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JUDICIAL HOLIDAYS AND PENDENCY OF CASES- IS JUSTICE ON VACATION?

Introduction

The administration of justice appears to have fallen to the wayside in the newly independent India. The pendency of cases is a complex problem that has existed for decades now. It can, of course, be blamed on a plethora of factors, however, the fact that it is representative of the inefficiency of the Indian judicial system cannot be looked away at.

The famous saying that ‘Justice delayed is justice denied’ has become the current scenario.

In the year 2022, only 220 of 365 days have been marked as working days of the court. With 4.7 crore pending cases as of June 2022, does a calendar like this seems to do justice?  In this article, the Author has attempted to shed light on the major factors and statistics revolving around the pendency of cases and the illusioned system.

Understanding Current Scenario

To counter the problem of pendency of cases, the government introduced the concept of quasi-judicial bodies called tribunals. However, the purpose was defeated shortly after as cases began to pile up. Initially, it did take off some load of the courts. However, the situation only worsened with time. Now, there lies a great backlog of cases in both the tribunals and courts as well. The judicial calendar of the Supreme Court of the biggest democracy with the highest case pendency mentions only 220 working days and 25 hours a week in the year 2022. The forever-long trials and pending cases only add to the woes of the litigants. It makes it reasonable that court officials would require time off, but this should not imply that justice also requires even a single day off. The court is off for numerous additional occasions in addition to the summer break, Dussehra break, and Christmas holidays. Based on simple mathematical calculations, it can be seen that even an increase of two hours would result in an additional 65 working days. This implies that the equivalent of 285 days’ worth of work might be finished in just 225 working days every year. Imagine how many cases could be resolved if the number of working hours was increased by only two each day. A small adjustment to the workday could have such a huge impact. Numerous times in different Law Commission of India reports, it has been recommended that court personnel work longer hours to provide prompt justice; nevertheless, this suggestion has received no attention to date.

Factors Contributing to such delays

Limited working days are certainly an issue for the smooth and speedy delivery of justice; however, a few other factors must be equally taken into consideration. The factors contributing to such delays include:

These are only a handful of the various factors that lead to persistent backlogs in case of processing due to processing delays. Judges regularly begin their court cases after the allotted hour and are not prompt in doing so. Over the span of 220 days, starting even five minutes late would squander about 18 hours of court time. Of course, there are many additional causes as well, but the unfilled judicial positions and the needless rental of court days are aspects that are intrinsically tied to the problem.

Legal Issues Associated with Delay in Justice

In 2018, a petition was filed by Petitioner Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay in the Supreme Court which highlighted the need to increase the working days of the court to aid in the reduction of pendant cases. The petition requested that the number of court days be increased to 225 every year, with 6 hours of work per day.

It is of importance to note that the right to a speedy trial is a fundamental right under Article 21 which guarantees the right to life and personal liberty explicitly. This provision deserves due respect and anyone who suffers from a break of such right shall approach the Supreme Court under Article 32. It has been emphasized by the supreme court that a “speedy trial is the essence to criminal justice, and there can be no doubt that the delay in trial by itself constitutes a denial of justice.”

In addition, the delivery of justice is delayed, which violates a person’s right to life. There are rumours of hundreds or perhaps thousands of civilians being exonerated following a trial. It has been noted that the rate of acquittal exceeds the rate of conviction by a wide margin. The innocent are nearly always stripped of his dignity in a trial that exhibits such inefficiency and carelessness. This is blatantly against a person’s right to life. In situations like this, the adage “delay thwarts justice” is accurate. It is merely the judiciary’s refusal to provide justice to all parties. This situation exemplifies the appalling state of the legal system.

Is the need for such vacations justified?

Nowhere is it explained why the courts require so many breaks and holidays. Despite the pressing need to reduce the backlog of cases, it appears that the courts and judges are occupied with their holidays. It might not be entirely incorrect to argue that justice is taking a break as the justice delivery system has truly taken a back seat. It is puzzling why there must be such a large number of holidays in a democracy where the judicial system is effectively the third pillar and works to secure “justice- social, economic, and political” for everyone. When the court hearings were moved to an online format during the Covid 19 epidemic, a rise in cases was seen. The pre-determined amount of working days, however, did nothing but make the litigants’ problems and suffering worse. The author does not believe in the complete relinquishment of holidays and vacations, but there is a dire need to balance both. Due to the urgency of the situation, the vacation period of the judges should be reduced so as to aid in preventing a surge in the number of pendant cases.

What Does The Law Commission Report Say

The Law Commission has repeatedly recommended in a number of its reports that in order to address the issue of the ongoing rise in the number of outstanding cases, the vacation time or number of holidays be decreased and the working time be raised. The government, however, has given no consideration to these recommendations.

221st Report by Law Commission of India

The 221st report was titled “Need for speedy Justice- Some Suggestions”. The report was presented in April 2009. It recognized the huge pendency of cases and stated that it was a great cause of concern not just for the citizens but for the state as well. It addressed the issue of delay in the delivery of justice and stated that if the given suggestions are acted upon, it would be possible to reduce the burden on the judicial system and on future judges.

230st Report by Law Commission of India

The 230th report was titled “Reforms in the Judiciary- Some Suggestions”. It was presented in August 2009. The report emphasized a reform in the judicial system and the functioning of the high courts. However, it also recognized the need for an increase in benches of various high courts for the speedy delivery of justice. Additionally, it recommended that the vacancies of judges be filled instantly as new appointments are made as the number of judges is tremendously low. The report also stated that a check is kept on the number of working days and the vacations enjoyed by the high courts. It’s not just these reports but 14th, 38th, 78th, 79th, 80th 117th, 120th, 121st, 124th, 125th, 154th, 139th, 197th, 221st, 222nd, 229th, 230th, and 245th address the issue of delay, pendency, backlog of cases, and court vacations. The situation demands a strategic solution; however, no measure has been taken to tackle the situation.

Conclusion

Reforming the legal system is now necessary due to the current state of affairs. In order to provide prompt and impartial justice, the government must act on the recommendations made by the Law Commission of India and keep an eye on court operating hours, cut back on holidays, fill judge vacancies, build more high court benches, and fill existing ones. It must always be kept in mind that delaying justice undermines its fundamental purpose. As was already indicated, even a small change, like adding just two hours to each workday, might have enormous benefits. It goes without saying that the issue needs to be addressed by the government right away because doing otherwise could have terrible results.

Author(s) Name: Vaishnavi Agrawal (Institute of Law, Nirma University, Ahmedabad, Gujrat)

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