Debate Over Judicial Vacations Amidst Rising Case Backlog

Debate Over Judicial Vacations Amidst Rising Case Backlog
Posted on 14-08-2023

Debating Judicial Vacations: Calls for Change Amidst Rising Case Backlog

In recent news, a parliamentary committee's recommendation to tackle the mounting backlog of cases by addressing the issue of court vacations has sparked a discussion on whether judges in India take too much time off. This report highlights the background, arguments for and against vacations, and international comparisons related to this topic.

Background and Recommendations:

The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice, led by BJP MP Sushil Kumar Modi, has presented a report to Parliament, emphasizing the need for a multi-pronged strategy to reduce case backlog. The report underscores that court vacations are a "colonial legacy" and suggests a proposal previously made by former Chief Justice of India R M Lodha. This proposal recommends that instead of all judges going on vacation simultaneously, they should take leaves at different times throughout the year to keep courts operational.

Vacation Duration and International Comparisons:

Presently, Indian courts observe varying vacation periods:

  • Supreme Court: 193 working days/year
  • High Courts: 210 working days/year
  • Trial Courts: 245 working days/year

In comparison to other countries' apex courts:

  • United States: 79 days/year
  • Australia: 97 days/year
  • United Kingdom: 189 days/year
  • Singapore: 145 days/year

Case Management During Vacations:

During recess, a subset of judges forms "Vacation Benches" to hear urgent matters. Significant cases, such as those concerning bail and eviction, may be expedited during these periods. Some landmark cases, like the challenge to the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) in 2015 and the triple talaq case in 2017, were also heard during vacation.

Arguments in Favor of Vacations:

Within the legal community, the lengthy breaks are defended on several fronts:

  • Vacations offer essential rejuvenation in a profession that demands intense intellectual engagement.
  • Judges do not typically take leave during active court sessions.
  • Shortening vacations may not significantly decrease case backlog, as the Supreme Court disposes of roughly the same number of cases as those instituted in a year.

In essence, the debate revolves around striking a balance between ensuring judicial efficacy and the necessity for judges' rejuvenation in a demanding profession. The larger challenge of addressing case backlog may require systemic reforms rather than solely reducing vacation time.

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