What is Vacation Bench of Supreme Court?

Why in News?

  • Chief Justice of India D. Y. Chandrachud said no Vacation Benches will be available in the apex court during the winter break.

Vacation Bench:

  • A Vacation Bench of the Supreme Court is a special bench constituted by the Chief Justice of India.
  • The court takes two long vacations each year, the summer and winter breaks, but is technically not fully closed during these periods.
  • Litigants can still approach the Supreme Court and, if the court decides that the plea is an “urgent matter”, the Vacation Bench hears the case on its merits.
  • While there is no specific definition as to what an “urgent matter” is.
  • During vacations the court generally admits writs related to habeas corpus, certiorari, prohibition and quo warranto matters for enforcement of any fundamental right.
  • The Supreme Court has 193 working days a year for its judicial functioning, while the High Courts function for approximately 210 days, and trial courts for 245 days. High Courts have the power to structure their calendars according to the service rules.

Legal Provisions for Vacation Bench:

  • Under Rule 6 of Order II of The Supreme Court rules, 2013 the CJI has nominates the Division Benches for the hearing of urgent miscellaneous matters and regular hearing matters during the summer vacation for period.
  • The rule reads that CJI may appoint one or more Judges to hear during summer vacation or winter holidays all matters of an urgent nature which under these rules may be heard by a Judge sitting singly.
  • And, whenever necessary, he may likewise appoint a Division Court for the hearing of urgent cases during the vacation which require to be heard by a Bench of Judges.

Which else can appoint vacation bench?

  • The High Courts and trial courts too have Vacation Benches to hear urgent matters under their jurisdiction.

Has vacation benches made any historic judgments?

  • Vacation Benches of the Supreme Court have also authored historical decisions.
  • One of the best known is when a Vacation Bench Judge in June 1975, refused PM Indira Gandhi’s plea to stay an Allahabad High Court decision setting aside her election – a decision which triggered the Emergency.
  • A Constitution Bench of the court had heard the triple talaq case during vacation days.

Issues with court vacations:

  • Huge pendency: Extended frequent vacations is not good optics, especially in the light of mounting pendency of cases and the snail’s pace of judicial proceedings.
  • Creating further delays: For an ordinary litigant, the vacation means further unavoidable delays in listing cases.

Arguments in favour:

  • Rejuvenation of judges: Lawyers have often argued that in a profession that demands intellectual rigour and long working hours — both from lawyers and judges — vacations are much needed for rejuvenation.
  • Long working hours: Judges typically work for over 10 hours on a daily basis. Apart from the day’s work in court from 10.30 am to 4 pm, they also spend a few hours preparing for the next day.
  • Preparing for judgments: A frequently-made argument is that judges utilise the vacation to write judgments.
  • Courts not in session: Another argument is that judges do not take leave of absence like other working professionals when the court is in session.
  • Socialization: Family tragedies, health are rare exceptions, but judges rarely take the day off for social engagements.
  • No impact on pendency: Data show that the Supreme Court roughly disposes of the same number of cases as are instituted before it in a calendar year.

Reforming the vacation clause:

  • In 2000, the Justice Malimath Committee, set up to recommend reforms in the criminal justice system, suggested that the period of vacation should be reduced by 21 days.
  • It suggested that the Supreme Court work for 206 days, and High Courts for 231 days every year.
  • In its 230th report, the Law Commission of India headed by Justice A R Lakshmanan in 2009 called for reform in this system.
  • Considering the staggering arrears, vacations in the higher judiciary must be curtailed by at least 10 to 15 days and the court working hours should be extended by at least half an hour, it said.
  • In 2014, when the Supreme Court notified its new Rules, it said that the period of summer vacation shall not exceed seven weeks from the earlier 10-week period.
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