Who Cares Litigants? Enjoy Vacations!
by Asim Pandya
Cite as : (2003) PL WebJour 8
Legal system exists for litigants. In reality, however, this does not appear to be true. On closer scrutiny of the legal system it appears that it is meant for lawyers and judges. People taking recourse to the legal system wait for number of years to get justice. Sometimes people die also without getting justice while their cases are pending in the court. However, agony of the litigants is hardly felt by anyone. The right of speedy justice, now considered to be a fundamental right, has proved itself to be a mirage. Number of seminars are being held, lectures are being delivered and committees after committees are being constituted to find out solutions to this malady. Despite all these efforts, there is no conspicuous change in the justice delivery system and it still walks at a snail's pace. The only reason for this state of affairs could be that there is no genuine desire to bring about change in the system. Root-causes for the delay in dispensation of justice are ignored and superfluous changes are discussed and suggested. Apart from the procedural bottlenecks and other factors leading to inordinate delay in disposal of cases, number of holidays and the custom of observing en bloc vacations in courts play a pivotal role in occurrence and aggravation of this problem. One would be astonished to know that the Supreme Court of India works approximately 190 days and the High Courts work 220 days in a year, that too with lesser number of judges than the approved posts of judges. In such a situation how can we expect speedy justice? Actual working hours of court are also comparatively less than the working hours of other civil services under the Government. Unless some radical changes are brought in, it would be very difficult to solve the problem of delay. Of course, these changes cannot be brought into the legal system unilaterally by the Bench or the Bar. It requires mutual acceptance of the need by boththe Bar and the Bench.
The other factors leading to delay in disposal of cases are not the main topic of this article. The real issue which requires serious attention and introspection is, how far the custom of observing en bloc vacations in courts is just in the present context? It appears that the custom of observing vacations dates back to the British rule in India. Before the British rule in India, justice was being administered in an informal manner by the king or the leader of the village or the leader of the community. In those days, the custom of observing vacations was not in vogue. In fact, in the days of King Akbar, a bell was hung in the palace for the people seeking justice. Any person wanting justice had to simply go to the palace of the King at any time and ring the bell hung for that purpose. This system indicates the importance and urgency of dispensation of justice. However, when Britishers came to India they brought the system of observing vacations in courts. In those days, one of the reasons for long summer vacations was the hot climatic condition of India during the summer. Summer in India was unbearable for the British people because there were no air conditioners, coolers and refrigerators. The British people, therefore, used to go back to England during summer and used to return only after the heat subsided. Those who did not go to England sought cool resorts of hill stations. The custom of observing long summer vacations that might be proper in those days, has continued without interruption even today. Nowadays most of the superior courts are air-conditioned and the chambers and cars provided to judges are also air-conditioned. In view of this technological advancement, the custom of observing long summer vacations because of severe heat condition has lost its relevance. Summer is no more a challenge today to the class of people who are part of the justice delivery system. At any time litigants are interested in early result of their cases and nothing more. Long summer vacations accompanied by other short vacations and number of holidays in courts are some of the root causes for delay in disposal of cases. The custom of observing en bloc vacations infringes the fundamental right of speedy justice and violates Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution of India.
Delay in dispensation of justice is not good for any society. When justice is not done promptly, it encourages people to adopt unethical and illegal means to settle their disputes. If adoption of unethical and illegal means for settlement of disputes becomes the mode of operation, it would ultimately lead to anarchy and chaos in the society. Our country is on the verge of this kind of disastrous situation. The news that people have started taking up law in their hands for settlement of their disputes are flashed every now and then through different media. Maintenance of law and order and dispensation of speedy justice is, therefore, sine qua non for the society.
The custom of observing summer vacations and other unnecessary holidays are required to be reconsidered in the light of changed time and circumstances. Instead of observing en bloc vacations in courts, a time has come to change the said system with slight modification by observing vacation in rotation by the judges. If judges observe vacation in rotation, it would give some relief to the people seeking justice. One may understand and appreciate the need of lawyers also to have some holidays. To meet with the said requirement, separate leave rules for lawyers can also be framed. Thus, lawyers can also be accommodated for 15 to 20 days whenever they require holidays. The leave rules that may be framed for lawyers may provide for the maximum number of leave which can be made available to the lawyers at a stretch and also the total number of leave which can be enjoyed by the lawyers in a year.
As regards certain religious holidays, instead of keeping all courts completely closed, only judges, administrative staff and lawyers concerned belonging to that particular religion should be allowed the privilege leave for that day. There is no logic in keeping courts entirely closed on certain holidays of this nature. This could be applied to all other government services as well. As such, it is desired that legal services connected with the courts should be declared as essential services and steps should be taken to make these services available on all days.
Someone may also argue that there should be no vacation in any field including the field of education. This kind of argument is without any substance. The field of education cannot be compared with the field of law. Educational institutions are established for small children and young students. Vacations and holidays play a vital role in overall development of the small children and young students. For that reason, vacations are justified in that field as it is in the overall interest of the students for whom the institutions are meant. In the case of legal system vacations do not play such a role and, therefore, logically there is no reason to continue with the old system of observing en bloc vacations.
Someone has argued that vacations are necessary in the courts as they give a chance to the junior members of the legal profession to earn and to groom. This argument is not very convincing as one has to see the interest of the litigants first, for whom the legal system exists. Further, the argument that vacations provide an opportunity to earn and to groom to the junior members of the profession is in reality a myth. Vacations do not help either way the junior members of our profession. People connected with the profession of law, therefore, need introspection and should try to develop positive thinking in relation to the following suggestions:
(1) Court should not remain closed en bloc at any time during the year but a system should be evolved to see that judges enjoy vacations in rotation.
(2) Separate leave rules should be framed for lawyers so that they can also avail of vacations without disturbing the routine functions of the court.
(3) Access to courts should be made available in urgent cases even on Saturdays and Sundays.
(4) Certain religious holidays should be made available to only persons belonging to that particular religion rather than to all.
(5) Actual working hours of courts should be increased by half an hour by some modalities. It has been said that "Napoleon was an early riser. An hour's less sleep per day will add five years to your working life." Therefore, the suggestion is that we may not work for one more hour but we can certainly work for half an hour more. This kind of change would have the effect of addition of at least six months to one year in the retirement age of the judge.
(6) Strikes and boycotts should be avoided by the lawyers at all times and under all circumstances.
(7) Lawyers must change their attitude of asking for an adjournment on casual grounds and must develop a sense of obligation towards litigants and the society. It is a must for better work culture.
(8) Only competent, meritorious and honest persons should be selected for the post of judges.
(9) Some important changes are also required to be made in the procedural laws which might accelerate the pace of the system of administering justice.
If the abovestated suggestions are borne in mind and change is made in the attitude of the Bar and the Bench accordingly, other factors leading to delay in disposal of cases are hardly of any significance. A time has come to implement the above suggestions for the betterment of our legal system and for maintaining the faith of people in the judiciary. We must come out of "Enjoy-vacation!" attitude and must cooperate in speedy dispensation of justice to the people.
It would not be out of place to mention here that recently the High Court of Gujarat set up a few Benches to hear old cases and preventive detention cases during the summer vacations in addition to two vacation judges. This endeavour is worth emulating and it is hoped that a day will come when all courts and lawyers will appreciate the agony of the litigants and try to help them in getting speedy justice.