Everyone has something to say about judicial holidays and vacations. Most do not know how courts work, but have an opinion. At one time, I, too, had unsound impressions. Some others may have never been inside a court. Many ask why courts should have vacations when the police stations work 365 days a year. The simple answer to that would be that crooks do not take a vacation.
School and Court; Similarities
The best comparison, for understanding the anti-court-vacation view, is to compare courts with schools. Suppose, for an instant, that schools gave up their annual holidays. One convenient month, a teacher would take leave, another the principal. Next on vacation would be a student, or many of them. It would then be the turn of the office clerks, followed by the peons, the chowkidars, the school bus drivers, or the cleaning staff. Chaos would reign. The solution? To our all-knowing gentry, it would be to ban vacations all together! Baby-and-bathwater, out. One worthy actually did suggest something similar!
That courts take vacations is only partly true. Those that deal only in civil litigation, as opposed to crime matters, do take specified time off. Then, again, there are many types of civil courts, known by names as varied as tribunals, law boards and authorities that work round the year; supposedly. And therein lies the rub. And another truth.
No court can function without the minimum set of personnel. The judge and the two (or more) advocates form the visible triumvirate. Next is the court staff, the court clerk, the stenographer, the liveried attendant, the registrar. Take one out for a few days and the structure collapses; just like the example of the school. The stool needs all its legs. The tapestry needs to be complete and those courts functioning throughout the year face this disturbing uncertainty, ending in more time being lost. Better that all the actors take time off together. Co-functioning is of the essence. One cannot have a tug-of-war with only one team.
One may argue that a replacement should be brought in. That is a possibility; but not a solution. The sick and needy would understand this conundrum better; being told that the doctor, or surgeon, on whom they are depending, is holidaying abroad. It is not that matters do not get transferred from one judge to another, they do; but that is planned in permanence, not month-to-month as stop-gap shuttle-cocking.
Beside the in-court staff, there is the office battalion to carry out the ancillary functions. They do rotate their vacations, but that, too, within the main vacation itself. This leaves skeleton staff, on stand-by, at all times.
Never Ever Locked Up
Even then, no court, even the civil ones, is totally shut. A couple of judges man a court room or two for urgent matters. Life does go on, unlike schools or colleges which wear a deserted look. Our omniscient worthies never seem to mention THAT truth. Maybe, like everything else, they are armchair visionaries.
Courts that deal in crime matters must, and do, remain on a year-round vigil, barring public holidays. Arrested persons must be produced to seek bail within 24 hours of detention; the magistrate then decides their fate. True, under-trials languish for years after that; but the fault lies elsewhere, not with the judiciary. If stories are to be believed, corrupt cops decide the visits, from jail or lock-up, to the courts, based on remuneration offered. The poor here suffer the most.
It may solve a major problem, both in terms of justice and time spent, if some courts could function from the jail premises itself. Transportation of prisoners, to and from the courts, is a big hassle. Want of vehicles, lack of adequate personnel, the health of the under-trials, all add to a logistical nightmare. If the mountain does not come to Mohammed, Mohammed can go to the mountain.
Love a Lawyer
Spare a thought for the lawyers, too. Litigants and the public see no more than a well-dressed, or over-dressed, person mouth a few sentences, in emphatic fashion, in the few minutes that it takes to argue. But prior to that volubility lie hours of poring over papers, books, magazines, records, judgements, documents, proceedings, evidence, junk, wheat-and-chaff. Usually, a small army is at work behind the scenes, studying cases and briefs. Unfortunately, ‘briefs’ is a misnomer. They are anything but short. However, the point here is that lawyers too need rest.
It is better, by far, that all of them go on vacation at the same time. Stand-ins may create more problems. No litigant would, or should, want to change horses in mid-stream. Tell them that a replacement would fill in for a day or two and see the panic on their faces.
Adjournments are a fact of life. It is true that, at times, that facility is misused, but a firm stand by the opponent’s side can quell the mischief. It has been done, even in the Supreme Court, with astounding results. All it needs is the will. Having said that, the search for the truth, that all-important primary function of every court, often does require the ‘tariq’ routine. Public clamour has brought in some changes, but, to this author’s perception, the cure seems worse than the disease, at least in the subordinate courts, the ones that are still not wired to the Internet.
Another idea that agitates the common man is the call for more judges. If wishes were horses, law would fly. Unfortunately, it is easier said than done. How many of the hollering masses would be satisfied with simply more doctors, even those not up to the mark? Quality must be placed higher than quantity, or else justice will go for a toss. Judgements would be overturned, matters remanded, ping-pong litigation would be the order of the day; one court to the next and back again.
Infrastructure is another want in the ‘extra judges’ demands. Court buildings, within easy reach of the litigating public, come first. New courts cannot sprout up in the far-away suburbs or towns. They need be easily reachable.
A very wise judge recently expressed his mind about the shifting of the Bombay High Court to the suburbs; he said that accessibility must be taken into account. The location presently thought of, though in the city, can be reached from two railway stations, both quite distant, both exiting on chaotic slums and the fiefdom of unscrupulous rickshaw-drivers. The rich may start litigation, arrive and depart in cars, but the poor are left to defend themselves and to the tender mercies of the mercenaries. Trudging to unreachable courts is not a solution for the aam aadmi.
Infrastructure also calls for spaces to accommodate the public, rest-rooms, canteens, security, maintenance, lawyers’ rooms and libraries, storage spaces, support staff offices and equipment, judges’ chambers, parking lots. It’s a big ask. Not that it should not be done, or that it cannot be done. Just that it’s not as easy as saying 1, 2, 3.
The thought of vacations has raised many a hackle, and over-burdened courts are bearing the brunt of popular ire. Fanned by politicians looking for sympathetic support, the problems may need solutions found outside the box. We always believe that one such roadblock is frivolous litigation and malicious prosecution, a root cause. Judges are coming down rather heavily on such ‘playground’ mentality.
Raising court filing fees to deter litigation, is definitely not the answer. The poor need the courts more than the wealthy. The former have more to lose.
Returning to the question of vacations, the system may be tweaked, but abandonment will not work. It is good to recall that even God rested on the seventh day. And no one has ever grudged Him that.