NEW DELHI: It’s not just the Supreme Court that has been holding midnight hearings in important cases, judges of various high courts have been doing the same to cut down pendency of cases. In an unprecedented step early last month, Justice SJ Kathawalla of Bombay High Court heard cases listed in his court till 3.30 am. He finished close to 134 cases before he rose for the day.
The reason why Justice Kathawalla sat beyond routine court hours is the increase in number of cases pending in high courts over the past three years. In 2016, the pendency of cases stood at 3,89,1076. It rose to 4,063,293 in 2017. By May 2018, the count was up to 4,282,745. An increase in number of pending cases means the number of cases listed per day per judge has also risen correspondingly.
Early this month, a vacation bench of Delhi High Court sat beyond 11 pm to finish hearing the listed 120 cases. As per rule, the court holds sittings thrice a week by a rotating roster system under which judges are nominated by the Chief Justice to sit during vacations. As for the average number of cases listed for hearing per day by each high court judge, Patna High Court tops the list with 149 cases. Calcutta High Court comes a close second, with 148 cases. This obviously means judges will have to spend long hours to complete the entire list.
Madras High Court granted anticipatory bail to Karti Chidambaram hours after the Income Tax Department issued a warrant against him under the Black Money Act. Justice A D Jagadish Chandira granted him the relief around 11.30 pm after a brief hearing at his residence.
A 2016 study by Daksh, a legal think tank, highlighted that a high court judge spends less than five minutes, on an average, hearing a case. Given the large number of cases listed before them, judges in the high courts of Patna, Hyderabad, Jharkhand and Rajasthan spend two-three minutes on each case per day. Judges in the high courts of Allahabad, Gujarat, Karnataka, MP and Orissa spend four-six minutes.
The survey points out that the average pendency of a case in the high court is about three years and one month. In lower courts, the average time for a decision to be made is nearly six years. Assuming that a case does not go to the apex court, an average litigant who appeals to at least one higher court is likely to spend more than 10 years in court.