Judicial Reform
Judicial Reform


Source: I.E. Relevance: GS Paper II (Indian Polity & Governance)

Context: In a recent speech marking the 75th Anniversary of the Supreme Court, the Chief Justice of India emphasised the need for ‘tough conversations’ to tackle four key issues within the judiciary.

1.Lawyers’ Practice of Seeking Adjournments:

  • Adjournment Culture Among Lawyers: Refers to the common practice in courts where scheduled hearings are postponed to a later date.

  • Order XVII of the Civil Procedure Code, 1908: Specifies that courts can grant adjournments during the hearing of a suit, but limits it to three times per party, requiring a valid reason beyond the party’s control.

  • Concern: While adjournments are sometimes necessary, they contribute to the backlog of pending cases, causing a domino effect of delays.

  • The 239th Law Commission Report (2012): Notes that advocates exploit the heavy workload in courts to seek adjournments, perpetuating a cycle where adjournments exacerbate workload, leading to further adjournments.

2.Duration of Verbal Arguments in Court:

  • Efficiency through Time Management: Courts may advise parties to collaborate and set up a timetable for verbal arguments to avoid repetition and ensure streamlined proceedings.

  • Initiatives by Chief Justices: In January 2019, then Chief Justice of India, Ranjan Gogoi, instructed parties to create a time schedule for hearings due to the large number of parties and attorneys involved.

  • Illustration from the Judiciary: In a case contesting the EWS reservation, a Constitution Bench led by Chief Justice Chandrachud directed attorneys to establish a time schedule, leading to the conclusion of hearings within 8 days.

  • Possible Practice: The Supreme Court of the United States has mandated that attorneys limit their arguments to 30 minutes per side, as proposed in the 99th Law Commission Report (1984).

  • Suggestions for Time Constraints: The 230th Law Commission Report (2009) recommended restricting oral arguments to one-and-a-half hours, unless the case involves constitutional interpretation or intricate legal matters.

3.Regarding Extended Court Recesses:

  • Legacy of Lengthy Court Vacations: The 133rd report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law, and Justice highlighted the need for High Court judges to curtail vacation periods to address the growing backlog of cases.

·         It criticised the extended breaks as a colonial-era tradition causing significant inconvenience to litigants.

  • Flexi-time Implementation for Lawyers and Judges: Flexi-time, a practice allowing individuals to choose their daily work hours while fulfilling a set total of hours within a specific period, gained attention.

·         In 2022, a similar approach was adopted for employees and judges in the Metropolitan and Regional trial courts in the Philippines.

  • Efforts to Increase Working Days: The Ministry of Law and Justice, in 2011, discovered that High Courts operated for 210 days annually and urged all High Courts to raise the number of working days to 222.

  • Recommendations for Supreme Court and Reduction of Vacation Periods: The Malimath Committee Report in 2003 proposed extending the Supreme Court’s working days by three weeks.

·         In response, in 2014, the Supreme Court implemented new rules limiting the summer vacation to a maximum of seven weeks, down from the previous ten weeks.

4.Equal Opportunities for First Generation Lawyers:

  • Advancing Inclusivity for First Generation Lawyers: This entails a push towards inclusivity, particularly benefiting first generation lawyers and individuals from marginalised backgrounds who demonstrate the determination and potential to thrive in the legal domain.

  • Illustrative Examples of Advancement: Demonstrative strides include the representation of 36.3% female judges in district courts, with over half of successful candidates in the junior civil judges recruitment exam being women, and 41% of law clerk candidates at the Supreme Court also comprising women.

  • Implemented Initiatives: Efforts led by the Supreme Court Advocates-on-Record Association (SCAORA) aimed at bolstering diversity in the legal profession encompass enhancing facilities for women lawyers, according added consideration to first-generation lawyers during the Senior Advocates designation process, and allowing lawyers to appear via video conference throughout all working days.

The commemoration of the SC’s 75th year offers a pivotal moment to address hurdles and embrace the future through a frank appraisal of India’s development. It is imperative for the Indian Judiciary to recommit to safeguarding the Constitution, both within the confines of courtrooms and beyond.

Advait IAS