The judicial system exists for the “common man”, the Supreme Court observed on Thursday while expressing concern over lengthy arguments by litigants that too during the COVID times, and said restricting time for oral submissions needs to be enforced.
The top court also said it was aware of “equal responsibility of this side of the bench” and suggested that “Wren & Martin principles of precis writing must be adopted” for clear and short judgements which litigants understand.
However, there are hours-long submissions and vast amounts of material placed before the courts, it added.
The crucial observations over prolonged arguments, submission of lengthy documents and case laws by counsels came in a judgement by which the top court which dismissed the plea of Facebook India Vice President and MD Ajit Mohan challenging the summons issued to him by the Delhi Assembly’s Peace and Harmony committee for failing to appear before it as witness in connection with the north-east Delhi riots which broke out last February.
A bench headed by Justice S K Kaul said: “The purpose of our post script is only to start a discussion among the legal fraternity by bringing to notice the importance of succinctly framed written synopsis in advance, and the same being adhered to in course of oral arguments to be addressed over a limited time period and more crisp, clear and precise judgments so that the common man can understand what is the law being laid down. After all, it is for “the common man” that the judicial system exists.”
The top court said that as on May 1, 2021 it had 67,898 pending matters and the time spent on routine matters leaves little time to settle legal principles pending before larger benches that may have an impact down the line on the judicial system.
“This is the reason it is said that we have become courts of interim proceedings where final proceedings conclude after ages — only for another round to start in civil proceedings of execution,” said the bench, also comprising Justices Dinesh Maheshwari and Hrishikesh Roy.
The top court said there needs to be clarity in the thought process on what is to be addressed before the Court and the lawyers must be clear on the contours of their submissions from the very inception of the arguments.
“This should be submitted as a brief synopsis by both sides and then strictly adhered to. Much as the legal fraternity would not want, restriction of time period for oral submissions is an aspect which must be brought into force.
“We really doubt whether any judicial forum anywhere in the world would allow such time periods to be taken for oral submissions and these be further supplemented by written synopsis thereafter. Instead of restricting oral arguments it has become a competing arena of who gets to argue for the longest time,” the bench said.
The top court said that in this particular case “saga of the hearing lasted 26 hours – which is a lot of judicial time”.
“Apart from pleadings, there were written synopses, additional written synopses, rejoinders and replies filed liberally by both parties. The convenience compilations themselves were very voluminous, in contradiction to their very purpose.
“Our concern is if this is how the proceedings will go on in the future, it will be very difficult to deal with the post COVID period, which is likely to see a surge in the number of cases pending adjudication,” it said.
The bench said that COVID times have been difficult for everyone and the Judiciary and the Bar are no exception.
It has been a contributing factor in there being a period of four months between reserving the judgment and pronouncement of the order, but that is not the only reason, it said.
The top court said that delay in judicial proceedings has been the bane of our country and there cannot be a refusal to part ways from old practices especially when they have outlived their purpose.
“It is the litigants who bear the costs of our complex and prolonged adjudicatory process. We are conscious of the equal responsibility of this side of the bench – it is the need of the hour to write clear and short judgments which the litigant can understand.
“The Wren & Martin principles of precis writing must be adopted. But then how is this to be achieved if the submissions itself go on for hours on end with vast amounts of material being placed before the Court; with the expectation that each aspect would be dealt with in detail failing which review applications will be filed,” the bench said.
In a technological age like ours, all that is required is to instruct the junior counsel to take out all judgments on a particular point of view and submit it to the court in a nice spiral binding, it said.
The proposition of law is not doubted by the Court, it does not need a precedent unless asked for. If a question is raised about a legal proposition, the judgment must be relatable to that proposition – and not multiple judgments, the court said.
“Another matter of concern is prolonged interim proceedings. In criminal matters, even bail matters are being argued for hours together and at multiple levels.
“The position is no different in civil proceedings where considerable time is spent at interim stage when the objective should be only to safeguard the rights of the parties by a short order, and spend the time on the substantive proceedings instead which could bring an end to the lis rather than on the interim arrangement,” the bench said.