Madras High Court solicits views of Bar on doing away with summer, Dussehra and Christmas vacations for judges

The move is based on a Parliamentary Standing Committee recommendation that judges take vacations at different times of the year; office-bearers of all Bar associations in Chennai and Madurai have been asked to express their opinion before a committee of judges on February 7

February 06, 2024 01:20 pm | Updated 01:20 pm IST - CHENNAI

A view of the Madras High Court. File photograph

A view of the Madras High Court. File photograph

The Madras High Court has solicited the views of all Bar associations on a Parliamentary Standing Committee’s recommendation that High Court judges in the country could go on vacation at different times in a year, rather than declaring a month-long summer vacation for the courts during the month of May apart from the much shorter vacations during Dussehra and Christmas.

Registrar General M. Jothiraman has issued a circular requesting office-bearers of Bar associations in the principal seat of the High Court in Chennai and the Madurai Bench to express their views on Wednesday (February 7, 2024) before a committee of judges constituted for considering the recommendation related to the High Courts functioning round the year without vacations.

Along with his circular, the R-G had also annexed a copy of the recommendation, related to court vacations, made by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice in its 133rd report titled ‘Judicial Processes and their Reform.’ The report was laid on the table of the Lok Sabha and also presented before the Rajya Sabha on August 7, 2023.

Subsequently, the report was discussed in the Chief Justices’ Conference on January 29, 2024 and thereafter Madras High Court Chief Justice Sanjay V. Gangapurwala had referred the issue to a committee of judges constituted to monitor implementation of the resolutions passed in the conference. The committee, in turn, decided to hear the Bar before taking a call on the subject.

In its report, the Parliamentary Standing Committee had taken note that the Constitution empowers the Supreme Court and the High Courts in the country to frame individual rules for regulating their practices and procedures, which included the issue of sittings and vacations. Accordingly, the Supreme Court Rules, 1966 provided for 10 weeks of summer vacation every year. However, the Supreme Court Rules, 2013 reduced the summer vacation to seven weeks in a year. Accordingly, the Supreme Court sits for an average of 214 days in a year. Similarly, the High Courts in the country were sitting for an average of 210 days in a year. This was despite a request from the Department of Justice in 2002-03 to ensure that court working days do not fall below 222 days in a year.

The committee also took note that the need for judicial vacations had been questioned time and again by various stakeholders considering the huge pendency of cases before various courts and the long delay in disposing of the cases. One of the members of the committee, Vivek K. Tankha, was of the view that the colonial practice of declaring vacations for courts must be done away with.

‘Vacations needed in profession that demands intellectual rigour’

On the contrary, another member and senior advocate P. Wilson, highlighted before the committee that opposition to court vacations was because laypersons do not understand the nature of work performed by judges and lawyers. He said in a profession which demands intellectual rigour, and long working hours, vacations were much needed for rejuvenation.

He pointed out judges work not only during court hours but also beyond that since they have to dictate verdicts, make corrections, conduct research and read case files for the next day. Further, it was only during vacations that judges got to pen verdicts in complicated cases that required elaborate discussion. “Very few professions have such a constant level of stress,” he had said.

Stating that it would not be prudent to extend court working hours or reduce the vacation days, he said, a handful of judges do conduct vacation courts and possibly that number could be increased during the vacations to hear urgent cases as well as the final hearing of cases if counsel on both sides agrees to this.

‘Quality of judgements may suffer without holidays’

Concurring with him, senior counsel Mahesh Jethmalani, also a member of the Parliamentary Standing Committee, too had stated: “It may be a simplistic thing to take away holidays and expect that litigation or arrears will go away. There are other reasons. Judges need holidays, the staff need holidays. There is a large number of employees working in the courts. They also need holidays,” he had said.

Warning that the quality of judgements delivered by the courts would suffer if the judges and staff were not given a break, he said: “You need time to consider rival arugments because often the courts deal with important constitutional issues... It is not that all Supreme Court judges are going to foreign countries in holidays. Judges are also working and giving judgements in the vacation period,” he had said.

After hearing the view of all members and recognising that the performance of the Supreme Court of India was quite good compared to the performance of other democratic nations such as Australia, Bangladesh, Singapore, U.K. and the United States, the Parliamentary Standing Committee made the recommendation to consider whether judges could take vacations at different times of a year instead of availing of them en masse.

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