Why do judges’ leaves have to be collective effort that shuts courts down; let’s look at getting a 365-day court

By: |
Published: April 13, 2017 6:10:18 AM

Supreme Court of India issued a notice on March 23, 2017.

The Supreme Court Registry also issued an advance list of 5,298 cases, to be heard between May 11 and July 2.

Supreme Court of India issued a notice on March 23, 2017. “The Learned Members of the Bar are hereby informed that during the Summer Vacation, 2017 commencing from 11.05.2017 and ending with 02.07.2017, regular hearing matters will be taken up for hearing before the Vacation Bench from Tuesday to Friday, as per the guidelines and norms approved by Hon’ble the Chief Justice of India.” The Supreme Court Registry also issued an advance list of 5,298 cases, to be heard between May 11 and July 2. Subsequently, an unstarred question was asked (no.5250) about this in the Lok Sabha on April 5, asking whether government intended to discontinue with the system of summer and winter vacations in courts. Answering the question, minister of state for law and justice said this wasn’t for government to decide. Durations of vacations are fixed by High Courts/Supreme Court through rules/regulations, not by government. For district/subordinate courts, they are fixed by High Courts. Hence, Supreme Court Rules of 2013. “The period of the summer vacation shall not exceed seven weeks….The length of the summer vacation of the Court and the number of holidays for the Court and the offices of the Court shall be such as may be fixed by the Chief Justice and notified in the Official Gazette so as not to exceed one hundred and three days (excluding Sundays not falling in the vacation and during holidays).”

Note that before 2013, there were Supreme Court Rules of 1966. “The period of the summer vacation shall not exceed ten weeks… The length of the summer vacation of the Court and the number of holidays for the Court and the offices of the Court shall be such as may be fixed by the Chief Justice and notified in the Official Gazette so as not to exceed one hundred and three days (excluding Sundays) not falling in the vacation and during holidays.” In 2013, length of the summer vacation was shortened, but not the cap of 103. That cap of 103 is misleading, it doesn’t include Sundays and other holidays (Holi, Diwali, Dussehra). At the time of the 2013 change, the then Chief Justice told us, Supreme Court works for 193 days, High Courts for 210 days and lower courts for 245 days a year. A couple of years ago, Jharkhand High Court also agreed to work through the summer vacation. In August 2009, there was a report by Law Commission, titled Reforms in the Judiciary (Report No. 230).

A lot of people quote from this report. I am not necessarily convinced they have read the report. They approvingly quote the following. “Considering the staggering arrears, vacations in the higher judiciary must be curtailed by at least 10 to 15 days and the court working hours should be extended by at least half-an-hour.” This sentence certainly figures in the report, but as recommendations from a paper written by Justice Asok Kumar Ganguly in Halsbury’s Law Monthly. Lest I be accused of nit-picking, the 18th Law Commission did approve of Justice Ganguly’s suggestions (there were others too). The summer vacation system is invariably ascribed to a British colonial legacy, avoiding the hot Indian summer. Some time ago, there was an RTI application addressed to Supreme Court, asking about antecedents of the summer vacation. Since Supreme Court came into existence in 1950, the Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) responded that they had no information about the antecedents. I suspect one should hunt for antecedents in rules of Federal Court of India or Government of India Act of 1935.

There are 61,344 matters pending before Supreme Court. Therefore, everyone will approve of Supreme Court’s order of March 23. But what’s more interesting is the idea of a 365-day court, something that lawyers (Bar Council, Supreme Court Bar Association) don’t seem to like either. In 2014, the then Chief Justice of India wrote a letter to Chief Justices of High Courts, mooting the idea. “In other words, the courts should function all year round, giving individual judges the choice of holidays and vacations. For working of this idea, I had suggested that by the end of September, each judge should indicate holidays and vacations he or she wants to avail of in the succeeding year. The registry will then finalize the sittings having regard to the options given by the respective judges.” That’s exactly the way US Supreme Court functions. But there is great resistance to the idea of delinking individual vacations from collective ones (where the entire institution closes down), and this is true in general, outside the court system too. In 2013, Suraj Parkash Manchanda filed a PIL in Delhi High Court, asking this question. According to newspapers, the petitioner asked, “Why all judges go on vacation at the same time and why there cannot be a rotation as in the police and for doctors in hospitals?” The petition was dismissed and the bench reportedly remarked, “If there is no summer vacation, judges will go mad. Are they expected to work 365 days a year?” I haven’t been able to track down what happened to a similar PIL, filed before Madras High Court. No one wants anyone to go mad. Everyone is entitled to leave. Three weeks of paid annual leave is an ILO entitlement. But does it have to be collective? Does India shut down for 21 days a year, defence, police, and so on?

Views are personal

Get live Stock Prices from BSE and NSE and latest NAV, portfolio of Mutual Funds, calculate your tax by Income Tax Calculator, know market’s Top Gainers, Top Losers & Best Equity Funds. Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Switch to Hindi Edition