Considering the Elimination of Judicial Vacations

  • A parliamentary committee is investigating India’s long-standing custom of judge vacations.
  • The parliamentary group chaired by Sushil Kumar Modi released the 133rd report on judicial processes and reforms.

Vacation during judicial workdays:

  • The Supreme Court has 193 working days per year, High Courts have 210 days, and trial courts have 245 days. High Courts have the authority to plan their calendars in accordance with service regulations.
  • Long-standing Custom: Vacations, notably the lengthy 7-week (previously 10-week) summer break, have their beginnings in colonial times.

Understanding the Composition and Role of Vacation Benches:

  • The Chief Justice designates a Vacation Bench, a specialised court that operates during the Supreme Court’s summer and winter recesses. Although the court is not completely closed during vacations, this bench deals with “urgent matters.”
  • Urgency Situations: While there is no formal definition of “urgent matters,” the Vacation Bench usually hears writs involving habeas corpus, certiorari, prohibition, and quo warranto, all of which are concerned with enforcing fundamental rights.
  • Order II, Rule 6 of the Supreme Court Rules, 2013: During the summer vacation period, the CJI nominates Division Benches for urgent miscellaneous and regular hearing matters. The provision allows judges to be appointed to consider urgent cases individually or in a Division Court.

Historical Importance and Notable Cases:

  • Important Decisions: Vacation Benches have previously rendered major decisions. In 1975, a Vacation Bench Judge denied Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s request to stay an Allahabad High Court judgement, resulting in the declaration of Emergency.
  • Triple Talaq issue: During its holiday days in 2017, the Supreme Court’s holiday Bench heard the triple talaq issue.

Debates and Arguments Surrounding Vacation Benches

[A] Arguments in Favor:

  • Judicial Rejuvenation: Advocates stress the importance of vacation times for judges’ mental and physical well-being.
  • Proponents argue that due to the rigorous nature of judicial work, the extended working hours necessitate periodic breaks.
  • Writing Judgements: Judges use vacation time to draught judgements, which helps matters to be resolved on schedule.

[B] Arguments Against:

  • Pendency and Delays: Critics contend that long and frequent vacations aggravate the backlog of cases and contribute to the poor pace of justice delivery.
  • Inconvenience to Litigants: Vacations result in further delays in case hearings for litigants.

Reform Demands

  • Malimath Committee (2000) advocated shortening vacation times by 21 days, arguing that the Supreme Court should operate for 206 days and the High Courts for 231 days every year.
  • To reduce the enormous backlog of cases, the Law Commission of India (2009) advised shortening holidays by 10-15 days and expanding court working hours.
  • Supreme Court Rule Change in 2014: The Supreme Court reduced the summer vacation term from ten to seven weeks.
  • The RM Lodha Commission (2014) proposed that individual judges take leave at different times throughout the year rather than having all judges on vacation at the same time.

Proposed Approach and Suggested Modifications

  • Continuous Operation: The 133rd committee believes that individual judges should take leave at varied periods, ensuring that the courts remain open all year.
  • Judicial Vacations Redefined: The government report advocates for a reevaluation on the traditional concept of vacations, arguing for a more modern and efficient approach to court functioning.
  • Comparison with Other nations: According to the paper, the Supreme Court and High Courts’ vacation practises should be examined in light of other nations’ higher courts and constitutional institutions.
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