures. Legal fraternity in Mumbai and Kerala also opposed the idea, with their counterparts in Rajasthan boycotting half a days work.

Justice Lodha had recommended that instead of all the judges going on vacation at the same time, individual judges should take their leave at different times through the year so that the courts are constantly open to hear cases. This would not only clear the unending pile of cases but also increase the efficiency of the judicial system by 26%, the CJI said, while drawing a comparison between medical facilities and justice delivery system.

Meanwhile, judges seem to be open to the idea of flexible breaks and want implementation of the CJIs proposal on experimental basis. They feel people would eventually adapt to the change.

Former Delhi High Court judge RS Sodhi finds Justice Lodhas suggestion perfectly logical. Former SC judge AK Ganguly has even appealed to various courts, where he had worked, to desist from declaring a holiday when he dies.

The colonial legacy of 45-day-long summer break as also shorter autumn and winter breaks has been a topic of debate for quite some time.

In 2008, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Law and Justice tabled a report that described the system of vacations as a colonial legacy having no relevance today. It recommended that the privilege of long vacations were better done away with as the judicial system could hardly afford it.

The Law Commission of India in 2009 also recommended that the number of working days at all levels of the judicial hierarchy should be increased to tackle enormous backlog of cases. Of late, there has been a general erosion of work culture throughout the country. Government servants avoid discharging their duties and responsibilities. The judiciary has also been affected by this evil. It is high time that all the judges devote full time to judicial work and should not be under any misconception that they are Lords or above society Though this feeling must come from within, yet some guidelines are necessary, the report stated.

No doubt, the relevance of justice in courts lies only in speedy and free justice delivery. But both judges and lawyers do need a break in view of the enormous physical and mental strains. If judges can go on vacations in turns, the objective outlined by Justice Lodha could to achieved.

Besides, proper infrastructure and manpower and filling of the vacancies of judges, time-bound disposal of cases and better coordination between the bar and the bench will ensure access to speedy justice.