Supreme Court’s performance under scrutiny

Supreme Court’s performance has come under close scrutiny in the Parliamentary Standing Committee’s 28th Report on the Supreme Court (Number of Judges) Amendment Bill, 2008. The Report presented by the Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice, identifies various reasons for the huge pendency of cases, each one of which may be debatable. While the committee has endorsed the Bill, it wants Parliament to consider its suggestions, which go beyond the Bill’s concerns. The committee rightly asked whether by increasing the number of Judges alone pendency could be reduced. The Committee wants priority to be given to the Judges (Inquiry)Bill, which seeks to set up an Empowered Committee with representatives of Judiciary, Executive, and Parliament. The Committee’s major recommendation is to introduce differential fees for commercial and corporate cases.

Another debatable recommendation is the advice to the Court to do away with the lengthy vacation and increase in the working hours in the Supreme Court. Apparently, the Committee – which included senior advocates like Ram Jethmalani and Abhishek Manu Singhvi – agreed with the view of some members that the system of vacations is a colonial legacy, which has no relevance today. The Report also records that some witnesses were of the view that Judges also work at their residences, for studying the cases, writing judgments etc. after the office hours, and on holidays, so vacation should not be treated as privilege. It is this burden which made one former Chief Justice of India to remark that the Judges of Supreme Court are like bonded labour. Suggesting a middle path, the report says reduced vacations will automatically add to the number of working days, and therefore, recommends increasing the number of working days in the Court to accord speedy justice, and to break the vicious circle of pendency. I am of the view that these are cosmetic changes which are unlikely to have any impact on the pendency. Nick Robinson, who has written on this issue earlier, may be surprised to know that the committee, among other things, has blamed the PILs for the huge pendency! Nick has found that the number of PILs getting admitted in the Supreme Court, contrary to the impression in the media, is negligible.

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