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A time for reform in courts

  • IASbaba
  • May 27, 2020
  • 0
UPSC Articles
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JUDICIARY/ GOVERNANCE

Topic: General Studies 2:

  • Structure, organization and functioning of the Judiciary
  • Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors 

A time for reform in courts

Context: The pandemic has affected the functioning of courts and tribunals. 

Courts during COVID-19 pandemic

  • The judiciary has limited its work to hearing urgent matters via video conferencing.
  • This experience has provided an opportunity to improve IT infrastructure of courts so that they can move to video conference hearings as the norm.
  • However, any such move without first revamping procedural law would be futile.

What procedural changes have to be made?

  1. Changes in Listing of cases in subordinate civil courts and High Courts
    • A significant time of daily proceedings is taken up by cases where only adjournments are sought for procedural matters like filing of replies.
    • This system can be done away with.
    • Also, a system needs to be devised where cases are not listed before the court unless all the documents are filed within strict timelines and every procedural requirement complied with.
    • Additionally, there has to be circulation of cases to be listed in advance (two weeks before hearing) which will give advocates enough time to take instructions from clients and prepare for arguments.
  1. Supreme Court amending the provisions pertaining to Special Leave Petitions (SLPs)
    • Article 136 of the Constitution enables people to file a SLP in SC against any decision of any judicial or quasi-judicial authority. 
    • SC grants leave to appeal through A-136, if the petition raises a question of law of general public importance, or if the judgment appealed against is perverse that requires interference from it.
    • SLPs has been abused over the years leading to increased burden on SC (SLPs comprise about 60-70% of the Supreme Court’s docket)
    • 80-90% of SLPs are dismissed, which means only 10-20% of such cases raise important questions of law
    • A simple solution would be to do away with immediate oral hearing of SLPs and instead provide for a structure of pre-hearing of SLPs

What can be the structure for pre-hearing of SLPs?

  • Every SLP must be accompanied by an application for oral hearing which must be decided first by the Court, and that too in chambers. 
  • To assist the Court for that, a cadre of judicial research assistants made up of qualified lawyers should be created. 
  • Thereafter, the Court may or may not allow applications for oral hearings based on whether the case deals with important questions of law. 
  • Only such SLPs in which oral hearing is permitted should be listed for hearing.
  • SLPs in which no questions of law are raised, or frivolous ones are raised, should be dismissed without oral hearing and upon imposition of costs. 
  • This would reduce pendency exponentially as the system will free up the Court’s time to hear matters pertaining to interpretation of the Constitution

Conclusion

Without procedural changes in how courts function, mere modernization through enabling video-conferencing facilities will not lead to radical change in judiciary

Connecting the dots:

  • Tribunalization of Judiciary
  • Judicial Appointments and transfers – challenges associated with it

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