It looks like the Supreme Court does not practise what it preaches. While it has many times disapproved of delays in judgements by high courts, the apex court itself has 222 cases waiting for the verdict six months or more after the final hearing.
The apex court revealed this fact in response to an application by a lawyer seeking the total number of cases awaiting verdict for six months or more after the case's final hearing. The plea had been made under the new transparency law, the Right to Information Act, 2005.
"With reference to your application dated December 14, 2007, (the apex court's last working day last year), this is to inform you that as on December 14, 2007, 222 cases are pending for judgement for six months or more after their hearing is over," the court's Additional Registrar and Central Public Information Officer told lawyer Manzoor Ali Khan.
The apex court in its various rulings, including a landmark one in 1976, had disapproved of the practice of delay in judgement saying this tends to erode the people's confidence in the judiciary.
In the 1976 ruling, a three-judge bench headed by then Chief Justice AN Ray ticked off the Allahabad High Court for an eight-month delay in delivering the verdict and said: "An unreasonable delay between hearing of the arguments and the delivery of judgement, unless explained by exceptional or extraordinary circumstances, is highly undesirable."
"A litigant must have complete confidence in the result of the litigation. This confidence tends to be shaken if there is excessive delay between hearing of arguments and the delivery of judgement. Justice, as we have often observed, must not only be done but must manifestly appear to be done," the bench, which also included Justice MH Beg and Justice Jaswant Singh, had said.
Cautioning the high courts against the perils of abnormal delay in the delivery of verdicts, the bench added, "It is not unlikely that some points which the litigant considers important may have escaped notice due to delay in delivery of justice."
The bench had termed the delay in the delivery of judgements "undesirable" despite the fact that the Civil Procedure Code does not provide any time limit for the period between the hearing of arguments and the delivery of a judgement.
"But with 222 cases awaiting their verdicts in the apex court itself, it may well be a case of darkness beneath the lamp," said advocate Manzoor Khan, who forced the apex court to make the embarrassing revelation.
Even the government is concerned with the courts' practice of keeping verdicts reserved for unnecessarily long periods after the conclusion of hearings in various cases.
Senior law ministry officials often emphasise the need for the Supreme Court and various high courts to divulge details like how much time they take to dispose of a case, including the time taken in writing the judgements.
They want courts to record in each individual judgement details like total number of days when the case was effectively heard, the number of days when it was adjourned and the reason for adjournments.
But they lament that the courts have been resisting such a move on the pretext that it would impinge on judicial independence.
A parliamentary panel headed by EMS Natchiappan, a Rajya Sabha member, is currently examining whether a time frame could be fixed for the disposal of cases akin to the practice in the West where the day a case is filed, the litigants are also given a list of dates in advance to indicate by what period the hearing would be over and the judgement delivered.