The oft-criticized holiday calendar of the Supreme Court will now have to reckon with the scrutiny of the the Parliamentary Standing Committee for the Ministry of Law and Justice on “Judicial Reforms”.
What has met with the ire of legal reformists are the startling figures of mounting arrears coupled with a spree of unending holidays for the apex court.
At the beginning of 2006 there were nearly 29,000 cases vying for the attention of the apex court. By October 2007, this number has spiralled to 44,819. And many of these are cases which have taken decades to reach the apex court.
In this backdrop, the Court’s calender for 2008 reveals that out of 366 days, there are only 192 working days. The rest of the 174 days (nearly 6 months) are made up of holidays. The Court enjoys 7 weeks of ‘Summer vacation’, two weeks for Christmas & new year, a week for Diwali and various assorted holidays for Id, Moharrum, Raksha Bandhan, Maha Shivratri etc. This is marginally better than 2007 when the number of non-working days (189) outnumbered the number of working days (176).
Of course, in addition to these holidays and vacations, individual judges are entitled to their own quota of leaves, according to the provisions of Supreme Court Judges’ salary and other Condition of Service Act, 1958.
K.K. Venugopal, an eminent senior advocate, puts things in perspective when he points out that even the highest US court, where individual judges do not have to adjudicate more than 150 cases, does not have more than three to four months of holidays in a year.
Prashant Bhushan, another senior advocate was sharply critical of what he called “fun-days” in the Supreme Court. He also criticized the fact that some judges had no qualms in going on foreign jaunts in the middle of hearings of important cases.
All of this may, however, be a thing of the past. The Department Related Parliamentary Standing Committee on “Judicial Reforms” has gone on record that one of the issues on its agenda is the aspect of long holidays in the apex court. The Committee’s Chairman and Rajya Sabha Member E.M.S. Natchiappan was qouted as saying "We will examine the rationality of continuing with the British legacy of long vacations in the judiciary. It has also been brought to the committee’s notice that the backlog of cases in the apex court has begun rising of late. We would like to examine if vacations have a bearing on the rising trend of backlog of cases there”.
The Committee will also train its attention on other vexatious issues like ‘financial autonomy’ for the judiciary and the setting up of a Salaries Review Board to go into the structure of salaries and perquisites for the judges.