With mounting pendency and no indications of appointment of more judges anytime soon, the Punjab and Haryana high court has decided to hold special hearings during the summer vacation next month to clear the backlog.
The high court lawyers have been asked to submit particulars of old cases, which they wanted to have listed for hearing during the one-month period, especially the criminal cases wherein accused are in custody. The particulars are to be supplied by May 23.
“All such cases, provided the counsel for all parties give their consent, would be taken up by vacation benches/other judges, who may express willingness to hold court during the summer vacation,” reads a notice by registrar judicial of the high court. The cases would be taken up during the vacation period between June 4 to July 3 and dates for hearing would be notified in advance.
It is learnt acting chief justice SJ Vazifdar had discussed the matter with the judges soon after he attended a conference of chief ministers and high court chief justices in April in Delhi, wherein chief justice of India (CJI) TS Thakur had expressed his concern over the shortage of judges. The CJI had also met the high court chief justices separately in this regard, it is learnt.
“It’s a good move, but needs support from the Bar. A similar initiative was undertaken around five years ago as well, but it received poor response. Only 14 cases could be dealt with by special benches at that time,” said a top official of the high court.
The HC had a pendency of 2.97 lakh cases in 2014. The figures for 2015 are yet to be released. In the past one year, there has been no appointment of judges in the high court. Last appoint was of justice Ramendra Jain on April 20, 2015, when judges’ strength was 54. Since July 2014, the high court is also functioning without a regular chief justice and against the sanctioned strength of 85 judges, the current number is 46 only.During the summer vacation, a maximum of two division benches and four single-judge benches are constituted to deal with fresh petitions only. With this move, the number of benches would go up. But it is not clear as to all judges would cut down on their holidays or only a few would be assigned with these special hearings as well.
“The entire plan will crystallise by month-end only. How many benches are to be constituted, is to be decided only on the basis of request from the lawyers. What if 15 benches are constituted and there very few cases? The past experience has not been very optimistic,” the official added.
The Bar, on the other hand, has welcomed the idea. “It would go a long way in clearing the backlog. We would also urge lawyers to come forward in the times of crisis. There is a huge backlog. This is a good opportunity to help litigants. If court agrees, we are ready to provide panel from the Bar and lawyers who could assist court as amicus curaie,” said HS Brar, Punjab and Haryana high court Bar association president.