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Holiday slash signal for courts

New Delhi, Aug. 20 (PTI): The Justice Malimath Committee has recommended a three-week increase in the annual working days of the Supreme Court and the high courts to reduce backlog of cases.

The committee on reforms in the criminal justice system has suggested that their number of working days be increased to 206 and 231, respectively. The Supreme Court has 185 working days and the high courts 210. Both have a summer or winter recess, besides holidays on occasions like Deepawali and Onam.

“Even in India, the subordinate criminal courts do not have any vacation. But subordinate civil courts, high courts and the Supreme Court have vacations,” the five-member committee said.

Describing the vacations a legacy of the colonial past when the scorching summer forced the British officers to return to cooler Europe, they said: “Now that Englishmen have gone and we have become masters of our own country, is there any justification to continue the legacy'”

The committee calls for some soul-searching by courts, saying their sensitivity towards undertrials waiting for long periods for decisions appears to be waning. “There was far greater concern about accused who were affected by delay in disposal of criminal cases in the 1950s and earlier.”

The committee sounded confident that the increase in working days would help reduce the backlog of cases substantially.

The report also refers to recommendations by an arrears committee constituted earlier by the Centre, which had also suggested reduction in vacation of the high courts by 21 days. But this was never implemented.

The Malimath Committee, however, argued against abolition of vacations keeping in mind the onerous responsibility of judges and their need for time to update themselves, given the intellectual work involved.

The report referred to a Bombay High Court convention under which its judges could not take vacation until all criminal cases of accused in custody were disposed of.

“Therefore, when vacation was approaching, assessment of criminal cases in which accused were in custody would be made and additional benches constituted to ensure that all such cases were disposed of before commencement of vacation,” it said.

“Another convention was that in serious cases, if the accused was not able to engage his own lawyer and a lawyer was provided to him at the cost of the state, the high court would request an eminent senior lawyer to appear and argue the case for the accused, assisted by the lawyer provided by the state.

“This shows the sensitivity of the judges to dispose the criminal cases expeditiously and to provide quality legal assistance to indigent persons. It is time for introspection and for restoring sensitivity towards the plight of the accused whose cases are pending in courts.”

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