There is work, and there is waiting. But waiting could be a kind of work too, fruitless and life-denying. In the law courts, working and waiting, and the relationship of each with time and money, come together to produce a specific sense of urgency; what is at stake is nothing less than justice. It is from this sense of urgency — a crisis at once professional and humanitarian — that the chief justice of India has suggested to the chief justices of all the high courts that the courts should function all 365 days of the year. Only such a drastic change in the way justice is actually delivered could cope with the stupendous backlog of three crore cases in the courts. At the current rate of work, a civil case could go on for around 15 years on an average, and there would be 15 crore pending cases by 2040. But the Supreme Court Bar Association has heard the chief justice’s alarm bell with reservations. The SCBA thinks that no human being could, or should, work for all the days of the year.
It is, perhaps, possible to take the SCBA’s disagreement seriously while agreeing profoundly with the sense of a crisis that prompted the chief justice to make his suggestion. First, judicial time can be radically restructured along the lines of a shift system that, say, the media follow. This would keep the courts open all year without depriving its members the time for rest that all human beings are entitled to. Second, as the SCBA has suggested, there is a range of measures that should be taken to increase the efficiency of the courts. First, the vacancies of judges in the Supreme Court, high courts and the lower courts should be filled without delay, and the working day in all courts extended by an hour. The lower and fast-track courts should also be able to dispose of cases without having to refer them continually to the higher courts. But, what is perhaps most important is a transformation in the work ethic of lawyers, together with others in the legal machinery, who perpetuate what the chief justice calls a “culture of adjournments”, of which judges could also be less tolerant. The dilatory habits of lawyers, resulting from a combination of callousness and commercialism, has bred an atmosphere of suspended action in the courts that is as profitable for the dispensers of justice as it is debilitating and potentially inhuman for those at the receiving end of the judicial process.