Poems and stories have been written on the songs of solitary reapers, service of doctors, wars won by the soldiers but the blood, toil, tears and sweat of a judge or a lawyer remained shrouded under his black gown. Though there have been stories, raised eyes and eyebrows around the leisure and luxuries of a judge or a lawyer’s life-courtesy movies and digital media for creating a perspective around ‘taareekh pe taareekh’ narratives of the courts and lawyers, no one ever digs down to know the harsh reality.

Well, that time of the year is here once again when the dining table discussions and coffee table debates around this narrative become more heated and the reason behind it is not the rising temperature of the Indian subcontinent but the summer vacations allegedly enjoyed by the courts of law in India, especially the Supreme Court. It is easier to have such discussions and pass such comments from behind a computer screen or camera lenses than to know and understand that the visibly black and white world of the soldiers of law is not so black and white.

The world of soldiers of law doesn’t survive only on statistics and data. Unlike popular belief about the lawbooks being a compilation of stale legislations and courtrooms being a place of satire, law is an organic being, born in the parliament house and shaped and nurtured in the courtrooms. Therefore, it is necessary to look into the courtrooms beyond the 55” silver screen and know that they are not all about “taareekh pe taareekh” and two people making their statements on top of their voices while the judge keeps giving a shady smile, looking from behind his 8D glasses. Even the people who have had a glance at courtroom’s working would not know the much more work that goes into a single case from understanding the issues of a person by his lawyer to bringing it to a justiciable quietus.

One who has seen and been a part of the working of a court, inside the courtroom and beyond the courtroom, inside the chambers and private offices of the judges and the advocates, would know what goes into doing justice while simultaneously upholding the rule of law. They would know that the judges and practicing lawyers don’t have the luxury of an 8x8x8 day. They would know that it not only takes tremendous efforts but also takes enormous manpower in the working of the justice delivery system. They would know the part played by each of these individuals in the administration of justice, from the lawyers to the court staff to registry of the court to office clerks of the advocates to court clerks of the judges and the sacrifice of the families of each of these individuals. They would know that these individuals don’t have the liberty of picking up their bags like a ‘normal’ office goer at 5 pm and head home or have a gala family time even if they manage to reach home on ‘normal’ timings. And, to clear the misconception that they do it because they receive hefty salaries or fees for it, the passion for law and administration of justice is the only force which drives them to remain in the justice delivery system. It must be understood that value of money is directly proportionate to the time one has to enjoy its fruits.

Coming back to the hush-hush around the court vacations. If the critics knew what goes around during the so-called vacations of the courts, they would find that neither the courts of law are closed nor the justice(s) is on vacation rather they are working 24x7x365. They would find vacation bench(es) of the courts, sitting through the scorching heat with their black robes on to impart justice. They would be assured that the Constitutional principles are being upheld by the ones who have taken an oath on it. They would know that the so called vacation in the Supreme Court has already been reduced by 33%. They would know that our Constitutional framework is of checks and balances and the working of the courts remain regulated by the prescribed rules and regulations. The number of working hours, working days and vacations of the courts are prescribed as per rules framed.

The Supreme Court has been working on an average of 222 days in a year and the number of working days of the High Courts and the District Courts is even higher than that and their working hours do not start at 9 AM and end at 5 PM. The work done between the court hours by the judges, in the words of Hon’ble the present Chief Justice himself, is only the ‘fraction of work’ courts do. This does not include the work done by the courts on the administrative side or on Sundays for organizing Lok Adalats, dictating and writing long judgments and reading files for the next day and keeping updated with the evolution in law. Except on rare occasions like family tragedies or serious health issues, judges do not take leave of absence when the court is in session like other working professionals and the subordinate criminal courts are never on any vacation and the same rule applies for a lawyer as well.

Moreover, even during the advent of COVID-19 pandemic, when the world had come to a standstill, the Courts kept functioning through video conferencing. For those whose fodder is data, the total number of sittings that the various benches of the Supreme Court had had from 23.3.2020 till 4.8.2020 were 879. During this period, the Hon’ble Court had heard 12,748 matters. In the said period, the Hon’ble Court had dealt with 686 writ petitions alone filed under Article 32 of the Constitution of India. Additionally, sensing the need of the hour and to ensure that the citizens’ right to access to justice is not pushed to back foot, the Hon’ble Supreme Court expediated the process of digitizing courts around the nation.

It is not denied that there are more than 81,000 cases pending in the Supreme Court at present but it doesn’t mean that the Supreme Court is not working. In last April, the Supreme Court disposed of 4,836 cases in its 19 working days, which were available excluding Saturdays, Sundays and other government holidays, which translates to more than 254 cases a day. However, against that in the last month 5,614 cases were filed in the Supreme Court, which comes to more than 295 cases a day. Thus, in 2024, the Supreme Court has already disposed of 23,752 cases but 24,138 new cases have also been filed. Almost similar is the working of the High Courts in India. The Delhi High Court alone has disposed of more than 8.51 lakh cases this year only and for it the vacation has not yet started.

Critiques need to understand that the pendency of cases depend on many factors than one, the most important accretive being the regular filing of frivolous cases and practice of involving in unnecessary litigations right upto the top most Court of the country, which are bound to be dismissed warranting no interference from the Court. What goes unnoticed in such practice is the amount of judicial time, efforts and manpower, which goes into it right from preparing the cases and filing of the same in the registry to clearing it for listing till reading every single of such 20 odd case files on an average listed in the court each day, which are bound to get dismissed being without merits. Even when such cases are dismissed, the resources and time lost in getting such cases to that stage cannot be reclaimed even if the cost is imposed. Therefore, it’s a complete chain which needs to be broken to maintain a balance between access to justice and administration of justice. Another reason for such backlog being the judicial vacancies. At present, as per an answer given by the Minister of State (Independent Charge), Ministry of Law and Justice, the judge - population ratio in the country works out to be approximately 21 Judges per million population as on 9th February, 2024.

Further, various projects initiated by the Supreme Court and the High Courts to improve the justice delivery system, to ease the accessibility to justice and digitisation etc., also consumes lots of time and efforts of the judges. The eCourts Mission Mode Project is a national eGovernance project for ICT enablement of district/subordinate courts of the country with a view to facilitate faster disposal of cases by speeding up court processes and providing transparent on-line flow of information on case status, orders/judgments etc. to the judiciary as well as litigants, lawyers and other stakeholders. A sub-committee was constituted by eCommittee, Supreme Court of India for preparing a Digital Preservation Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for scanning, storage, retrieval, digitization of court records and preservation of legacy data of the judiciary. Phase III of the e-Courts project mentions a judicial system that is more affordable, accessible, cost-effective, predictable, reliable, and transparent for every individual who seeks justice or is part of the delivery of justice in India.

The second wheel of the justice delivery system- the advocates- have also been out there performing their multiple duties as the upholders of the rule of law, officers of the Court and voice of the last man in the queue, working day in and day night living and breathing law overlooking their personal and family lives. All of it for playing their part in the administration of justice. A solitary reaper might get a break between two seasons of crops, a doctor might get shifts between with and without emergency duties, a soldier might get a home visit between two wars but a foot soldier of the Constitution is on duty 24X7X365. His job is to ensure that peace and harmony is maintained in the nation so that the soldier on the border can focus on the external enemies. A war shall come to an end someday, a patient shall stop being on oxygen support someday but a lawyer is required to keep working on war footing every day to uphold the rule of law and keep pumping oxygen into the principles enshrined by our Constitution. And that too sans any social security, sans assured income, sans a good night’s sleep and sans any assurance of any appraisal and appreciation for the work they do rather assured criticism.

It is unfortunate that such discussions and unnecessary comments about the court vacations keep coming up every now by the aliens to the judicial system without knowing the reality of the matter. The primary reason given for such criticism being the backlog of cases in the courts of law in India. The so-called court vacations do not add much to the pendency of cases in the courts for the reason that the judges are not sitting idle throughout the vacations. Before start of the vacation many of the judges hear final arguments in multiple cases and reserve the judgment to write the same during vacation and pronounce it upon reopening. They spend a very small part of the purported vacations as vacations and rest of the time is spent in writing the judgments, which require at length deliberation, interpretation and consideration of law, in imparting judicial trainings, judicial appointments, conferences, administrative work and refreshing oneself with the ever-growing law apart from sitting in vacation benches.

Lastly, it is important to understand the requirements and challenges of every profession. Every profession has its adopted practices, keeping in view the welfare of everybody involved and such practices are identical in almost all the justice delivery systems around the world. The US Supreme Court is scheduled to assemble for only 80 to 100 days a year. The Australian High Court assembles for about 100 to 110 days a year. Singapore’s top Court is in session for about 145 days a year. In the UK, the High Courts and Courts of Appeals sit for 185-190 days in a year. The Supreme Court of India on the other hand, sits in four sessions throughout the year, spanning approximately 250 days. Our Supreme Court, much like its equivalent in Bangladesh, hears oral arguments on every working day, throughout the year. By contrast, the apex courts of Australia, Singapore, and the United States only hear oral arguments during specified periods. For example, the High Court of Australia only sits to hear arguments for two weeks per month. In the United States, the Supreme Court only hears arguments for an average of five to six days in a month.

Though it is not expected for people from outside the lawyers’ fraternity to know the nitty-gritties of court’s functioning and judge’s and lawyer’s life and the challenges involved therein but the least which could be expected from them is an informed discussion more so when they come from upper strata of the society, where whatever they say becomes the gospel truth for the layman. It is important to understand that the so-called summer vacations are the only time when the judges and lawyers can take turns to spend some time with their families, to rejuvenate their almost non-existent personal lives though they go on multiple ‘dates’ every day. It is important to understand that this is the only time they get to detach themselves from the multiple legal issues of their clients and reconnect with oneself. Rest of the year, they remain the foot soldiers of the Constitution.

Author is an Advocate-on-Record in the Supreme Court of India.

[The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. Verdictum does not assume any responsibility or liability for the contents of the article.]